(The Original)

Amateur Scribe

Saumur 2007

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.

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Arty, eh?

Friday

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)

Sunday

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.

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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.

Squad

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
Gordon: Glovely
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…”

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