We finally laid the White Hunter season to rest by the sunny banks of a tributary of the Lot River on Sunday evening, a few kilometres west of Cahors. The weekend’s tally was ‘won one-lost one’, which is rather better than we have managed on the majority of our six French tours.
We’re too old to measure out our manhood in stories of the units of alcohol we consumed, these days. We bring two or three bottles of Monkey Shoulder with us through the duty free, and then we subsist on the cheap dark wines of the locality. But with one or two notable exceptions, we all turn in before the moon is too high in the sky, partly because we run out of puff, and partly because we know what the prostate will do to our sleep if it gets the chance. Once it was ‘what goes on tour, stays on tour’; now it is more of a question of ‘what goes on tour stays in bed.’ Obviously, the Wealth Manager and the Beekeeper march to the beat of a different drum, but they always have.
But, between the cricket matches, it is back to the nursery. Where else can a man close to his sixtieth birthday play cricket, table tennis, boules, golf, extreme boules, bottle stretch and snap all in one day. Extreme boules? That’s where the jack is progressively lobbed further and further from the house, down the steep road to the river beyond, and down into the precipitous forestry. And it brings with it the weekend’s highest risk of injury.
After the Sunday match, the Catus players asked us to their end of season barbecue, a huge privilege for the last of their annual visiting teams. A small enclave of Brits in a small corner of France, with the runs, the lamb and the salad provided by the Brits, and the wickets, the samosas and the biriani provided by the young Bangladeshis from Toulouse. You get the sense that the dynamics will work so long as both parties keep doing it. The British out here are not getting younger, and they aren’t being topped up with newcomers at the moment. With Brexit looming, who knows what will happen to all these arrangements, and who will shake the French dust off their feet, and return to Tunbridge or Truro? By and large, people don’t talk about uncertainty as, by its very nature, well, what the hell do you say about it?
We sit at Toulouse Airport and wait for our flight home. Is it about cricket? Not really. Is it about sporting excellence? You must be joking. Culture? no. Heavy drinking? Not at all. No, this is about friendships. And it’s about that tiny streak of immaturity that exists in most of us to travel 600 miles to play a game that no one here has heard of, and which we could have done for hundreds of pounds less back at home.
And without a shred of self consciousness, we hug each other farewell in the baggage hall of Gatwick South at one in the morning, each heading back to his compartmentalised life and the winter he has avoided thinking about up to now.
Next year it is Amsterdam, and the grass jokes are in full flow when the manky green kit bag rolls off onto the conveyor belt, with its cargo of chipped bats, damp gloves and balls that are so scarred by action that even David Warner would be ashamed of them.
And no one gives a thought as to when it will all eventually come to an end, because it never will. Individually, we might. But it won’t.
Roll on Holland.