You can measure the time since our first trip to Saumur in World Cups – let alone years. It was 1998 when we first made the crossing, and it’s fair to say the memories of that first sortie have been partly responsible for our annual returns – The French win, dancing on parked cars in the square and Tim Hopkinson’s quadrangle exploits – this was a year for reminiscence – greatly boosted by Nick’s appearance a limb lighter but with the family in tow. There may have been no late night Loire swimming adventures this time, but there was plenty of intrigue – A love triangle, an England World Cup outing – and who will ever forget the mystery of Johnny’s hole?
"I'll pretend to be a cockerel - you superglue his flaps together..." John and Dan plan to sabotage Peter's camping experience
We always meet in the Square just after lunch. It’s tradition. Tom was there on time, fresh from a baby-sitting stint and in dire need of a couple of swift grand pressions, but he was drinking alone for sometime.
News had filtered through that there was a hitch at the airport: Too many big men with cricket coffins; not enough sporty motors to cram them into. Peter was fingered as the culprit and Skip had to facilitate a raid on the city centre and another car hire place. Dan and Johnny were stranded at Tours International, chuntering. Dave’s texts grew increasingly terse. A couple of hours in the Café de la Place were lost, but Peter atoned by abstaining from drinking and acting as chauffeur for the duration of the weekend – a gesture constantly complicated by his desire to park outside his campsite each night (Cost of a berth in the Saumur Tented Village with parking space = 18 Euros; Cost of a berth in the Saumur Tented Village without parking space = 8 Euros – a no-brainer as far as Pete was concerned…)
While he familiarised himself with his al fresco accommodation, we got stuck into the beers. Valuable time had been lost and there was a record to break from the previous year. To that end, we had recruited Sam Balch – a welcome addition to the fray, and he more than matched dad Chris in the pint downing stakes. Chris’s own valuable contribution to the cause was to proudly display the only WAG on tour. Jinty sealed the stereotype by leaving us to it and buggering off shopping – just call her Colleen…
By 8.30 we were suitably giggly and inappropriate, so it was clearly time to take on the austere Saumur dining community. The Auberge was within stumbling distance and we soon got stuck into the escargots and oysters whilst simultaneously cracking crap Chris Rea gags and welcoming the Marshall boys who’d rocked up painfully sober after a day on the golf course.
Inevitably the Liverpool was next, and thankfully nothing much has changed (apart from, surreally, the recruitment of a barman who looked exactly like Ivan and was rewarded by us calling him Ivan all night despite his frequent protestations that he was an entirely different person.)
Tom cleaned up in the killer, but the standard of snooker was appalling and entirely unaided by the general queasiness brought on by Johnny’s insistence on showing everyone the weird dent in his shinbone at every opportunity.
But drunkenness was winning the day. Dan retreated to an outside table to gather his thoughts and the Skip, far from immersing himself in the Loire, was furious with himself for failing to pace himself at the Place. “I’m just too pissed,” he lamented over and over again, and he sloped off and was in bed asleep by midnight – no swimming, no porn, no nothing.
The rest of us at least stayed out until closing, and, after some panicky confusion realised that the Crystal was now sneakily screening Channel 11 on Channel 10. Pulling the porn would have resulted in at least half a dozen stiff letters of complaint to the management, no doubt.
Match of the Day Man of the Day: Peter. Classic car gag went down a storm
Moment of the Day: Johnny balancing a pool ball on his shin
Late night viewing: A bit of a blur, but well done to Tom and Ben to seeing it through to the end credits.
Midday. The miniature bathrooms in the triple rooms at the Crystal hotel were feeling very sorry for themselves. Seven greasy carcasses dragged themselves to the Brussels for breakfast. The Balchs trotted airily by, seemingly untroubled by the fact that their eldest son had yet to be accounted for that morning (though at one point they were spotted scanning the river from the bridge). Sam eventually surfaced having impressively negotiated his solo walk back to the Anjou on the island the previous evening.
At the Brussels, an element of fragility had crept in. “Everything’s really blurry,” Johnny complained. The omelettes were worryingly separated and full of gooey white bits. Even Jaden struggled to make a clean plate. Then we walked past a man selling live piglets from a hot-dog stand which filled us with a curious combination of humour and existential angst.
Enough already. To the pitch. This year it was hard – bouncy, even. Great news. Even better, the surrounding area was bedecked with pristine, deserted football goals – with nets! Tim and Richard were dispatched to the supermarket for a ball “and some Benson and Hedges?” pleaded Johnny, unaware that he was asking the wrong person. Tim is more likely to quit the City and get a part-time job in a garden centre than march into a Tabac demanding fags.
By the time they returned, we were in deep trouble. Dan and John had perished disastrously to the Croy – an ultimate no-no. “Tour: ruined,” Dan sighed. We had an awesome batting line-up but lost wickets rapidly. Tom’s dismay at falling heaving across the line to Andy was tempered by the prospect of some head and volleys action, but he was soon dragged in to more baby-sitting – three year old infants with boundless energy and a Bambi ball can be pretty persuasive.
Jaden responded with a typically bullish 43, but when he was out we were still shy of three figures and the Marshall boys had some rebuilding to do. Tim was going well but fell to a rare wicket from Vincent, and it was left to Richard, in partnership with number 11 specialist Darren, to boost us to 190. Rich’s 60-odd was a sparkling knock considering this was a rare outing for him in flannels (or should that be gnarly board shorts?), and one which will hopefully tempt him to return to the fold more frequently.
Nick had arrived to umpire on his crutches just in time for the revival and by the time he left, things were looking good on the fielding front. Ijaz and Bruce had been snaffled with barely a dozen on the board and Saumur were wobbling. He must have been a lucky charm, because no sooner had he left, Saumur rallied. Pete’s suicidal running and Caribbean flare would have been comical had it not been so prolonged and he scored a very good fifty in stark contrast with keeper Tony’s more dogged but equally effective effort – Dan’s observation that he looked like Jean-Luc Picard was the only glimmer of humour in an hour of unpleasant grind.
We’d also blundered by offering them Sam Balch to make up the numbers. He’d bowled superbly, taking out Dave and stifling the rest of us, and his batting was equally heroic. By the time Darren bowled him off his legs Saumur were almost home and hosed.
Gallingly, the victory was smugly secured by a quick-fire partnership between Gordon and Andy and, in truth, they won with something to spare.
Result: Saumur won by 5 wickets
The consolation was a typically lavish barbeque laid on by the Lesters. Krishna had not been playing, thankfully, but there was just a touch of jubilation in the way he wielded his tongs. We were treated to a selection of Chaintre’s finest wines from the last few years and were pretentious enough to attempt to distinguish between them. As the bottles flowed this undoubtedly became more difficult.
Later in the evening, soft lad Dave disappeared off to the bottom of the path ostensibly to “get some pictures of the sunset” though it may have had something to do with escaping the “entertainment”. The rest of us soon got the picture and retreated a soothing distance from Vincent and his two guitarist chums who were belting out a barrage of covers. Call them the Three Amigos, call them the Fun Boy Three – I’ve heard worse, but by the time Jumping Jack Flash came around a third time, it was probably time to call it a night.
Among the frivolity the air was thick with romantic tension. Verity, the subject of much immature speculation, arrived late and accompanied by two young beaus, but that didn’t stop her parents initiating conflict between two of our own. This was your classic duel: Tim was probably favourite - he had the wheels and the father’s seal of approval (insert your own Sex and the City gag here…), but Dave, like the romantic lead from the wrong side of the tracks was definitely in with a shout – It was a kind of cricketing Prince and the Pauper, if you like - Apparently the lady in question has something of a candle in the window for our Dave so there was much to play for, until Dan rendered it all immaterial by collaring her for some intense debate for the rest of the evening.
Jaden and Sam were the youngest in our party, but also proved to be the biggest lightweights – they failed to make it to the Liverpool for the last rites. Work needed on the old stamina there, I think…
Match of the Day Man of the Day: Vincent: Team secretary; bowling conqueror of the mighty T Marshall; modern day Dylan – is there anything he can’t do?
Moment of the Day: Any of Johnny and Darren’s homoerotic photo poses (see gallery)
Late Night Viewing: According the Dave, the correct term is “Sapphic”
An advance party checks out "The Pudding"
A few of us try on Richard's aviator shades but only the Skip manages to look like a gun-running Cuban dictator
John Virgo had never seen anything like it
Apparently they're an aphrodisiac... Jaden warms up for Channel 11
Not by the hair on my shinny-shin shin