The blog post below is doing the rounds on Twitter for good reason. Not having grown up in England (Africa and Wales if you’re interested) I appreciate the baffling mystery of cricket. However I seem to have adopted English eccentricity as if I were born to it (which I suppose I was – Bristol if you’re interested) and it reminded me of an episode from my corporate life about 15 years ago.
I was European Finance Director for a PR company headquartered in Chicago. As PR companies go they were considered to be the blue-blooded, old school company focussing on public affairs, corporate and financial work and being based in Chicago had a very differnt vibe to the New York companies I’d previously worked for. The people were charming and used to be in work before 8am but leave on the dot of 5.30pm – presumably all from good mid-western farming stock and they had to be up early for milking.
I was once in the Chicago office to find myself, at 5.35pm, being the only person there barring the Chairman, Rich. Rich was a charming tall handsome man with a gentlemanly air who always seemed both amused and bemused by me.
“Would you like to come out for dinner with my wife and I?” – he asked when wandering over to see why one of the lights was still on at this late hour.
“That’s really kind of you but I only flew in today and by the time I’ve got back to my hotel room and settled in, I’m not going to want to come back out again as jet-lag will no doubt have kicked in by then. But thanks so much for the offer.”
“I mean now. My wife is waiting downstairs” he clarified.
“NOW?!” I exclaimed “That’s not dinner – that’s afternoon tea!”
He found it highly amusing – not least because apparently you don’t say that kind of thing to the Chairmen of large companies in Chicago. (I didn’t get that memo so was excused)
So when some months later he was planning a trip to the UK and we had bonded over “really not dinner at all”, he called me to say he would be over in the UK for a meeting on a Friday and had to stay the weekend for another meeting early the following week and what should he do over the weekend?
“Oh I have the perfect thing for you to do that you won’t find in any tourist guide.”
And I explained that on Kew Green most Sundays in the summer, there’s usually a cricket match. Next to the green is St Anne’s church and the supporters of the church make afternoon tea in the church hall and set up tables and chairs in the graveyard so you can have your tea and watch the cricket. It’s the best kind of tea – home made victoria sponge and coffee cake and fruit cake, home made cheese and pickle or tuna mayo or egg sandwiches, and tea in a giant silver teapot nice and strong like it’s supposed to be. I’ve spent many a happy hour sipping tea with my mum watching the cricket whilst Daniel ran around playing in that churchyard.
He seemed enthused, or faked it well and we spent the next few months exchanging emails about the event like excited children, checking there was a match that day. Rechecking when his dates changed keeping an eye on the weather etc.
Then the week before, he rang me –
“My meeting has moved and I won’t be there over the weekend – can we make it the Thursday afternoon instead?”
I mulled it over –
“Well I am free…
However there’s no cricket on a Thursday…
Or tables and chairs.
So it would just be you and me sitting in a graveyard. Which I think might be a little eccentric even for me.”
There was an unmanly giggle as it sunk in.
He took me to dinner with my UK boss to a smart restaurant in Soho instead.
It really wasn’t the same.