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My Ashes Lodger

I have but one piece of advice to offer: Never accept a bet whilst inebriated; especially if the terms of the agreement are set by Lord Edgar Haverstock. I know this to be true because I bet and lost in such circumstances in the winter of 1993.

I frequent the East India Club long and often during the cricket off season. Lord Haverstock is a man of similar habits so it is hardly surprising that we spend a good deal of time in each others company during the winter months.

It was on an occasion such as this that I confided to him that I valued privacy above all else.

I considered it a harmless admission and he in turn mentioned that he enjoyed nothing more that sharing a drink with good company - Edgar has a habit of stating the obvious, indeed 'Haverstock Hospitality' is a Club euphemism for excessive conviviality.

Knowing this to be true I had no cause to regard the attention and plentiful generosity he lavished upon me that very day as anything more than the bonhomie of a good friend.

The denouement of our merriment was typically predictable: we were both suitably intoxicated by the time the Bridge Society assembled later that afternoon.

Playing in such a state was as common as it was irresponsible. Besides, Edgar and I were due to play on opposing teams so neither side was really handicapped.

As it turned out I made very few mistakes - none of which could be attributed to my diminished faculties.

Perhaps emboldened by this, I made a far more serious error of judgement - I had allowed Edgar to cajole me into staking my solitude as a side bet.

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Lord Haverstock at his daughter's wedding in 1972

I knew I was in trouble when my partner and I lost. Edgar preferred mischief to mercy so there was little likelihood of him exercising clemency.

My fear was well founded. He demanded that I take in a lodger and I was in no position to refuse.

I placed a 'room to let' advertisement in the paper the following day. It attracted a great deal of interest - despite my very best discouragement - and I acquired a tenant within a fortnight.

His name was Harry Barrows - a polite, tidy, and unassuming man in his late sixties.

Much to my relief he shared my enthusiasm for cricket. Even better, he had recently retired from the Marylebone Cricket Club, where he worked as a steward in the Members Pavilion at Lords Cricket Ground.

It was early February when he moved in and we hit it off immediately. We had a lot in common and passed away many a pleasant day talking about declining dress standards, the corruption of morals, escalating crime, and trouble in the Conservative party.

Mainly though, we discussed cricket. The Ashes were to be held in England later that year and there was much to speculate about.

I was also keen for him to share some of his 'what the steward saw' secrets - those little known misdeeds and embarrassing incidents that only stewards working in the Lords inner sanctum are privy to.

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Tension mounts as Harry adjusts the horizontal hold

Harry offered some resistance but ultimately relented to my determined curiosity - his dedication to confidentiality was compromised by a greater desire to reminisce when under the influence of pink gin.

On such occasions he spoke freely of the ingenious attendant who had gained entrance into the Pavilion on numerous occasions by pushing a bath chair containing the body of his dead employer, of umpires secreting copies of national geographic into the toilets, and drunken cricketers releasing lions into their opponents dressing room.

It was quite obvious that he missed being at Lords. This became even more apparent when the limited over series that preceded the Ashes commenced.

He seemed as excited as I was as I turned the television on and we sat down to watch the first game at Old Trafford.

But he soon became noticeably agitated and seemed to be paying as much attention to the front door as he was the game.

This mysterious affliction continued to develop over the course of the short series. By the time the third and final game was played at Lords four days later, he had placed a stool next to the front door and insisted that the door remain open.

He reverted back to his old self as soon as the competition had ended and I supposed that would be the end of it.

Normality persisted until the morning of the first day of the First Test. I had just had a bath and was making my way towards my television in the front room when he asked to see my MCC membership pass.

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Happier times: Henry checks his fiancés pulse before popping the question.

He very politely refused me entry when I explained that I didn't have it with me.

Fortunately I was able to retrieve it in good time. Harry gave it a quick 'once-over' and I was straight in.

Relieved to have sorted this out in time to see the start of the game, I was able to enjoy a trouble free morning session. He left me to myself and positioned himself on a stool next to the front door.

Harry was unobtrusive and very helpful. When I had to run an errand for my mother during the lunch adjournment he reminded me to take my membership pass with me - a necessity for readmission into the house.

The next four days were much the same. I dismissed his actions as mildly eccentric and being something of a stickler for formality I was beginning to appreciate the match day routine.

Sensibly however, all entry conditions were relaxed the day after Australia wrapped up their 179 run Old Trafford victory. We both adapted to normality as best we could during the fortnight preceding the Second Test.

On the morning of the first day of the Lords Test, Harry was already standing to the side of the front room as I was making my way to the television. I had anticipated this and displayed my MCC pass accordingly.

Much to my surprise he prevented me from going any further. 'Sorry sir, gentlemen are expected to wear a suit and tie at all times inside the front room', he said whilst very reasonably offering to lend me a tie.

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'Members only'

Given that I always enjoyed any excuse to don the egg and bacon MCC colours, I none too reluctantly obliged and was permitted entry as promised.

Soon after this I received an unexpected visit from my friend Henry Forthright. He was in a foul mood as he had only just learned that his newly acquired mail order bride was terminally ill.

'She has already set me back more than a thousand guineas' he said. If she thinks I will be sending her to Harley Street she has another thing coming. This one's on the NHS.

'By god, has the cricket started already? Be a good chap and fetch me a gin and tonic. This is just what my private physician ordered', he added cheekily, his mood having improved markedly.

Henry could be a bit of a rascal but he was a decent sort. Much to my relief he was wearing a suit and tie.

I had to sign him in as a guest but this aside the process was fast and simple. Things seemed to be going very well.

The same could not be said for the state of the game - Australia piled on the runs - so Henry and I decided to drown our sorrows.

We were still in need of comfort later that evening when I went to retrieve a round of drinks from the kitchen.

Harry - who was none too convincingly trying to disguise his irritation - pointed out that: 'The bar will be closing at half past eight sir. You have another fifteen minutes so you might just about manage a couple more if you hurry'.

Somewhat uncomfortable with the situation he rather apologetically added: 'It has been a long day and I need to be up early in the morning'.

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My Mother (pictured right with my birth Father) was initially puzzled upon receiving the 'Family Free Diaphragm': 'I do wish you would pay more attention darling. I asked you to find me my family tree diagram'.

I was disappointed but sympathised with Harry's predicament.

Henry on the other hand was far from amused. 'As a member of this Club I expect the bar to remain open until such time as I like!' he rudely exclaimed. 'Now be a good fellow, and return to your post. I will be talking to the Head Steward about this'.

Henry's outburst embarrassed me. I urged him to drink up then ushered him outside. I apologised to Harry upon my return and made a rapid retreat to my bedroom.

A queue had already formed by the time I made it downstairs the following morning. As instructed by Harry I joined it at its end.

Harry managed the queue with great skill and efficiency. I was inside within minutes. All seats were occupied by the dozen or so men seated around the television so I was forced to sit on the carpet.

During the lunch interval I asked Harry what was going on. He explained that my uninvited companions were honorary MCC members. 'Nothing I can do about it sir. But I would get here before 9:00am tomorrow if you want to be guaranteed a seat. Godfrey Evans is bringing in a group and he is a notoriously early riser', he warned.

I made a point of doing so and was seated comfortably when I received a phone call from my Mother. She said she had visited earlier that morning but had not been allowed into the house.

She made light of the situation but I suspected she was frustrated by not being able to collect the contraceptive device I bought her during the First Test.

I was a little taken aback also, not least of all because I had gone to a lot of trouble locating the top of the range 'Family Free Diaphragm' she asked for.

Harry confirmed that this had indeed happened and pointed out that he could not admit women into the front room on match days. He suggested that I leave the birth control device with him at the door for my Mother to collect.

By the end of the day, England had just the one wicket in hand and still needed almost 200 runs to avoid the follow on. My enthusiasm for getting up early the following morning had waned but I had already arranged to meet Henry so I retired early.

He joined me at about 8:30am and we were delighted to get the best seats in the house. This irritated some of the members; particularly the late arriving Denis Compton who was forced to sit on an old vinyl bean bag.

At some point soon after tea had commenced, Henry got up to get a drink. He clutched his heart and collapsed before he had even made it out of the room.

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The Tie-Land 'No Coats' spend all day trying to outwit stewards and enter the holiday camp in fancy dress'

I was familiar with his heart condition and had often had to resuscitate him in the past. I leapt to my feet to treat him but before I could get anywhere near my ailing friend, Harry had ushered me back to my seat, saying: 'Members are not permitted to leave their seats whilst an over is in play. Please remain in your seat until the over has ended'.

Given the urgency of the situation I appealed to him to apply discretion. He was immoveable and suggested I speak to the MCC Secretary if I wanted to contest Club rules. I returned to my seat.

There were four deliveries remaining in the over and I feared the worst. Fortunately however, Harry proved that good order promotes good health. To everyone's relief and considerable amazement Henry's recovery was prompt and sufficient.

By the end of play he was in a particularly jovial mood. 'Tell me Harry, why is it that perverts like the Cricket Stewards Outdoor Violin Association?' he asked.

Harry shrugged his shoulders so Henry proceeded to answer his own question: 'Because they fiddle with their members in public'.

Harry didn't seem to be in the least bit bothered but I apologised nonetheless. 'Don't worry about that sir; it's all part of the job. Nothing I haven't heard before', he said in that unflappable manner common to MCC stewards.

'Anyway I have been meaning to let you know that I will be taking the rest of the match off to marry your Mother' he announced. 'The wedding feast will be taking place tomorrow if you would like a spot of lunch'.

'Jacket potatoes I suppose' Henry mused.

Harry carried on, ignoring the remark: 'We will be going away for our honeymoon but I will be back in time for the Trent Bridge Test', he said a little nervously.

'That is an excellent idea. In fact Godfrey Evans mentioned it yesterday', I confessed.

He said you were going to Thailand'.

'No sir. We are going to Tie-Land, it's a holiday camp for cricket stewards', explained Harry.

'Tell you what dear boy, I might even join you', said Henry, pretending to warm to the idea. It sounds like a good place to meet women and I am going to be in need of a new Tie - Bride soon.

Harry laughed - we all laughed. I knew then that it was going to be great having a steward as my new father.