Memories of ’98 – of car surfing and dancing in the square ‘til the wee hours – abounded during this, our tenth anniversary tour. But it was a tale of feast and famine - Fourteen we had for the victorious first game, before the Marshalls scurried back to Blighty. Down to ten for Sunday’s play, we recruited a diminutive, silver-haired Yorkshire terrier called Brian and whipped our hapless hosts again. But that is merely the raw statistics. Stay tuned for tales of splintering pool cues, jaw-dropping magic and the sensational return to the fray of Mr “Cultural Attache” himself, Andrew “The Boodster” Bonner – back to the scene of his most famous triumph – blowing brioche as the French celebrated that World Cup win.
Surely Darren was joking when he said he fancied some light practice rather than the customary early afternoon lager-fest in the Square? Apparently not. Two heavy, humiliating defeats in the weeks preceding the tour called for drastic measures and some net sessions and fielding drills were scheduled before we could say “Cinq grand pressions, garcon, and don’t spare the chevaux.”
Despite our best intentions, however, there was a hitch, and the hitch bore proudly the name of Bonner. Back in the ranks – raring to go – Harrow bat, tracky-dacks and dubious cigarettes in tow, Andy had failed to secure a berth at the Cristal, leaving him homeless for the first night. Naturally his pals were happy to help him out, and he was ferried to another hotel – leading to Dan’s immortal intercom Franglais: “Nous droppez off Monsieur Bonner”. Anxious for a quick getaway, Skip pranged the car into that of the proprietor and any exercise was swiftly aborted in favour of a few nerve-calming beers. Change is clearly a bad thing.
The younger members of the party, however, their number swelled by Saumur virgins Mike and Gordy, headed for the cricket pitch for a work-out. The pudding was not in the best shape – indeed the whole square resembled Hull in June (minus the fuming, shipwrecked northerners). No matter – a football was sourced from Leclerc, and we limbered up for the evening’s excursions with some four-on-four followed by a bit of Donkey. Duncan, perhaps fearful of further “football-up-the-jacksie” action, wandered off into the trees, prompting the age-old rhetorical question: Does a Marshall shit in the woods? Apparently so. His sortie into the Saumurian jungle would not be the last of the weekend…
Sanity was restored in the shelter of the Café de la Place. As the rain tumbled, so did the strong continental lager. The Grand Bleu was sacked off in favour of the Auberge which, to our horror, appeared to have turned into a Bavarian fun pub, with an abundance of sausages and large moustachioed waiters. Crucially, the one thing not on the menu was escargots: “10 years I’ve been coming here. Friday night is snails night,” Dan grumbled. The portents of doom surfaced insidiously from beneath the cluttered bottles of cheap plonk. Next they’ll be telling him he’s not opening the batting in the morning…
More confusion arrived in the form of Mike’s now notorious coin trick. Tim was particularly flummoxed, coughing up time and again as Mike correctly guessed which coin he’d selected. By the end of the night, he was probably down six, maybe even seven minutes wages.
After the restaurant we went for a lovely moonlit stroll along the romantic Loire, gently stretching the muscles in preparation for the cricket and swapping heartfelt memories of tours gone by, before retiring to bed and getting a good night’s sleep. Not really, of course. We went to the Liverpool, drank our own body-weights in over-priced piss and got ejected form the new downstairs nightclub. Tim and Mike optimistically introduced the card game “Arsehole” to proceedings, but, at that late stage, it was a bit of a non-starter. Jaden couldn’t see; Tom spilt his drink on Gordo’s trousers, and Johnny and Andy retired for the traditional “pot and porn” at the hotel.
Dan had tried to inject some culture, leading a giggling party into a bar that was holding some very serious French Renaissance theatre. But he was soon left alone after his friends realised their cultural inferiority, and spent the rest of the performance in silent bewilderment (though, if truth be told, he was probably still too pissed off about the snails to give the show his undivided attention)
First morning and tradition dictates we head to the Brussels. Well Dan’s tradition, anyway. Unbelievably, we arrived in the witching hour between the end of breakfast and the beginning of lunch. Grrr. Dan muttered about it all being a conspiracy. Luckily, we all fell in love with the waitress, so disaster was averted.
At the ground, Dan’s misery was compounded as we batted first and he found himself down the order. With a squad of 14 to choose from, the Skip promoted himself and opted for an all Kiwi opening pair. All was going to plan until the genial (if slightly bumbling) umpire upheld the Croyfish’s almost apologetic appeal for one that hit Darren well outside leg stump. Skip stripped off his pads with ill-concealed fury before steaming back onto the pitch to confront Andy German. All eyes were on the Cultural Attache, but this was an international incident beyond even the Bood’s powers of diplomacy.
We fancied Twenty20 and then a relaxing afternoon, but Andy was adamant that he had a strong side of ringers who had come a long way for a game. Dan had to put all thoughts of fly-fishing at Tony’s to one side and concentrate on the job in hand. He can’t have expected being first change bowler and wheeling through eight miserly overs, but this was a spinners’ paradise, and Saumur simply couldn’t handle the big man’s flight and guile.
Ben and Peter were equally effective and we skittled out our hosts for a mere ninety, with Andy brilliantly caught by Jaden for a duck and Peter snaffling a blinder off their burly South African. All ten wickets fell to the slow bowlers which could well be a Money Programme first.
Eventually, when he realised he was flogging a cheval mort, Darren began “The longest walk”. Longer even than Peter’s seminal bare-chested stomp through the woods a few years back. Somewhat surreally he kept appearing as a speck in the distance – sometimes watching the kids’ baseball on an adjacent field, sometimes furiously doing chin-ups on a low-hanging bough – aping Sly Stallone in Rocky.
These sightings were met with much humour by his team-mates, as events on the pitch had switched to hard-fought ascendancy on the MP’s part, with Johnny and Richard eking out a valuable stand in stodgy singles and clean hits that took the swampy outfield out of the equation.
By the time Darren returned, a clear two hours after his dismissal, we were in great shape. Sheepishly, and none too plausibly, he tried to pass off the entire hissy-fit as an homage to Peter – a petulant pastiche, if you will. He was fooling no-one.
The on-field situation was made for Mike who fell a handful short of a well-deserved maiden fifty after carting several lusty maximums off the hapless opposition trundlers and by the time he was out, we’d racked up a pretty decent total.
The reply was always going to rely on Andy, and for a while he looked like he could win it off his own bat, but when he slapped Ben to cover we were free to canter home. Marshall senior bamboozled the tail with his loopy off-breaks and Saumur finished a good fifty runs shy.
Any lingering regret at Krishna’s absence was swiftly dispelled as Tony invited us back to his for a barbeque - “I’ll take your watering can full of Champigny red and raise you a basket of quail eggs” – the spread was lip-smackingly good, and the setting every bit as idyllic as the chateau. I’d need a tape measure for verification, but I’d suggest Tony’s front room might actually be bigger than the entire vineyard.
After voting to have a night off from the Liverpool, we found another bar in the Square and settled down for some iced lemonade and a civilised analysis of the day’s play. Not really. We jumped on the pool table and played killer, Angry Dave broke a cue in a fit of pique and stole the severed tip as a memento, Mike continued to Derrin Brown it with the coins to our growing frustration, and we spent enough on large lagers to put the grinning barman’s kids through college. (Well he was grinning until he found out about the trashed pool cue…)
This is the life
Dan put firmly to bed any niggling tour frustrations in an unbroken stand with Dave and, in truth, we smashed ‘em. Special thanks to Brian, who made up our eleven after the Marshall exodus and took a catch despite being stung by a wasp.
In the evening, we enjoyed what must be described as one of the best Saumur meals ever at the Grand Bleu. Dan got his snails and we drank Rose to demonstrate just how Metrosexual we all are (though the Skip seemed mortally offended and stuck to a combination of red and white despite us pointing out that, essentially, he was just drinking a slightly pikier version of what we were).
Finally, we Liverpool-ed it again, and the place welcomed us back like long lost friends. So much so, we promised we’d never stay away again. All was going well until we were nearly stabbed by a psycho outside who was in a fight with his tearful girlfriend. Chivalrous to the last, we got in between him and his prey and offered plenty of Gallic shrugs and pally “pas de problems” until he sheathed his blade. Tom and Darren probably chanced their arms a smidge to far with the polite repartee and had to be ushered away, but we figured that if it had all kicked off Dave could have chibbed him back with the cue tip and we’d have all legged it. No bother.
There was more drama and calls of “Man down!” as Daddio’s niggly back put him on the deck, but Gordy’s healing powers and strong-arm tactics meant we soon hauled him back to the hotel and we saw out the tour in Bonner’s room with some wrestling and frankly alarming dangling out of the window. It took us a while to realise Johnny had sloped off, and our hammering on his door was met with near silence save the gentle hum of Channel 11 and a satisfied snore within.
Here’s to the next ten years.
Darren: He’s got the ‘ump
Dan: Delayed snails taste sweeter
John: Uzi for hire
Jaden: Good hands
Andy: Like he’s never been away
Tom: Will be packing his stab-proof vest next year
Dave: Cue the music
Ben: Killer victory banishes memories of Shoot-the-Pot misery
Peter: Seven wickets – Man of the Series
Tim: No car = no thrill rides with nubile, jail-bait girls. That’s how these things work.
Richard: Saumur average ruined
Duncan: Hope he buried it deep and wiped afterwards
Mike: “Look into my eyes. Don’t look around the eyes…”