Tue 28 Jul 2020: trips to normality

As I wrote about last week, professional sport is tentatively returning. I went to the Surrey/Middlesex warm-up match yesterday. They had opened up part of the Vauxhall end of the ground, blocks 16 to 20. One thousand tickets were available each day to members, with allocated seating. Every second row was in use, with two empty seats between groups of attendees from the same household. I know that on Sunday all the tickets were quickly taken up. They weren’t taken up quite as quickly for the Monday, but even so, it certainly looked from a quick count/estimate that there were about a thousand people.

This of course meant that there were more people than is normal for a multi-day match, crammed into a small area instead of being spread out all around the ground. I suppose that was necessary for the trial, and they’re repeating it next weekend with more people – 2,500 on each day.

There were, notably, comments from the club’s CEO about it not being sustainable. There was about a 10:1 ratio of spectators to staff when you count all the stewards, security, catering, bar, and cleaners. and I’m not sure if that ratio includes the players, physios, coaches etc. The larger trial will presumably have a better ratio. Of course, multi-day county cricket isn’t financially sustainable anyway, it only survives because of income from the national team and cross-subsidy from the lesser forms of the game, which is presumably why Surrey were happy to be a guinea-pig. I’m sure that a rugby league club, on the other hand, wouldn’t want to go anywhere near it once they looked at the staffing costs for putting on a match with spectators in the current climate.

And then today I went to the cinema for the first time in ages. I saw The County, by the same director as the excellent Rams. It was good, but I wasn’t sure about the ambiguous ending and wonder if it could have been cut short two scenes earlier to end on a solid up-beat note. It being an early afternoon showing the experience was not really any different from in normal times: there was hardly anyone there, and the Curzon Mayfair staff were courteous and efficient as always. But the journey there and back was still very different from normal. The mid-day train was about as busy as normal, although I did notice that train passengers seem to do a better job of masking up than bus passengers. Victoria station was perhaps a little quieter than normal, and the bus station was practically deserted. Walking through the streets from Picadilly to the cinema was like a ghost town. Several cafes were trying to put a brave face on things and were open but they had very little custom, and there was hardly another soul walking around even on normally-busy Picadilly itself.

Judging from traffic levels – broadly back to normal, although public transport isn’t busy, so it seems lots of people are driving instead of using it and that consequently means that lots of those who normally use cars aren’t traveling at all – and combining that with the above it seems that business is still well down, and that those people who are going to work in town are only doing that, they’re not going out for lunch or hanging around afterwards.

Sat 25 Jul 2020: cricket, less briefly

Today was the first fixture of my truncated cricket league season, at the Spencer Club in Wandsworth. Light rain started about three quarters of the way through the first innings, and I took the players off after 38.3 of the scheduled 40 overs when it got heavier. And just in time too, as the heavens opened moments after the made it to the shelter of the pavilion. There was no sign of conditions improving so it wasn’t long before the captains agreed to abandon the game.

There are several temporary regulations for club cricket introduced for this season to help prevent the spread of The Lurgi, most of which don’t really affect the game as it is played. Off the field, numbers in club houses are restricted, changing rooms are closed (people are expected to turn up in their whites, although in practice people just change at pitchside), and worst of all there’s no cricket tea. On the field, players aren’t allowed to use sweat or saliva to shine the ball (the ECB’s national regulations make that a level one offence, but the league regs remove the penalty), the fielding team is supposed to pass the ball directly back to the bowler once it is dead (in practice it tends to go via one other player, as it is Hard for a wicket-keeper to throw the ball from his gloves), us umpires aren’t allowed to hold items of clothing for bowlers (so I’m allowing them to leave them behind the base of the bowler’s end stumps, with the understanding that if they interfere with play there would be penalty runs), and finally we’re supposed to clean the ball every six overs. I forgot about the last one but talked about it in my club’s Whatsapp group to make sure we don’t forget next time.

Wed 22 Jul 2020: live professional sport

There is a tentative plan to open up professional sporting events to live audiences starting at the beginning of October, if things go well at a few “test events”. One of those tests is to be a friendly two day cricket match between Surrey and Middlesex, on Sunday the 26th and Monday the 27th of this month. And I’ve got a ticket for the Monday!

The match is only open to Surrey members. Normally there would only be a few hundred people at one of these matches anyway, as Proper Cricket doesn’t attract the crowds that the short attention span version of the game does, and many people are only members so that they are guaranteed tickets for internationals. But in this case, after so long without any live sport, I’m sure that just about all 13,500 members will want be there.

I understand that they’re using the OCS Stand (at the Vauxhall end of the ground) for the test. That has a capacity of 13,850, but I expect that they’ll only open every second row of seats, and only every second or third seat in the rows that are open, reducing capacity to no more than a quarter of that. That makes it a good test, but unfortunately it also means that I could only get a ticket for one of the two days. Ho hum. I’ll try phoning again tomorrow, see if there are any tickets left for the Sunday.

Thu 16 Jul 2020: drugs and sport

I’ve been volunteering at the local food bank for lo these many months now, but this week I’m doing some different work for them. We have one volunteer who normally handles all the pickups and deliveries from local pharmacies, but he’s done himself a mischief so I’m taking that duty over for the next week or two. There’s a lot of faffing about and filling in forms, and I’m sure I’m going to end up On A List (well, On Another List) as just today alone I signed for a whole bunch of controlled substances. Also got plenty of exercise going up to the sixth floor of a block of flats when I couldn’t find the lift.

And my cricket season starts on Sunday! At my local club there were some intra-mural matches last weekend to select teams. I wasn’t available all day so didn’t umpire, I just spectated for an hour or so. They’ve got friendlies this Saturday, when again I’m unavailable for umpiring, but I’ve got a friendly down in Sussex to umpire on Sunday, and then a mid-week T20. That should get my eye in ready for the shortened league season starting on the 25th.

Update: The T20 tomorrow has also been cancelled. Bother!

Wed 8 Jul 2020: return to pub!

I’ve been getting takeaway beer and cider from the Crown & Anchor for a few weeks now, and they re-opened at the weekend for on-sales. I didn’t go, because they weren’t going to take table bookings and it’s a long way to go only to be told “nah mate, yer can’t come in”. So my first pub trip for lo these many moons was yesterday evening at Craft Beer Brixton. Just being in a pub for a few hours talking bollocks and playing Go was wonderful! As much as online video chats and virtual pubs have been keeping the nation going, getting the pubs open will have made a lot of people very happy. Not just all those who can now work again (vitally important, employment is the best vaccine against poverty, which is a huge killer) but also people like me who have desperately missed having a real face-to-face social life.

When getting takeaways from the pub in recent times I’ve driven there myself, but yesterday I was obviously going to get into a state where I couldn’t drive, so I had to use public transport. There’s supposed to be regulations about wearing face masks on buses, and indeed there are plenty of vinyl decals both inside and out telling people this. I estimate that only half of passengers were using them. Bus drivers weren’t doing anything about it.