My work-life balance must have gone awry somehow because – on a light relief tour of a country house as I browsed a long gallery of earnest bibliophiles, civics, and impassioned horologists — I found it was the cricket-mad fourth earl who looked back at me.
Slipping away from the guide and the singing clocks, and making off for the outlying pitch, I met a trail of deckchairs with periwinkle fleeces, a pavilion fragrant with paint, and four oaks steadying the swing of early evening sun, the unspoilt view passed on.
Taken with my new benefactor, if weak on actual in-depth cricketing details, I dashed off an ethnography:
Here was a man who always took a cricket ball into breakfast to help conversation along should Ada come down unexpectedly…
and after hours at the wicket, he drifted asleep with pictograms of bowlers and batters consoling him as he floated above the wall-eyed lion, the silvery spoils of India…
and while he must’ve had cares—declinism was already pressing in—he knew how to relax. He knew his England.
I caught his throw of happiness. Re-entering the city, the car parted dirty and dirtier air, but my catch sat cleanly with my borrowings: the gardens’ oolite crunch, the house’s butter-coloured drawing room, the aquatints, the tulip tree.
Then safely home, my laptop on one knee, a tea-cup on the other, I typed him in… and he leapt out to scald me:
‘It was only on the ninth day of rioting the Governor returned to Bombay and then, primarily, to attend a cricket match.’
The fifth earl worked.
First published in the Fish Poetry Anthology