Dig for victory Harry...

Wise words for a royal - and advice for a rainy day

Dear Marina,

Thanks to the effects of global warming we are all having a terrible wet and unsummery summer. Is it worth planning summer holidays in November time now and, if so, where would make a good destination?
Clare, Portsmouth

I am on record as taking umbrage with those who would say climate change is great if it means it’s getting warmer.

Not that many are saying that right now. And if you’ve had your home or business flooded, with all the stress and devastation that brings, you will rightly be angry beyond words at this summer’s torrents.

But can the rest of us address our attitude to rain please? If it is climate change that brings the monsoon season to Blighty, we can change our ways and help slow climate change and learn to live with the changes in the meantime.

Having always holidayed in England I was brought up never to allow the weather to dampen holiday spirits.

I cherish the hours of childhood spent stuck in a car, chomping on fish and chips, windows all steamed up, listening to the sound of rain lash the north Norfolk coast.

I still laugh at my mother who encouraged us to remove our clothes and sit on them when caught in a downpour without waterproofs.

But most of all I cherish summer rain for the sensual experience beyond the wildest imaginings of those whose only outdoor experience is the distance between their front door and their car, plus the annual trip to a foreign swimming pool with food and drinks included, where they read a book, get drunk and shagged before returning home hungover, diseased and burned to a crisp. And that’s just the pensioners…

Next time the heavens open strip off and give yourself over to the pounding on your naked flesh. Spread your arms, lift your face to the heavens, open your mouth and drink.

If your heart races off into ecstacy and you’re without a loved one to cling to in such a delicious deluge, hug a tree. Easy now, I said hug it.

Rain also plays intricately with light on the landscape. I’m no artist, but I do appreciate the way many places can look more beautiful, and have more character on rainy days as opposed to hot dusty ones. Sites popular with visitors are also less crowded in unsettled weather. No queues for ice cream. Bliss.

But where to holiday? I love the Lake District, the Peak district, Somerset, Cornwall, Devon, Norfolk and Sussex. DO NOT, REPEAT, DO NOT FLY TO FOREIGN CLIMES.

And when? According to the long range lunar forecast (I kid you not) we’re in for a dry September. This is good news for me as I’m running my first three-day festival (outoftheordinaryfestival.com). If you can get to Polegate Station in Sussex lift shares can get you to our site. Tickets are selling fast so get buying now.

Dear Marina

Despite being a babe magnet with endless squillions of pounds to my name and a noble ancestery, I’m constantly bullied by my colleagues for having red hair. When I was unable to join them for a tour of duty in Iraq they all went out and bought red wigs. I guess this could be to fool the insurgents who will give away their positions as they eagerly and mistakenly attempt to blow me up. But I still feel bullied.

I’m so depressed I just want to go clubbing, drink too much, smoke that extra strong cannabis that’s going around the cabinet and pick up unsuitable girls.

But Dad says it’s not on while the regiment squares up to death on a daily basis. What can I do?
Harry, Gloucestershire

Oh Harry, as I said to your grandmother just the other day: “Gardening is its own reward, don’t you agree?” She agreed.

Your father has many acres to toil, so do what the girls did when forced by tradition to avoid combat: they dug for victory. With your help, despite the impending crisis caused by the growing of too many biofuels instead of food crops, we shall never have to face rationing on Duchy Originals.

And don’t worry about being called ginger nut (a lower class of biscuit altogether). It’s just their way of avoiding calling you genuinely hurtful names, like “upper class twat”. Please remind your Granny she’s expected in Lewes to help with the revolution. We’ll book her a room at the White Hart. If she’s worried about being lynched by the Headstrong Club we can loan her the disguise of a red haired wig. Snigger!

Marina Pepper is a former glamour model turned journalist, author, eco-campaigner and Lib Dem politician. A councillor and former Parliamentary candidate, she lives near Brighton with her two children.
Why not e-mail your problems to askmarina@newstatesman.co.uk?
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How the Oval regained its shape: the famous cricket ground hosts its 100th Test

The challenge for Surrey is to ensure that the new fans drawn to the stadium in recent years keep coming.

Few stadiums have as rich a sporting history as the Oval. After opening its gates in 1845, it hosted England’s first home football international, the first FA Cup final, and Ireland’s inaugural rugby Test.

Though it took 35 years before a cricket Test match – the first ever in England – was played at the ground in Kennington, south London, it was worth waiting for. WG Grace scored 152 runs, setting the tone for many memorable performances  at the Oval. Among the highlights: Len Hutton’s 364 in 1938, still the highest Test score by an England batsman; Viv Richards’s double century and Michael Holding’s 14 wickets for the West Indies before an ecstatic crowd in 1976; England’s Ashes-clinching match in 2005, when a skunk-haired Kevin Pietersen thrashed the Australian attack.

But just five years later, in 2010, the Oval and its host club Surrey were in a bad way. For the first time since 1986, the first day of the annual Oval Test was not a sell-out, and attendances for county games were down. Finances were so stretched that Surrey made a dozen administrative staff redundant, and there was talk of insolvency. The club, which is owned by its 10,000 members and is a tenant of the Duchy of Cornwall, was “very close to a substantial crisis”, Paul Sheldon, then chief executive, said at the time.

Today that seems far away. On 27 July, the Oval hosted its 100th Test, the third match of the series between England and South Africa. The first day was sold out. And Surrey are now the richest first-class county, with £12m of reserves. In 2019, work will begin on a redevelopment scheme that will increase the Oval’s capacity from 25,000 to 40,000, making it the biggest cricket ground in England. (Lord’s, the Oval’s more illustrious rival, can seat 28,000 people.)

“We are in a good place,” said Richard Gould, the current chief executive, one recent afternoon in his grandstand office overlooking the pitch, where a big group of local schoolchildren ran around in the sun.

How did the Oval regain its shape? Gould, whose father Bobby played football for Arsenal and was manager of Wimbledon when the team won the FA Cup in 1988, lists several factors. The first is a greater focus on non-cricketing revenue, taking advantage of the club’s historic facilities. In 2011, when Gould joined Surrey after stints at Bristol City football and Somerset cricket clubs, revenue from corporate events and conferences was £1.3m. This year the projected income is £4.6m.

The second factor is the surge in popularity of the T20 competition played by the 18 first class counties in England and Wales. Unlike Tests, which last for five days, a T20 Blast match takes just three hours. The frenetic format has attracted many people to games who have never previously followed cricket. Surrey, which like Lord’s-based Middlesex have the advantage of being in London, have been especially successful in marketing its home games. Advance sell-outs are common. Surrey reckon they will account for one in six T20 tickets bought in the UK this season, with gate receipts of £4m, four times more than in 2010.

Whereas Test and even one-day international spectators tend to be regulars – and male – Gould estimates that up to 70 per cent of those who attend T20 games at the Oval are first-timers. Women, and children under 16, typically constitute a quarter of the crowd, a higher percentage than at football and rugby matches and a healthy trend for the game and the club.

The strong domestic T20 sales encouraged the Oval’s management to focus more on the county than on the national team. Until a few years ago, Surrey never seriously marketed its own merchandise, unlike professional football clubs, which have done so successfully for decades.

“When I came here, everything around the ground was focused on England,” Gould said. “We needed to put our team first. In the past, county cricket did not make you money. With T20, there’s a commercial business case.”

To raise its profile and pull in the crowds, Surrey have signed some of the biggest international stars in recent years, including Australia’s Ricky Ponting, South Africa’s Hashim Amla, Sri Lanka’s Kumar Sangakkara and Kevin Pietersen, who is now mainly a T20 franchise player. For the players, as with the counties, it’s where the money is.

The challenge for Surrey is to ensure that the new fans drawn to the Oval in recent years keep coming. In common with many businesses today, customer data is crucial. The club has 375,000 names on its marketing database, of which 160,000 are Surrey supporters. But since the average T20 purchaser buys six tickets, many people who attend games at the Oval remain unknown to the club. One way Surrey are trying to identify them is through a service that allows one person to book tickets for a group of friends, who then each pay the club directly. Another method is through offering free, fast Wi-Fi at the ground, which anyone can use as long as they register their email address.

For all the focus on T20, Gould is keen to stress that England internationals, especially Test matches, are a crucial part of the Oval’s future – even if the business model may have to be tweaked.

“We always want to be one of the main Test venues. The problem we have is: will countries still put aside enough time to come to play Tests here? In many countries domestic T20 now takes precedence over international cricket. It may be that we may have to start to pay countries to play at the Oval.” 

Xan Rice is Features Editor at the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 27 July 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Summer double issue