A Beggar’s Banquet


Back to Dartford on Wednesday, to watch my old school play the MCC in the annual cricket match. I rarely return to my alma mater so this was a rare treat for me, if not for them.

I’d met my old sports master (O.T. “Buster” Price, for those interested) at Lords the previous day who told me he was playing down at the old school and wondered if I fancied coming down to watch. I checked my diary and, as luck would have it, I was free.

I enjoyed my time as a student at school, mainly because the headmaster was a sports nut and allowed me and my mates to stroll aimlessly through our academic timetable, just as long as we were fit and able enough to represent the school in our chosen sports.

The Blurry, Black and White Summer of 1980

So ignoring the weather forecast of wind and showery rain, I donned shorts and t-shirt and made my way down to the school field where I’d ran around as a young, fit lad (ok, ok it was 30 years ago), on the cricket and rugby fields for house and school teams. A marquee had been erected, chairs had been set out and small boys in school uniform were sat in rows to witness the action before them, as a master patrolled behind them to make sure they at least looked like they were interested. It was all very English: flannelled fools throwing and hitting balls around, resplendent in their whites, a force five breeze bringing in the storm clouds from the west, and three people trying in vain to get the bar-b-q to light.

I was greeted by a few Old Boys and several of those staff who helped me tip-toe my way though maths exams, history tests and physics classes, and then doubled-up as cricket umpires and rugby coaches. Happy days indeed. They were all kitted out this day in suits and school ties, and I stood out like a fat bloke in shorts, but no-one seemed to mind, though I did think they were a little over-dressed for the occasion. They looked like members of an ageing bowls club, I looked like the greenkeeper.

Hands were shaken and niceties exchanged as we wound our way down memory lane, all the time shuffling out of the way of others bustling around preparing lunch, tea and the bar. It really was a hive of activity and excitement. A little over-the-top for a school match, I thought, but each to their own. Plates and plates of salad arrived, there was cake, there was tea and biscuits, there were scones, there was beer and cheese and wine and crisps: a feast fit for, if not a king, certainly the Mayor of Dartford complete with his chain of office (“what the hell is he doing here ?” I thought) there was also a bar-b-q which still wouldn’t light.

The morning’s play ended and the players and invited guests (ah! that’s why they’re wearing suits) went into the clubhouse for lunch. The rain started coming down so I did the only reasonable thing: I went down to the pub for an hour.

Two horrible pints and a rotten cheese sandwich later, I returned to the field of play. The rain had stopped, the players were back on the field, and if anything the activity in and around the marquee had intensified. You could cut the atmosphere with a white plastic spoon. More reluctant spectators had been drafted in to ‘watch the match’. About 30 more uniformed 13 year olds had been inserted into a previously empty row of chairs, but none of them were paying attention to the game. Most were peering, meerkat-like, in the general direction of the gates to the field. All of them were texting on their mobile phones.

The rain started again in earnest and within seconds I and a hundred other spectators, players, schoolboys and barbie lighters squeezed ourselves into the marquee. To be sociable I bought myself a bottle of beer and chatted with my old pals and masters about absent friends and enemies.

It was a little snug under the tarpaulin, until suddenly it happened. The assembled masses parted down the middle to reveal the guest of honour standing at the entrance to the tent. A smiling, slight, almost skinny man in his mid-sixties stood there, dwarfed by both his partner and the accompanying headmaster from the school. Unbeknownst to me (but clearly well-known to everyone else) Sir Michael Philip Jagger, cricket enthusiast, rock star millionaire and the other famous Old Boy of the school had agreed to come in, under the radar, to visit, watch the match, talk to the boys and open an extension to his eponymously named music centre at the school.

No wonder everyone was running around like a blue-arsed fly, dressed like a pox doctor’s clark. Flashbulbs went off, old ladies swooned, Mr Mayor jangled his way through the throng to shake Mick’s hand and mobile phones were held aloft by boys and staff alike to grab a snap of their allegedly most famous son. Jagger was magnificently polite to all, smiling and spending several minutes talking to each of his greeting fans, then he and his girlfriend moved to where I was standing near the bar. I crabbed out of his way, lest he congratulated me on the cricket pitch I’d obviously prepared earlier.

“Any chaaance of a cuppa teeeea ? ” He enquired of the ladies serving. Mick still retains his Dartford drawl, fortunately I’ve lost mine. Two cups and two wedges of madeira cake in hand, Mick and his elegant, enormous missus took their seats by the boundary’s edge to watch the match, which the players had been forced, at gunpoint, to resume. I got myself another pint. Every couple of minutes someone would pluck up the courage to ask Mick if he’d mind posing for a photo with them. Women of a certain age resisted the urge to throw undergarments his way. I restrained myself. I don’t easily get star-struck, and after all he’s hardly David Gower or Francis Rossi, is he ?

A few sips of tea and a couple of nibbles of madeira later and it was all over. Mick and L’Wren (for that is her name, apparently) stood up, smiled at everyone and were escorted off again by the headmaster. Around the marquee, stomachs were let-out, the bar-b-q finally came to life and the wind played its merry game with the paper plates and napkins across the cricket square.

I’m told Jagger later that evening had an altercation with the paparrazi as he left the school. In a quirk of fate, they left me well alone. Maybe they didn’t recognise me in my shorts.

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