(by Ed Lester – 2004)
“31st of December, 1997….”
It was the coldest night in Oxford’s history and much of the city was buried in snow. Temperatures had plummeted to –50 degrees. No one even talked of summer. The sun hadn’t shone for ten years and generally people had forgotten how to smile.
Jericho was the worst hit of all. As the JR hospital had been lost for years under the white stuff, medical emergencies were being brought into the Radcliffe Infirmary on flying sledges and the casualties dropped down chimneys, to be tended to by temporary staff from Greenland. All the usual hospital staff had been frozen into icy blocks. One of the icy blocks, then a young, dashing trainee doctor called Mander could be seen to have a frozen tear in his eye as he remembered his childhood in Yorkshire – playing cricket in the sunshine and frolicking in the grass with his whippets and his ferrets. ‘By ‘eck, they didn’t get much past me’ he proudly thought to himself.
Of course back in 1997 in Oxford, it was illegal to even mention the word cricket. Such nostalgic references were thought to drive morale even lower and were considered dangerous. People had almost given up hope, but then, as the new year bells started to chime away the last seconds of 1997, a very strange thing happened.
Deep under snow, in a darkened, smelly room formerly known as the public bar of the Jude the Obscure public house, a motley bunch of characters were sitting around drinking Morrell’s bitter. One of the men was a bearded wizard type called Reilly and he appeared to be in charge. He was grumbling about not having had a decent, intelligent customer for months. He liked intellectual customers but all the academics and professors had been put in charge of the kebab vans, which were now parked on top of the various colleges. Hot takeaway food was the only thing keeping Oxford going. The general population had lost its love of the good things in life including beer and this was what was really niggling Reilly.
‘Bunch of bastards’, he muttered. All the others nodded in agreement as was their way. All except one who was running around on the roof, laughing hysterically and placing various herbs in the snow, shouting ‘Fennel says it will melt soon, fennel says it will melt soon. Fennel’s never wrong about these things’. Hoskins debated to himself whether to push him off the roof or to just take more illicit bets as to when Herb Boy would finally lose his mind completely.
At that moment, the bar manager, a slippery fellow called Baldrick ran in pleading with the small group of fellows to look outside into what was once a pub garden.
What they saw next was really quite incredible. Out of the snow had grown a flower with petals like red balloons. It was wonderful and it was glowing. It gave everyone a strange feeling of anticipation, which they hadn’t felt for over a decade.
‘Baldrick, what strange things have you been putting in our drinks this time?’ asked Reilly angrily. ‘Don’t you see?’ replied Baldrick. ‘It’s a rave flower. We must convert the pub into a warehouse and have raves. ‘Stupid boy’ thought Reilly.
Two young Northerners came running over, whippets and ferrets close behind. They were students with long hair and bad attitudes. Their names were How-warty and Westmullett.
‘We could sell the flower and buy an ice-cream van’ they shouted together.
Reilly was furious. Cider had made these boys ugly and within seconds they were having their heads banged together and felt the leather of Reilly’s boot on their arses. (In a cruel twist of fate, the whippet lads along with herb boy and herb boy’s little brother Daisy were handed 5 year bans and fail to feature in the club’s history until 2003 when they reappear, clean cut, respectable and relatively sane.)
Seconds later the wise and elegant one known as Ed appeared. He was attractive and youthful and thought to himself how wonderful it would be to one day write the history of these events and to describe himself in any way he chose.
‘Stand aside’ he bravely said. ‘That’s no damn rave flower. It’s a cricket flower and it can mean only one thing!’ Everyone held their breath. They were shocked at Ed’s flippant use of the prohibited ‘c’ word, yet at the same time strangely excited.
‘Reilly, get your cheque book out and write a cheque for £150 made out to Trysports Bicester (link). Buy pads and gloves and bats and they will come.’
Reilly, spluttering and wincing, hand held over heart region, grudgingly got out his cheque book. He was furious but he had known Ed to be right about things before.
No sooner was the quill back in its quill holder, then events unfolded at a quite amazing pace. Fred Townsend, one of the skulking locals, spontaneously changed his name to Fredders and selflessly offered to be captain of the new team. The managing director of Thorntons, and Vodafone’s West Indian contingent, both offered generous sponsorship.
Suddenly architects, plasterers, even Australians and women started creeping out of the woodwork (including one pleasant young chap from the planet Zog who liked to turn up barefoot for breakfast). Before long, the previously frozen Dr. Mander walked in. The thawing process had not been kind to him and he was passing off his younger brother Ben as his son. However, there was a new glint in his eye. ‘By ‘eck they won’t get much past me’ he said confidently. Everyone was running around like excited children, announcing net practice details, ordering pints of Morrell’s and discussing the new cricket team without care of the laws or the weather. ‘But what if we’re not very good?’ said one. ‘Then we’ll get better’ said Ed. ‘But what if Reilly has to leave the pub’ asked another doom-forecaster. ‘Then we’ll find another pub closer to the centre of town. We can call it The Mad and get young Reilly to run it’.
And what of the landlord himself! Dramatically, he had changed his name to Noel, started giving away beer and talked of wonderful days ahead, and what’s more he was smiling and singing and calling for poetry and music and violin playing cricketers. Things really were moving apace.
At that moment, the Police walked in and threatened to arrest everyone for numerous unmentionable crimes including mentioning the unmentionable ‘c’ word. ‘And LBW to you too, officer’ came an anonymous insult from somewhere in the assembled crowd. The policeman was just about to become extremely offended when Noel came to the rescue. ‘Just take a look outside, officer’. And what they saw next took all by surprise. ‘Yes’, continued the landlord, ‘the sun is shining and the snow has melted. Cricket has saved Oxford, and the children have futures again. People will come here and celebrate cricket and life simultaneously. There will be laughing and joking and stories, not to mention brawls and barrings. People will sit in this garden in the blazing heat drinking immeasurable amounts of alcohol and partying in the name of the Jude.’ ‘Yes!’ shouted one person, ‘No!’ shouted another. And one man called Steve couldn’t quite decide.
And there you have it. Cricket had returned to Oxford and everyone was happy again….
Except of course, the 4000 people who drowned in the ensuing floods as the snow melted unnaturally quickly. But what the hell, the maddest cricket team in the world was born!