A rather excited message on the voicemail from John Moore, formerly of the Jesus and Mary Chain and Black Box Recorder, who tells me to call him urgently. He has decided he wants to start a cricket team and wants me to captain it. Although this is undoubtedly an honour, it is also a telling measure of his desperation. He wants to call it "the Black Box Recorder Cricket XI", and seems unfazed when I remind him that Black Box Recorder had only three members (four if you count the drummer, but he never hung around after their gigs), and one of them, now his ex-wife, is a woman. Incredible singing voice, but not much use in the field, and I think there is some controversy about her bowling action.
“She can make the teas," says John. "She makes a lovely tea." My suspicion that John is going through one of his manic phases grows when he says, "We'll make more money out of this than we ever did out of rock'n'roll", but then I recall how much money he's made out of rock'n'roll, and concede he might have a point.
The thing about John is that, as a musician and songwriter, he is supremely talented, which means he is more or less disqualified from success. And this is a man who has performed on Top of the Pops. It makes me weep at the injustice of it all. I can never really understand why musically gifted people aren't always enormously rich, just as a measure of society's gratitude. I gave a quid to a dosser playing "Edelweiss" on the harmonica the other day, thinking to myself: if you can play "Edelweiss" on the harmonica, how in heaven's name have you got yourself into this state? Anyway, I am always delighted to help John out.
I sometimes wonder how he manages to survive; if ever there was a man to whom the term "no visible means of support" was applicable, it is John, unless he has a sideline he has not been telling me about, or has started importing absinthe again, which was never quite the earner he hoped it would be. (I think he once persuaded the Idler to pay its contributors in absinthe, and I remember earning a couple of bottles. That made for an interesting weekend.)
But I don't think a cricket team is going to be the answer to his problems, except in the area of bien-être. I play, not nearly as often as I would like, for Marcus Berkmann's team of heroic amateurs, the Rain Men, and each time I do so, I love it more and more. The trick is to negotiate that fine line between tolerating the inexpert player and wanting to win just enough to make it worthwhile playing in the first place. It helps that the Rain Men are all gentlemen, in the finest sense of the word.
A few years ago I played for Harold Pinter's team, the Gaieties, and let me put it like this: the most welcoming and friendly of the bunch was Harold Pinter himself. The others looked at my ancient cricket boots, which were at the bleeding edge of sportswear technology in 1976, first with astonishment, then with derision; the Rain Men looked at them with something approaching envy.
A couple of Sundays ago, on the hottest day of the year, I stood for hours in blazing sunshine as Hampstead CC's 2nd or 3rd XI hammered us into oblivion in a bumpy park. They provided a League umpire, who was quite impressive until he attacked the Foster's at teatime, and then, when we were batting, made some decisions that . . . well, never mind. I made a plucky six, taken in increasingly wheezy singles, which might look like
a pathetic score but was in fact the team's second-highest. The margin of defeat was so great that it went beyond humiliation.
At the end of the day, Marcus came round for contributions - £7 from each player. I thought about this for a moment, wondering if there had been some mistake. I had spent almost six hours slow-roasting in the sun, to the point where my skin had turned to crackling, my team had been massacred, I had been clean-bowled by a bowler I thought I had got the measure of - I hadn't had such a pleasant day since the last time I played. (This is discounting, of course, days spent with the Woman I Love. Sometimes, of course, one can combine the two.) Seven pounds to experience nirvana? Seems like a good deal to me.
But whether the Black Box Recorder XI is a goer, I'm not sure. For a start, we are eight players short. John says he can get a much-loved rock star of his acquaintance - which would be amazing, but the star is in his sixties and if he's fitter than me that'll be embarrassing. Any volunteers out there?