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I have started writing in this imposed isolation my new book about our travels in Normandy & Brittany. Coincidentally I was watching the English version of Antiques Roadshow recently and it produced a blast from my past as well as reminding me of people we have encountered in France, in this case Normandy, under the most unexpected circumstances. On the programme there was an old cricket stump (if you are not familiar with the game of Cricket you may have to bear with me for a while) that came from the most (in)famous series of games ever played – the ‘Bodyline’ series of 1932/3 in Australia. Leaving aside the controversy of those games that still reverberates today, one man produces a special performance, rising from a hospital bed and defying doctors to return to the game and produce the bravest match winning effort imaginable – the Lancastrian (my home county) Eddie Paynter.
This cricket stump had the autographs of all the players and Paynter’s was second on the list. As a youngster many years after his heroic feat I was at the end of season games at Scarborough in Yorkshire that traditionally always ended the tour of a visiting country in the days before teams were constantly jetting off to more lucrative fixtures. In this case the visiting team was New Zealand. Being a cricket geek (still am), I along with some other boys collected autographs of the players, went in the dressing rooms and generally had a really exciting time. A couple of elderly men had observed us and gathered us together and one of them offered his autograph. Everyone looked bemused, but I knew who he was and this was Eddie Paynter, the most famous of Lancastrians to me. I gladly accepted and was honoured to have met the man but my young Yorkshire friends around me were still puzzled and missed out as he would not sign any more unless they acknowledged who he was. I still have the autograph – a treasured possession for a cricket lover. I will return to this at the end – in France.
I am one of those people who seem to have a knack of coming across celebrities on my travels and this always amazes my wife. Unless it is that they are really looking for me! From Hank (Marvin) to Springsteen to paraphrase Neil Young they always seem to cross my path. The number of times I will say ‘Oh, look’ its …………. I have lost count. Two stand out in France and they are both very famous soccer players. One was in Chateauneuf du Pape when this great French player who is now an equally famous manager was coming out of a hotel with his wife (possibly – well he is French) as I passed. I got a photo of him from a distance and my son agreed it was indeed the said man but berated me for being a bit intrusive. The second time was in Paris in the Gard du Nord station and on a swelteringly hot day this giant of a man gave up his seat for my wife. I did not tell my wife that this gentleman was an icon of French soccer but some years later he was a TV pundit on the coverage of a World Cup game and as she was watching I told her she had met him once. She actually after a bit of thought and just the prompt of Paris remembered exactly where she had come across him and the incident – a bit of fun and a lovely memory.
So back to the cricket.
On that day in Scarborough it was the last day, with a sort of an end of term vibe after a long season and players who were no longer taking part in the game were relaxing – some more than others. A famous England player was very chilled, happy and boisterous before pretty much passing out having partaken of plenty of good Yorkshire beer. For a young boy this was quite a revelation to see one of your idols in such a state of inebriation and it certainly wouldn’t happen today – well not in public. Many years later, over 30 years in fact, I was in Normandy at a small village called Trelly where there is a delightful hotel/restaurant, La Verte Campagne. We were enjoying an after dinner drink when a party of four late arrivers appeared in the bar behind us. I did not see them properly but they were English and my ears pricked up on the word ‘cricket’. Anyway, next morning as I opened the bedroom door I heard the opposite door also opening and there I was face to face with the emerging occupant. Yes it was my famous beer loving English cricket hero of yesteryear and such was my surprise that I could only stutter a faint ‘Bonjour’. That night this group which included another famous cricketer sat at the next table and I only had ears for their conversation which was all cricket related and especially fascinating tales of touring Australia and their great players. The food and talking to my wife were virtually ignored I am embarrassed to say but it is a great memory – France provides so many.
I am left wondering if really all these celebrities are in fact thrilled to have met ME. Does Springsteen recall excitedly the time he met Neal Atherton. I mentioned this thought to my wife but did not get a reply – well I did actually but it was not a positive one.
By the way the cricket stump was worth £10,000 – WOW!