Phil Smith Beyond the Boundary #13

Conspiracy Theories

Edward Wilson, a key member of Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s ill-fated 1912 trek to, but not back from the South Pole, Gustav Holst, early 20th Century composer of The Planet Suite amongst other notable creations and Robert Hardy, who played both Siegfried in All Creatures Great and Small and Winston Churchill in The Wilderness Years (though not at the same time) are amongst Cheltenham’s finest alumni. Less well-known however, is that the Reverend Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carroll, did an 1860s Air BnB at a big old house in Charlton Kings, where he met both a young Alice Liddell and a very large mirror and some of the best-read books in British children’s literature were about to be born.

We’re surfing the net again for new breakfast joints and despite never having properly read the good old reverend’s writings, plump for the ‘Looking Glass’, an appropriately named restaurant/cafe which sits between the London Inn and a wine shop, a mere hop and a limp from Charlton Kings’ infamous Sixways road junction. The LG’s interior is extremely tastefully done with a black, white and green theme that is aesthetically far more agreeable than it first sounds. There’s a miniature cactus on each of the marble-effect tables, one of those impressive ornamental clocks that captures your attention exactly eleven minutes before you need to present yourself at the ground and, rather spookily, an ornate mirror in which the establishment’s interesting interior is clearly reflected. A pair of visiting children prod inquisitively at the glass in the hope that they too, like Alice before them, might find a way of escaping their humming bird parents, if only for a glorious hour or two.

The ’Small Plates’ on the elaborate menu (3 for £12 – decent) are fascinatingly described and include such delicacies as Korean spiced squid (though from which side of the 38th Parallel this comes, it doesn’t say), hand-picked Dorset crab meat (do they grow this in a field?) and 50-day grass-fed meatballs (which presumably wander round on their little meatball legs in between meals). There’s also Crispy Fried Cod Cheeks on the ‘Seafood’ list, but we’re not about to go anywhere near there. As it’s 11.15 and we’re feeling both brave and creative, we plump, after much thought and a good deal of to-ing and fro-ing, for a good old bacon sandwich. ‘We don’t do white bread,’ the very pleasant waitress informs us, ‘we only serve sourdough.’ Not having the faintest idea what this is and feeling a little self-conscious as a result, we say ‘That’s fine,’ then sit tight and await our forthcoming banquet with more than a little relish.

But there is no relish. Or garnish. Or butter. Or anything other than three slices of streaky forced between two pieces of brown bread. That’s called sourdough, apparently. And it’s six quid, plus coffee, so there’s definitely no tip. When Alice went into the Looking Glass she discovered Wonderland, but it obviously came at a price. We have a bit of a Mad Hatter moment though, pay the bill and vow to return some time soon. Despite consuming the most expensive garnish-less bacon sarnie of my entire miserable existence, I must confess to liking the place, its décor, its ambience and its mysteriously ornate mirror. And most of all we like the fact that the two little kids who were prodding the glass just a few minutes previously, are now nowhere to be seen….

Poulton are today’s visitors to Greenway Lane and the three readers who are assiduously following this season-long tale of hope and glory will be well aware of the away team’s affliction with anything remotely royal (Blog #11; ‘Triples’) and they’ve racked up at Ryeworth Field this lunch time, determined to put one over on those supposed thousand-year old regal protagonists, the Kings of Charlton.

The hosts are already engaged in a football-style warm-up which bears little resemblance to the beautiful game or anything else prefaced by a remotely positive adjective, while the away side go straight into cricket mode, preferring a stump, a ball and some Stretching & Mobilisation exercises, meaning it’s the first time S & M has been practised on the Ryeworth Fields since, well, the last time it happened, but like crispy fried fish cheeks, let’s not go anywhere near there.

Poulton win the toss and elect to field and opening bowler Liam Smith is soon receiving an object lesson in Sir Isaac Newton’s gravitational law as, after charging down all three contour lines the Greenway hill has to offer and delivering his initial missile, he finds stopping a bit of a mystery and finishes up virtually nose to nose with Kings’ number one, Josh Trewin.

Trewin is eventually caught by Smith off spinner Mark Higginson for 29, but this only succeeds in bringing Benny Ellis to the crease and he and number two Ali Parker begin dismissing the Poulton attack to most parts of the ground in a stand that isn’t broken until it strays well into three figures.

Watching the carnage from the self-same position from which they’ve viewed the Kings all season, are the fence-hung PVC advertising banners that include a mustard-coloured Gecko Coaching offer, an appropriately faded white & yellow advert for a local dental practice and someone who’s involved in the harsh realities of nasty pest control. As the pavilion has life-size photos of Beefy Botham and Phil ‘The Cat’ Tufnell either side of its front entrance, the Pest Man’s services may well have been called upon not a million moons ago.

Poulton stalwart Neil has just returned from a Bargain Break in the Balearics and he’s appeared at Greenway Lane wearing, what Dulux might describe as a shade of Minorcan Brown. He’s not the happiest of bunnies though as, despite Jake Harris’s tumbling, fifth time of asking catch to dismiss Parker for 64, Liam Brignull joins Ellis to move the score beyond two hundred with eight overs still remaining.

Jason Roy, a man who gets into a huff when things don’t work out for him is 29 today, while Barry Richards, a much finer batsman in all respects and a man who would only get into a huff if the bar closed before 2am is 74 this afternoon. Ellis meanwhile, feels it might be his birthday too as he dispatches another long hop to the midwicket boundary to bring up his hundred.

Kings finish on 277-2 and the visitors’ thoughts turn momentarily to the morrow’s beer festival at their Englands home, after half an hour of which all memories of Ellis, Brignull and Parker et al will be well and truly expunged. As Alice would have put it, particularly after a skinful of Old Peculiar, ‘It’s amazing. It really is Wonderland.’

Tea time and Umpire Baker checks the weather forecast on his phone and stares knowledgeably at the overhead clouds for the umpteenth time, before delivering his considered verdict on what’s to come. ‘It will or it won’t,’ he says with a nodding hat and contented expression; the look of a man who feels that in this event at least, he’s got most of the bases covered.

Mark Burton and Jody Lawrence make a steady start for the visitors, while several of their teammates wander surreptitiously into the pavilion to grab odd bits of the leftovers from the just-finished Hatter’s Tea Party. The back wall of the bar area is dominated by the club’s innovative vision for their new pavilion, while the Blue Peter-style land purchase fund-ometer at the side of the bar itself tells us that CKCC is one third of the way to achieving its £30K target. Making up a fair wedge of this figure is the Friday evening barbecue takings; massive congratulations must go to Judy, Jo and the team for pulling in £358 on 12th July and in so doing going to the head of this summer’s Charlton Kings Barbie League table. Bizarrely, right next to the BBQ notice is a sign warning people that rat poison has been put down at various points around the pavilion perimeter, so it may be a good idea to soap your mitts before digging into the first of your weekend burgers.

It’s the east wall of the pavilion that catches the attention more than anything else though, as missing GACUS umpire Julian Terry is featured in the ‘Unsung Hero Corner’ of the monthly CK newsletter. The article describes ‘Jugsy’ as a long-serving clubman with a penchant for real ale and someone who likes nothing more than a pint of Doom Bar and a good old chat. Any thoughts of tracking him down and returning him to the officiating fold are dampened however, when closer inspection of the fast-fading script reveals the newsletter’s dated June 2018, so locating Lord Lucan or the much lamented Shergar might prove to be easier than flushing out Jugsy any time soon.

Outside, most of the Poulton batters get a start, with numbers one to seven each moving into double figures, though Jack Thorn’s 31 is their best attempt at keeping the scorers gainfully employed. Behind the stumps, CK’s Brignull is turning in an impressive display, despite wearing an Eton-style cap that has more rings than Saturn and there’s an audible sense of relief when he stands up to the stumps and swaps the planet for a regulation, navy blue helmet.

It’s not great viewing for the travelling fans, who’ve split into two distinct groups at the north end of the ground; there are the corner ultras who stand out from the rest of the crowd due to their assemblage containing a food hamper with a canary yellow lid and an energetic brown dog, while Stalwart Neil’s entourage, located much closer to the pavilion, contains neither and doesn’t. When Charlie Buse becomes the second victim of Ellis’s off breaks however, the corner group rise as one and depart en masse, leaving a single green-cardiganed lady alone with the hamper and the dog and when she wanders over to the other cluster for both moral and physical support, she finds that they’ve disappeared too.

A visit to the gentlemen’s facilities reveals that these are only fifty per cent operational, due to the dodgy-looking cubicle being unfit for human activity. ‘Apologies for any inconvenience; please use the ladies’ is the reparational and directional advice provided by the laminated notice that’s blu-tacked onto the flimsy partition between the two. Worryingly, there are four fist-holes of plasterboard destruction in the connecting wall, which suggests that someone in desperate need tried to get next door without using the official entrance. A discreet investigation into the whole latrine situation reveals that the lavatory door in question was first locked in June 2018 and hasn’t been opened since, giving wind (no pun intended) to a conspiracy theory that’s far more contemporary than a white rabbit or a red queen, or indeed why the Reverend Dodgson was staying at the Liddell’s house in the first place.

The Poulton batters, now that the tea tables are well and truly empty, sit together next to the top-end sightscreen, resplendent in shirts that contain a succession of random numbers, thus giving the Englands-based team the appearance of a Sudoku puzzle when viewed from the rear. In the field behind them a lone white stallion completes a dozen fence-to-fence shuttle runs, while ten yards in front of the boundary rope a seagull pirouettes on the deep green outfield, both clearly excited and fancying their chances of solving today’s fiendish Japanese conundrum.

The Kings are hot stuff today, which may be the reason why the backs of their shirts are sponsored by both Montpelier’s Spice House and Koloshi, the Indian restaurant up by the reservoir that describes itself as the best in Gloucestershire. The shirt fronts have HMT on them, initials that may refer to a spa town Sales & Lettings company or Her Majesty’s Tandoori, depending on how you view these things. Whichever, Ellis completes a good day at the office by claiming his fourth scalp of the contest and when Jon Maunder is caught and bowled by Trewin, Poulton are all out for 162, some 115 runs adrift of their hosts’ impressively challenging total.

Game over, we head back down Greenway Lane, turn right at the lights and pull in outside The Looking Glass. The wonderfully ornate mirror still dominates the restaurant’s interior, reflecting the glow cast by the quintet of retro bulbs that hang, as if suspended in time, from the ivory white ceiling. An upmarket family swapping wine-fuelled tales occupies the large but now cluttered window table, while the three side stalls feature a trio of romantic couples, their love-torn faces shimmering in the breeze-blown candlelight. Beyond the other customers, at the far end of the eatery and right next to the looking glass itself sits an apparently lonely man, his head shorn of hair, yet his face arched into a seemingly-permanent Cheshire cat-like smile. The confettied remains of a crispy fish cheek grin eerily from the periphery of his plate; a pint of Doom Bar ripples undulatingly in his spectral right hand. And it has to be said, that while not wishing to fuel a conspiracy theory of any description whatsoever, this man does looks vaguely familiar.

Charlton Kings 277-2 (45 overs); B.Ellis 114*, A.Parker 64, L.Brignull 41*.

Poulton 162 (39.1 overs); J.Thorn 31; B.Ellis 4-37, S.Jordan 2-25.