Crown Caught Cricket

On the hottest day of the year so far, two Crowns came together at the Miserden ground. The Crown & Sceptre of Stroud took on The Crown from Frampton Mansell in one of the regular friendlies the two pubs arrange for the two Sundays every season. The rules are much the same as those for the informal Stroud pub league, the exceptions being a prolonged 30 over format, and batsmen to retire at 35. As it happened on the day, neither of these new regulations was tested.

Sceptre skipper Ersh won the toss and elected to bat in the scorching heat of the early afternoon. A steady opening partnership put 35 on the board, Henry guiding. Luke top scored with 26, whilst newcomer Tom swiped 20 without having to run in the sun, an admirable policy. Both Jacksie and Moon worked their wood well. Pick of the visitor’s bowlers was Ken who returned tight statistics of 3 for 12 from his 3 overs. The Sceptre team were all back in the pavilion for a mere 121, after 26 overs. All enjoyed the fine spread, highlight of which was Katie’s stunning lemon drizzle cake. There may have been beers taken, purely as an antidote to the blistering conditions, naturally.

Ersh set a tight field in an attempt to throttle the Frampton Mansell men, with difficult half-chances in the opening overs for ‘keeper Murray (the only smudge in an otherwise faultless display) provided by the swinging medium pace of Paddy and Henry. The wickets soon started to fall, as the close fielding paid dividends; mostly, it must be said, the four catches snaffled by the skipper at silly mid on. Batsman Ed offered determined, obdurate opposition but never looked comfortable against the varying leg spin of Mike, who eventually had him caught out. Pick of the bowlers was Stevie with a miserly and destructive 3 for 8 from his 3 overs, and Luke chipped in with 3 for 12, including the golden duck of Mark, man of the match Ersh taking a low exocet to his left. The resulting hat trick ball would have been worth a shout, had LBW been being played. The Crown from Frampton Mansell were sent to the barbeque having reached just 75. Had the victory not been so resounding, it would be tempting to claim cricket as the only winner, but the Hat & Stick enjoyed their moment in the sun.

The Thames Path, Day 5

Overnight in Reading, I woke a few times. It had taken an age to sleep, poking my head out of the tent at every noise. Despite this, I felt refreshed and ready at 6am, bent and cursed Ben’s pop-up shelter into its circular sheath, and washed a handful of nuts and raisins down with some of the water, chilled overnight in the cloudless skies. The weather, for the whole of this trip, was incredible. Not one drop or threat of rain, and pleasant sunshine during the day, never getting too hot. Even in summertime, eight days of unbroken good weather is a blessing on our Isle, and I may have taken it for granted.

My legs felt fine, this being an odd numbered day, and I was surprised to find myself get deeper into Reading again. It’s a vast town, not without its merits. Passing a huge Dutch barge, I noticed a couple of dogs on deck, spinning and yapping in anticipation of their morning constitutional. Soon enough, their master appeared, and steadied himself down the gangplank after them. I guessed his age at over sixty; his nose was spread Picasso-like over his face. His white beard was tinged orange on the chin in testament to his natural colouring and yellow under his nose, giving the lie to his smoking habit. He explained how he couldn’t get benefits living on the barge with his “lady companion”, despite his lack of mobility after years on building sites. He alluded to some bare-knuckle career. He carelessly picked up the shit his dogs deposited, in a single Tesco’s plastic bag and wasn’t offended when I turned down the offer of a handshake when we left one another, a half mile along the path. We were still in town, and here we saw this pen, guarded from afar by her cob. Rather nice, but a swan is a swan, and if we were allowed to eat them, she’d have the decency to nest somewhere else.

As it was, I was hungry. Mostly I didn’t eat during the day whilst walking, and finding myself in a 24 hour supermarket at just after 7, I got some fruit juice and a packaged pasta meal. I wish I could say that I sat serenely, considering the journey I’d taken so far. That I thought more about Naked Heart Foundation, and understood the good hand I’ve been dealt in this life. In fact, I ate it without thought, quickly. Merely fuel, merely walking. First ambition, get out of the city.

It wasn’t long. The river bends dishearteningly along this stretch, without a chance to cut corners. Whilst not in pain, I was aware of distance. This served to spur me ever onwards, keep me going, but also made me wonder what I was doing. Temptation to jump on a train never pressed more than my desire to complete the task, but at times I wasn’t happy with what I was doing. I met another camping walker, just collapsing his home for the night. He was walking in the other direction, but my mood was such that I exchanged only a few sentences before trudging on.

Another lock, another happy, relaxed lock-keeper who pointed me in the right direction. The realisation that I was back in Oxfordshire itched at my mental discomfort, and I was getting ready to call my brother and take a rest day. Lower Shiplake has a pub called The Baskerville Arms. I prayed that I could sit there for a while, even though it was no way near midday. It was open. They served coffee and croissants. A sign on the bar noted that a jug of tap water would incur a 50p charge, donated directly to Water Aid. This combination of news shined on my mood, and my filthy humour lifted. I sat in their lovely garden, didn’t complain when the croissant arrived after I’d already finished the coffee, rather I was effusive in my gratitude when they bought me a fresh cup, gratis. I got up after an hour in the sun, relaxed and happy.

I walked past this charming miniature railway in some well-heeled chap’s gardens, which an hour or so earlier I would have dismissed as the folly of some rich idiot.

However, I was rather taken with it, and was tempted to jump his fence and beg for a circuit on the unseen locomotive. Striding on I met fellow walkers, exchanged words and started to get the sense that London was close; that I was at least in the commuter belt. I was on the left (north) bank, and looking across the water could see the development of a multi-multi-million pound residence. At first I thought the boathouse was the house (again), seemingly big enough to house a family of 5. Despite having an unbroken view of the opposite bank for many hundred’s of metres, I didn’t spy the vast main place. I tried to take a panoramic picture of it, but sadly didn’t stitch it well enough. Apart from being massive, it was served by a driveway cut through the hill behind, and bridged by epic blocks of granite, the keystone as large as anything found in Stonehenge. I distinctly recall surmising it to be the fantasy of an oligarch or software millionaire. Good work.

It took a fair few minutes to pass the place, through fields of sheep and welcoming the peeling skin on my nose as a symbol that I might be getting a tan. Before I knew it, I had reached Henley on Thames and was mysteriously drawn to The Angel pub on the bridge. Last time I visited this establishment I rather overdid things prior to a wedding, and it was mere sentimentality that took me inside. The stunning Heineken kept me there. After two drafts I failed to cross the bridge (again, the signposting of the path failed me. Certainly not the beer.) I once more found myself off-route, and eventually on another A road. At Mill End I called my brother, who picked me up 30 minutes later.

The bosom of my family was everything. Adam and his wife live in Cookham Dean with their two kids, Chloe and Charlie and occasionally entertained by Harry the dog.

I bathed and ate, and fooled around outside, before retiring to a double bed with perfect crisps sheets. I’m pretty sure I passed out smiling.

The Thames Path, Day 4

My third night’s sleep was restless; the self-inflating mat had sprung a leak and the frost on the grass and mist on the river bore witness to the chill that had hung. The inside of my tent looked damp, but the condensation had in fact frozen. I’d woken at 4am and listened to the radio for a while, before drifting off and having a vivid dream about crashing my Fiat Panda from years ago, in slow motion. I’m sure someone can provide a Freudian explanation.

Up at 6.30am, and on my way by 7am. The geese, ducks and chickens ensured that my departure failed to go unnoticed, apologies to the residents of the tents either side of mine and the static and moving caravans behind. The mist was beautiful. After a couple of hours I was stumbling past Shillingford, and I stopped for coffee. I wasn’t best pleased with the realisation that the pain of day 2 was back, intensified even. Stopping for any moment, a quick rollie or just to look at the view, was a disaster. Joints seized, muscles froze and the wincing involved in getting going must have looked amusing. Kneading my legs and rubbing the base of my back offered a little relief, but mostly chanting the mantra “Suck it up, Luke” for the first half mile or so after getting going was my only was of dealing with it. Dark thoughts crept in around the edges. However, and I’m not someone I would ever describe as ‘determined’, it mostly served merely to focus me on continuing. Plodding, plodding, plodding. I crossed the river in Wallingford, where I was welcomed by friendly brothers running the Gatehouse. I drained a can of Coke with them, and was informed that Reading was 15 miles by road. Undoubtedly more direct than the course of the river, I decided against phoning my own brother and accepting his offer of a bed for the night. I’d do another 10 miles, slowly, and pitch somewhere short of the town. There was this curiosity in the pub.

Much of the next few miles were a blur. Certainly I walked through the empty, pristine playing fields of a prep school, and there was an osteopath advertising services from his home, but only on weekdays, and with prior appointment. The weather continued in perfection, but the path strayed from the river. Walking along main roads was no way to lighten the mood. Therefore I was pleased when it turned left back to the right bank (or south bank, as it is called in London), and even happier when I spied a pub. Suffice to say that The Beetle & Wedge is staffed entirely by sour-faced shits who’d be better off working on whatever helpline the terminally optimistic and happy turn to when the joy is just too much. Happily, once I was sat outside I got talking to four older walkers. Rather sensibly, they were doing the length of the path on weekends over 2 years. Whilst I was jealous of them at the time, I’m pleased I’ve done it in slightly less time.

The pain was bad. Taking another wrong turn was worse. This was the worst wrong turn of the entire odyssey. Yes, odyssey. Epically, disastrously off course. Approximately 8 miles of A roads, hills, nowhere to pee, garage attendants giving false hope and dusty, noisy trucks. By the time I found the river again, at Pangbourne, I deserved a pint of Guinness. Another pub called The Swan, another pub graffiti’d with Jerome K. Jerome quotes. A mighty fine pint though, which steeled me ever onwards. Although still sore, I’d found myself almost meditative.

I arrived at one more lock, where a cycling couple held a gate open for me, the bloke recognising my pain with a friendly chuckle. Reading was a further three miles. I called my brother, and was disappointed to learn that both he and his wife had had a drink.  Without thinking, I got up and walked. Walked, walked, walked. More roads, and then down to the river and into glorious West Reading, where the alcopop drinking teens may or may not have been from the myriad travellers’ sites. As in Oxford, they had comments to make, notably a sincere sounding threat to throw me in the river. What more motivation could I possibly need? I walked until dusk had fallen closer to night, and at about 9pm, two hours later I pitched in a park on the river – on the left bank were houses with boathouses larger than anything I can ever hope to own, whilst on my side the weekend’s rubbish served as an ominous warning that this might not be a quiet and calm night of rest.