Wednesday, 25 January 2012

The Poet's and Peasants' XI

If you have read ‘England their England’ by A G Macdonell you will be familiar with the famous description of a village cricket match set in the home counties during the 1920s. It’s one of those quintessentially English pastimes that has barely changed since the Edwardian era. And I say this from experience.

Back in the days when I barely had a grey hair on my head, my older brother and a good friend decided over a few beers to form a cricket club, despite the fact that neither were particularly skilled exponents of the noble game. However, the idea was enthusiastically put about and within a matter of days, enough friends and friends of friends had expressed a keen interest to join.

My brother, being a lawyer, drew up a constitution which was duly presented to all those who had promised their support, and at the first ever meeting, which took place at The Cheshire Cheese public house in Fleet Street, certain key decisions were put to the vote. As a result, the cricket club was to be named the Poet’s and Peasants’; the official club colours were to be Green (for the grass), blue (for the sky) and gold (for the beer); and most importantly, the club was going to have to appoint a Poet. After much discussion, it was decided that Mr Alan Gibson (now sadly no longer with us), who was at that time writing a regular column for the Times newspaper would be the most suitable candidate to approach on the basis that his pieces captured the spirit of the game and were arguably some of the wittiest to be found in any of the nation’s sports pages. So a letter was drafted, agreed upon and posted to Mr Gibson.

Within a week Mr Gibson responded, and in the most charming terms accepted the honour of having the title Club Poet bestowed upon him, on the one condition that at the beginning of each season, a bottle of the finest malt whisky would be dispatched to him forthwith.

On this basis we had secured an eminent poet even though we didn’t have our own ground, or for that matter, much cricketing nous. Indeed, many of the founding members were professional musicians who were paranoid about their fingers, and refused point blank to field anywhere near the batsman for fear of damaging their precious Phalanges and Metacarpals. One Chris D Freeman, a double bass player, would field the ball with any part of his body except his hands and managed quite miraculously during one memorable game to take a catch between his knees. Needless to say, the poor batsman thought he was seeing things.

We got to play on some truly pretty village grounds. One such ground in Kent was the home of the Coddrington Cobblers. Like the Peasants, they were a very weak but enthusiastic team of delightful individuals, and before the match began one of their players confided that very few of their matches ever continued beyond the tea session. It soon became apparent why this should be, for in place of boundary markers were substantial barrels of local beer which the fielding side could enjoy at their leisure between overs. Seeing that we had plenty of musicians fielding on the boundary, much of the ale was consumed during the course of play (I’ve yet to meet a musician who doesn’t like a jar or five). And as it turned out, the tea was by no means the usual curled up sandwiches and stewed tea. No, instead the wives and partners of the Cobblers had prepared a feast of gargantuan proportions. So it was very much a case of food and drink stopped play.

The Poet’s and Peasants’ went on to enjoy ten consecutive seasons, including three tours in Devon, and during this time many colourful characters had at one time or other played for us.

There was the eccentric and brilliant historian Ronald Hutton (now Professor Hutton); the late John Macleod, a wonderful batsman and baritone who also happened to be the Laird of Skye; the club’s original co-founder, Bramwell Tovey (now the composer and Artistic Director of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra), Thos Hodgson, a talented all-rounder (now a distinguished barrister in Sydney, Australia); Jonathan Milner a very fine batsman (now also a distinguished barrister, but over here); Tony Jenkins, our opening batsman and talented golfer who also drove trains on the London Underground; Oliver Heald (now a Conservative MP); Peter Greenhouse (now an eminent consultant in sexual heath); and of course Chris D Freeman who still plays double bass and was in fact the only member of the club to have his name appear in Wisden magazine, thanks to a piece written by our esteemed poet, the late Alan Gibson.

These days, every time I find myself driving through a village on a summer’s afternoon and pass the village green with its men in white flannels and that inimitable sound of leather on willow, I think back to those days of the Peasants, and for a second I feel a twinge of jealousy.

Photograph (from left standing): Stephen Greenhough, John McLeod, Nick Patrick, 
Chris Freeman, Mike Iland (Seated): Alex Pearl, Tony Garrett, David Pearl, Bob Collins, 
Mike O'Donell, Bramwell Tovey

Alex Pearl is author of Sleeping with the Blackbirds 


  1. Members of Libri CC ( still recall with pleasure the games we had against P&P, with particular reference being the time David Pearl entertained the whole of The Beehive public house with his piano repetoire!
    Best wishes
    Pete Christopher

    1. Hi there Pete,
      Thanks for your reply. I vaguely remember playing Libri CC. It wouldn't have been David playing the piano though. Might well have been Bramwell Tovey who is now something of a celebrity in Canada.
      Very nice to hear from you.
      Kind regards,