The Squire has been acting most oddly of late. Yes, even more oddly. He is spending less time with the village blacksmith on time machines; which, as his lordship’s preferred ‘test pilot’ Third Man is relieved at; but instead retreating to his game room where, on a very large table, he has taken to modelling and remodelling a strange white bowl-like construction on top of a pile of earth that he has had brought in by the gardeners. The whole is topped by miniature tented structures. He has been labouring on this night and day for a number of weeks.
Elsewhere in the village, farm labourers have been behaving oddly too. There have been reports of bright lights in the hours of darkness. Some have taken to staying up all night watching the sky for ‘signs’. The vicar has erected a pile of hymnals in the chancel that looks vaguely similar to the Squire’s metal, mud and canvas creation. Miss Prim, who has never been quite the same since the visit to the Great House by Lord Byron, is painting again. She calls the series ‘Dreams of Far Pavilions’. She has kindly allowed Third Man to publish No 23 of the Series above.
Matters intensified last Thursday when Third Man ‘drove’ the Squire in the brougham to Botleigh Grange where, after diner, fellow guests Rodney Bransgrove Esquire, his great architect and civil engineer EPR and some coves from the successors to the White Conduit Club used the billiard table to lay out the latest master plans for Mr Bransgrove’s cricket ground which is set to be the first to achieve England and Wales Cricket Board’s TSF(2) ‘model ground’ status qualifying it to stage a Test match in June this year.
No wonder the Powers That Be are nervously monitoring every milestone and hurdle along the way.
After a relaxing overnight sojourn at the Grange, the Squire insisted Third Man drive him to the site of the venture. So great were the numbers attracted there, each person no doubt driven by a similar vision, and so disruptive the work going on, that the brougham had to be parked in a common meadow.
They joined the stream of humanity who were keen to witness the first day of the season, carrying their provisions for the day in a variety of much used bags and napsacks, and climbed the steep rise to where Bransgrove has encouraged Hampshire CCC to relocate.
It was at this point that Third Man both realised that in reality they were mounting the Squire’s erection (that could have been better expressed but Third Man is short of time) and glimpsing Miss Prim’s Far Pavilions, for, on top of the hill there came into view a perfect white creation largely of metal and glass shining in the April morning sunshine.
Rather like Nyren’s commercial venture on Broadhalfpenny Down two hundred and fifty years ago, the ground is situated far from the traditional commercial market place on a piece of cheap ground to which those in search of cricket must make their way as best they can. Like Nyren’s enterprise The Rose Bowl as it is called is shrewdly situated close to the junction of two great highways, the M27 and the M3 and, attended as it is by hotels, leisure centres, supermarkets and shopping malls, there are close structural parallels to the Cradle of Cricket. Plus ca change.
The tide of common humanity was shepherded rather briskly by uniformed guardians intent on keeping it from the hospitality areas (as Nyren’s staff had kept the riff-raff from the Quality entertained in the seclusion of The Lodge). However, the Squire seemed to be recognized and he and TM were taken by the elbows and shown to the Shane Warne Suite.
How Richard Nyren, that tenant of the Bat and Ball, would have admired the entrepreneurial flare on show. Although it would not have been lost on him that the capacity crowd that might in June gather here to watch the Sri Lankans play All England would not be much more than he commonly entertained a few leagues away on the Down above Hambledon.
Our ‘suite’ was laid out for a fine banquet. To the left through a long wall of windows and opening doors a seating area afforded a dizzy view of the majestic stadium amid its fine landscape of Hampshire farmland.
It was as if a huge white and gleaming docking station had been constructed for the arrival of some space ship from the other side of the Milky Way surrounded by all the necessary facilities to entertain, amuse and educate our visiting aliens in the ways of C21st mankind.
Then, as the players of the modern era took the field below (Durham had won the toss and would bat) from the end of the Shane Warne Suite long forgotten cricketers last glimpsed in the ‘60s re-emerged into the present, perfectly preserved.
Persevered, you understand culturally though not physically, for space travel near the speed of light may frustrate time but it cannot prevent a toll being taken on waist and hairlines.
Here, to celebrate the one hundreth anniversary of the birth of their Coach and lodestar, Arthur Holt, were some of those who played cricket in that unique period as the austere years of the ‘50s and early ‘60s awakened into the Swinging Sixties and headed unwittingly towards the Packer Earthquake, the aftershocks of which could still be felt below us on the field of play where Durham, no longer a new and custom breaking Test Match county made 413 in 96 overs.
By the close of play at 6.30 in the mid-Sixties our veterans would have bowled 120 overs and Hampshire’s first innings would have been under way. The only ice in sight, would have cooled the Committee men’s gin and tonic.
To be continued.
* In Stephen Spielberg’s 1977 classic film Close Encounters of the Third Kind (CE3K) an up-surge in UFO activity and the communication from space of a specific set of co-ordinates prompts experts under the auspices of the UN to prepare a secret landing zone for the UFOs and their occupants at Devil’s Tower, Wyoming, to which are drawn civilians who have been affected by the recent alien contact. The military endeavour to turn these folk back. An enormous mother ship lands at the site and people who had been abducted over the years return home out of the bowels of the craft.