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Brinkley House: Can it be saved?

When an old cricketer leaves the crease

The threat of closure looms large for the world's only retirement home for cricketers. It's a safe haven for those in need but for how much longer? PDCC spends a day at threatened Brinkley House.

picture of residents of Brinkley House
Residents of Brinkley House in the Activity Lounge (l-r: former Minor Counties umpire Jack Ventricle, Shropshire leg spinning legend Tom Chudd, long serving ex Somerset scorer Arthur Balsam and former Northants run machine 'Rocket' Ronnie Raymondo)

In August it was announced that the world's only specialist residential care facility for ex cricketers is facing closure.

Brinkley House in Twickenham is currently home to 16 residents but has a capacity for up to 30. The current lack of inhabitants has led to increasing financial problems for the owners who are now facing up to the real prospect of the home having to be sold. It is feared that any potential new buyers would be unwilling to maintain the present regime's commitment to retired cricketers in need.

"It's been coming for a long time", said present owner Chris Hogg. "We just don't get the numbers of residents that we used to. It would be easy enough to change our referral criteria and accept anyone who needs nursing care but we are determined to offer our facilities to cricket people only."

Brinkley House opened in 1962 and has seen over 500 residents pass through its doors. It prides itself on offering 24-hour care to any ex-player or umpire that needs it - irrespective of age or ability. The home has facilities for treating players with mental health difficulties and addiction problems.

The only rule is that potential residents must have been involved with cricket to at least minor county level, either as a player, administrator or official.

PDCC spent a day at Brinkley House and discovers a special place where the memories of Ashes battles are as vivid as the smell of Domestos.

picture of Percy Bagshot with fellow Brinkley House residents
Percy Bagshot (right) enjoys a game of dominos with some of his fellow Brinkley House residents.

It's only 6am and already Night Manager Sharon Ingram is hard at work. She has lost long standing resident, ex-Minor Counties batsman Percy Bagshot. It's a nightly occurrence. Bagshot - who once ended up in the gents' toilets in the Lord's pavilion on his only appearance there after going down one set of stairs too many - is not quite so adept at finding the lavatory at Brinkley House. He's eventually recovered in the home's car park but only after relieving himself on owner Chris Hogg's new Bentley.

Breakfast time brings further problems for some of the residents. New chef Manuel speaks English well enough but having written 'bacon, eggs, toast, cereal ECT' on the menu board a few of the inhabitants who have had electro-convulsive treatment in the past begin to get anxious and hide in their rooms. Sharon Ingram visits each one and points out that it is a simple spelling mistake; Manuel really meant to write 'etcetera'.

Former Hampshire Second XI keeper Johnny Crow is one of the residents still refusing to come down to the dining hall. It's been a tough six months for the newly arrived Crow. His admirable second class career went into freefall in the early 90s after Crow asked to be referred to as 'John Crowley - High Priest of Darkness' in recognition of his mentor and hero Aleister Crowley. His form for Hampshire Seconds suffered badly after he was hit by a vicious bouncer from a long forgotten trialist - the resulting injuries would not have been so severe if Crow had been wearing a helmet rather than a pointy wizard's hat but Crow was undergoing his transition from middle-order batsman to Magister Templi. Since entering Brinkley House Crow has attempted to set up a branch of The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn but has attracted little interest from other residents for his extra-curricular black magic activities. At present the Hermetic Order is active only as a name in the home's thriving Fantasy Cricket League where it lies in a less than magical last place.

Morning Session

Physical and mental activity is firmly encouraged by staff. All residents are entitled to have one net session every day. Staff take it in turns to throw down gentle dibbly dobblers to residents.

picture of Johnny Crow
Johnny Crow aka John Crowley 'The Great Beast' captured as he prepares to perform the Rites of Eleusis and work on standing up to the quicker bowler.

"It's the personal touch that makes this place so special", comments Sharon Ingram. "Each resident has a package of care specially tailored to meet their individual needs. For example Sir Michael Montague, former Oxford captain and Director of Montague Sherbert Ltd insists on having British Sherbert News delivered every three months. We know he's an idiot and doesn't read it. We find them unopened is his room next to some very well thumbed copies of the Balamory Monthly magazine. He gets very shirty if he has to miss an episode."

Sharon Ingram hands over to the day manager Fifi Figura at the regular 10am staff meeting. It has been a relatively quiet night shift but the morning has brought its fair share of problems. A couple of ex-minor county umpires have tried to escape by disguising themselves as minstrels but an early morning shower wipes away their disguise and they are easily recaptured by Brinky - the home's very own German Shepherd dog. At least now Sharon and Fifi know why all the shoe polish has been mysteriously disappearing.

Meanwhile in the television lounge Sir Montague has become upset after John Crow claims to have put a spell on the cast of Balamory. Confused by the Scottish accents and colourful trousers on display he has mistaken Archie the Inventor's pink castle for Boleskine House and is furious at what he sees as the trivialisation of the property where Aleister Crowley performed the Sacred Magick of Abra Merlin the Mage. He also didn't like Miss Hoolie's jumper.

A weeping and angry Sir Montague is led off by Fifi Figura to the padded area where he is sedated by colourful tablets and a handy stump. Meanwhile Crow is left to watch 'Cash In The Attic' in peace.

Lunch

picture of Chris Hogg
Brinkley House owner Chris Hogg: "I'm very big in Bombay Mix."

Brinkley House has been open for 46 years. It was set up in 1962 by a group of MCC committee men who had become concerned about the lack of care offered to former players. They determined to set up a resource that could be used by those most in need. The business was sold to its present owner Chris Hogg of Hogg Older People Enterprises Ltd (HOPE) in 2004 (motto: "There's HOPE for everyone").

Hogg, 50, owns a portfolio of private care homes but is now looking to sell up and focus on his other interests. He has done well over the years from his investments - as evidenced by the Bentley Continental GTC parked outside. Care homes are not the only business concern of Hogg. He owns the world's biggest Bombay Mix factory in Rhyl and has made a tidy sum from his spicy snack empire.

For Hogg his foray into geriatric care has been something of a labour of love. He was deeply affected when visiting his own grandmother in a nursing home in 1985. The conditions were so appalling that Hogg immediately arranged for her to come and live with him instead. Sadly she died a few days later after choking of a bag of extra strong Chana Daal. From that moment on Hogg was determined 'to do his bit' for elderly care in this country.

Yet Hogg is realistic: despite the ageing population and the continuing need for nursing homes he thinks that Brinkley House's stringent admissions policy has led to the current difficulties. Without a fresh influx of 'customers' the chances of Brinkley House remaining strictly cricket-only appear limited.

Afternoon Session

After a lunch of pilchards, Bombay Mix and grapefruit segments the residents can enjoy an afternoon nap in their room or take part in one of the daily organised activities set up by the staff.

picture of Entertainment Nights at Brinkley House
Entertainment Nights are very popular with residents. The Johnny Eck Special brought their own brand of infectious elephant-based fun to an otherwise drab Tuesday night.

Residents are somewhat spoilt for choice. There are weekly bingo sessions, beetle-drives and card games to help keep the brain active. Jigsaws, cards and darts are all available on request - although the latter is closely scrutinised by staff after the incident with Bishen Bedi's turban. All darts now must be aimed solely at the board. There's even a subsidised bar where those who like a drink can enjoy anything from a small sherry to something a little stronger. It's only open to residents between 7.30 and 8.00pm and is mostly used by staff outside of these times. It can be thirsty work sometimes.

I choose to sit in on a group of residents taking part in a Reality Orientation exercise. This is a brand new activity for the home and it is the first time they have tried it. Reality Orientation is a simple but effective way of helping the more confused inhabitants make sense of the world around them by focusing on the here and now before attempting to reawaken dormant memories locked away inside the minds of those taking part by using triggers such as photographs or music. Fifi Figura starts by asking the day, the month and the year. Although it's a fine late summer day former Somerset scorer Arthur Balsam thinks its Christmas and becomes upset about his lack of presents. He accuses Tom Chudd of stealing a Christmas stocking containing a lump of coal, two walnuts and a satsuma. Poor Chudd, who thought it was VE Day and had spilt a cup of tea over himself in his celebrations, becomes agitated at Balsam's accusations and has to be restrained by staff. Soon he joins Sir Montague in the 'naughty corner'. Despite their age and infirmity some of these old boys can still pack a punch!

Fifi continues with her Reality Orientation session despite the interruptions. She passes round black and white photographs of famous people in history - Winston Churchill, Hitler and the like - and asks if anyone can name them. Arthur Balsam thinks Hitler is his late wife Kitty and becomes upset again that she has seemingly neglected to buy him a Christmas present. It's an easy mistake to make as another resident, Staffordshire umpire Jack Ventricle, recalls that Kitty did in fact have a moustache and was a leading British Nazi. A picture of Marilyn Monroe brings a smile to many faces and 'Rocket' Ronnie Raymondo has to be reminded that even though she is long dead it is not gentlemanly to use those words in the presence of a lady.

It's been a useful exercise but after an hour everyone is ready for a nice cup of tea and a welcome bag of Indian based snack food. Staff have even found an old Satsuma at the back of a cupboard as a pre - festive surprise for poor old Arthur. He will certainly enjoy that as soon as they can find his teeth.

Evening Session

As tea time approaches residents are left to their own devices and can choose to spend time in the lounge, their own room or, as it's a nice day, in the garden, where popular pooch Brinky keeps a close eye on things. Anyone who wanders too far will soon be brought back by the specially trained dog.

picture of Ted Brandy
"Mummy mummy!" Brinkley House offers full nursing facilities for the less able bodied residents or like poor old retired Hull Chronicle cricket writer Ted Brandy (pictured) who unfortunately suffered a slight skin reaction after breakfasting on out of date Punjabi Mix.

"His bite is definitely worse than his bark," laughs Fifi Figura as she removes his muzzle ready for garden duties "and his bark is pretty severe!"

The garden itself is spacious and nicely maintained by green-fingered volunteers. There is a bench by the rockery which is a favourite spot for those residents who like to enjoy the delights of the flower beds. From where I stand on the lawn I can see Arthur Balsam playfully wrestling with a very excited Brinky who tenderly holds the old man's wrist in his jaws and drags him back towards the house.

Tea is tongue salad and a bowl of Sev Mamra, followed by jelly. New chef Manuel learnt his trade in the cut and thrust of London's tapas scene until drink and alcohol issues forced him into rehab. He's been clean for nearly a week now and is determined to make a success of his first head chef's job. Menu's are devised a month in advance and have to meet the required standards of nutrition within a strict budget. Chris Hogg helps when he can by providing a useful supply of products from his factory that have just inched past their sell-by - date. He claims that "no-one has ever died by eating ten-year-old Bombay Mix, except perhaps for my Grandmother but we think she had a peanut allergy". Certainly there are some large appetites to contend with amongst the present residents. 'Rocket' Ronnie is unhappy about the size of the portions and threatens to eat poor old Brinky's dog food again. To placate him Fifi Figura gives him a handful of her 'special Smarties' which soon make the ex Northants batsman forget his belly and enjoy a quiet nap instead.

Stumps

picture of chef Manuel
New chef Manuel takes a well earned break from kitchen duties to enjoy a relaxing few minutes in the staff room.

The day is over for me too. I'm loathe to leave but I have my train to catch. I say my goodbyes to those residents still awake and leave feeling proud that places like Brinkley House still exists - but for how much longer? There's going to be a hard road ahead, for sure, but it's essential that everything that can be done is done to save this very special place.

As I leave I feel someone tugging at my sleeve - it's Arthur Balsam. He presses a note into my hand. It reads simply "in the name of God help us".

Arthur, rest assured - PDCC is going to give you all the help we can.

Every month we will be featuring an update of life at Brinkley House in a regular new feature. So stay tuned.