25 Years of Phené Philandering
The Phené Philanderers started life as a rugby team, in which I played fly-half, in 1965 and it was actually quite a good team. In those days it was standard practice for young bachelors to share furnished flats in central London until they got married, so the Phené team members all drank in The Phené virtually every night as nearly all lived within walking distance. All this changed in the late 1970s unfortunately, when the Labour Government's Rent Act gave tenants such security of tenure that landlords sold their flats rather than risk being lumbered with a bad tenant they could never get rid of. As none of us could then afford to buy a flat in Chelsea most people bought further out, so the Phené scene was never quite the same again.
Phené rugby gradually deteriorated as our over-ambitious captain kept getting us games against fit young sides who trained during the week, with the result that on Monday nights the Phené bar looked more like a hospital casualty department. This, plus the increasing difficulty of finding 15 rugby players to play in the required positions, decided us to turn to cricket in 1968 as a less health-destructive pursuit which also provided the maximum opportunity for our two main hobbies - drinking and womanising. The organiser and driving force in all three activities was my colleague in the BP Chemicals publicity department, Peter Tappenden. For the first two cricket seasons we played five or six games and in 1970 we had our one and only unbeaten season, though the standard of the teams we played against was certainly not as good in those days. By this time Peter had discovered that organising cricket was a time-consuming occupation and handed it over to me. At this stage the landlord of The Phené Arms was Reg Gretton, a tall thin ex-Battle of Britain fighter pilot whose Basil Fawlty-type moods ranged from charmingly genial to splutteringly indignant. He regarded customers as a necesary evil, until they had been through the persistence barrier, but even then as an interruption to his conversation with his old cronies. As a result, the pub never became fashionable or over-crowded. He did, however, take an interest in the cricket and always hired a coach for us at his own expense, partly to make it a day out for his cronies and partly, no doubt, because he feared the carnage which might descend on the motoring public if the team members drove their cars after the après-cricket drinking.
As a result of one particularly enthusiastic Friday evening session in The Phené in winter 1972 when the conversation turned to the charms of oriental ladies, I was prevailed on to organise a two week cricket tour to Bangkok and Hong Kong. The basic cost was £250 and in March 1973 we left Heathrow with the landlords of both The Phené and the nearby Cross Keys. Our tour operator was Kuoni, and in Bangkok they accommodated us in the Grace Hotel, well away from their other clients. In those far-off comparatively innocent days before AIDS was heard of, even Saigon Rose was only an outside chance. To our delight we found that the hotel had a Long Bar which was open 24 hours a day and permanently full of beautiful, charming and willing Thai girls, as JS, MR's cousin, and the only other current member who was on the trip, would confirm. After many and colourful adventures in this paradise on earth, during which we were soundly beaten at cricket by the Royal Bangkok Sports Club, whose team included a very good American, we moved on with considerable reluctance to Hong Kong. Here we played four games in deadly earnest, of which we won one, and in the last, even forced the Hong Kong Cricket Club, then top of Division 1, to bat to the last over almost in the dark, after we had scored 190 in our 40 overs, to avoid the humiliation of failing to beat a Chelsea pub team. Being stiff-upper-lip-colonial still at the time, there were no easily available local girls around, just drinking in the evenings at the Hong Kong Cricket Club. For years afterwards whenever we came across somebody on leave from Hong Kong who discovered we were cricketers he or she would always say "Oh yes ... we had a pub cricket team over here a couple of years ago ... terrible shower ... nobody got any work done for a week because we had to stay up all night drinking with them...!"
Having acquired the taste for overseas cricket tours, we tried a weekend in Amsterdam the following summer with a Saturday afternoon game against the Commonwealth Club who consisted of expats of various nationalities. Once again, our tour operator had managed to book us well away from their other clients in a small hotel attractively situated in the canal area which turned out to be adjacent to the famous Zeedyk red light district. After being thrashed on the cricket field one of our players thought he would be sociable by making a little light conversation in the luxurious bar of the Commonwealth Club with our opposition's bald headed Yorkshire fast bowler on the lines of "Well, I'm afraid we didn't give you a very good game - we didn't have many of our real cricketers out there today unfortunately." With uncompromising Boycott-like charm the Yorkshireman responded: "Yer didn't 'ave one fookin' real cricketer out there!" Later we consoled ourselves in the many bars down by the canals near our hotel where the ladies of the night sit in shop windows to show their wares off to potential punters. One of these ladies we kept having a surreptitious look at between bars was a statuesque blonde Amazon wearing a leopard skin leotard with a bull whip dangling over one shoulder. Sometime later, when we passed again, we saw the window was empty but simultaneously the side door opened and a little man with pebble glasses in a crumpled raincoat came out with the Amazon behind towering above him. Quite spontaneously we all broke into a round of applause as if he had hit a stylish four, to which he responded with a sheepish grin. Seeing potential punters, the Amazon then bore down on us, whereupon we retired hastily to the safety of the nearest bar. Many hours and many bars later we were sufficiently lubricated to opt for a visit to one of the many Live Shows in the area. Having paid our money we stumbled to our seats in the gloom to watch the acrobatic couplings of a young stud and various sensationally attractive females of varying race and colour. After one particularly ambitious series of contortions, a titter rose from one part of the small audience which gradually gained momentum until everybody was giggling almost hysterically. At this point the doorman/bouncer appeared through the gloom gesticulating angrily and in a loud stage whisper insisted "No laugh, no laugh, or he make floppy dick!" Of course when the lights went on at the end we saw that three quarters of the audience were made up by the Phené party who had come in through the gloom at different times unknown to each other.
After a further Amsterdam weekend followed by one in Paris where we played at the Standard Athletic Club, the main expat sports club in the city, we started on our tours to Corfu which provided the ideal combination of up to five good standard games involving the minimum of traveling and no changes of accommodation plus an excellent beach holiday in beautiful surroundings.
For our first two summers in Corfu, 1976 and 1977, we were based in Dassia on the east coast north of Corfu Town. We played the two Corfiot clubs Byron and Gymnasticos, an All Corfu XI and the Britannia Club, the latter being a team of Brit residents and holidaymakers organised by John Forte who has lived in Corfu for forty-five years and played a major part in reviving cricket there after the war. I got our tour operator, Cosmopolitan Holidays, to provide a Shield which we have played for ever since against the All Corfu XI. In 1977 we won it for the first time after a stand of 50 between Martin Abbott and Tony Greenwood, then for the second and last time in 1980 with the help of an imported New Zealander and two South African friends of Spike de Keller. Since then, although our standard has improved, the Corfiots have improved even more so that we have been hard pressed to keep in contention at times in spite of our imported players.
In 1977 we stayed at a taverna in the island's most famous beauty spot, Paleokastritsa, which had two main disadvantages: the sea was very cold owing to a local current which doesn't warm up much until September and the taverna had three Greek evenings a week which meant no sleep before 3.30am, just when the mosquitoes started to attack. In 1978 we therefore returned to the east coast, facing the mainland, and stayed at Barbati, about 5 miles north of Dassia and beyond the commercialised strip of coast. We were based in an 19th century converted farmhouse, the Red House, on the hillside above the superb mile-long Barbati Beach and we had two villa girls to make our breakfasts and dinners. One of their duties was to keep the fridge stocked with beer which involved carrying crates up a steep flight of stone steps in front of the house. By the end of our first week our staggering rate of consumption made them demand extra payment from the head office. Still, one of them obtained it in kind: having taken a fancy to one of our party she physically removed his bed to her own room! On the beach below, Dimitris, the local Casanova and wheeler-dealer, ran a highly successful disco and restaurant which we patronised regularly over our next ten years in Barbati, together with Vladimir's bar and Byron restaurant. Some memorable characters from our tour parties over the years included Tolly (Ian Tollemache), whose snoring was so loud that John Barrett was forced to expel him from the room they shared so he had to find a room in the next village (from where his snoring could still be heard as the dawn came up), the wild and statuesque Gillian Robinson, whose impressive frontal arrangements were expressively appreciated by Australian Darryl Lobsey: "Ripper Norks!", Suzannah Wyldbore-Smith, 14 stone of rampant womanhood who fully lived up to her name - her self-styled provocative dancing used to cut a swathe through Dimitris' disco dance floor punters prior to her dragging off her selected victim into the adjacent olive groves, Captain Bullshit Ormes whose favourite method of settling bar bills was to put his cap over the drinks chits, squeeze it together with the chits inside and then make a dignified exit..., Noel Boyd, who took the statuesque Gillian for a nude swim from Dimitris' taverna only to find after they returned from their frolicking that Spike had removed their clothes so they had to walk back to the Red House along the main road naked, dodging into the bushes every time a car passed... And on the Corfiot side, Dimitris, the champion tourist bimbo-puller and local mafia don, Vladimir, the only Corfiot with nervous energy, Captain Leg-over Lefteris, our regular boat trip captain who dived down with us to show us where the octopus were, let us drink his booze and fondled our women if allowed... etc.
On the cricket front, 1979 saw two new events: during our game with the new team Phaeax a Land Rover suddenly started driving around the outfield. When it came to a halt, Spike, the nearest fielder, shouted "Malaka!" at the driver and his companion. The window was wound down and the Corfiot driver enquired in perfect English "Are you calling me a m***r by any chance?", making to open the door. Spike leant against the door as half the Phaeax team, led by their captain Takis Bogdanos, the big hitter, charged across the field. With a torrent of Greek threats and curses Bogdanos pulled the driver out, propped him against the side of the vehicle and thumped him. With Corfiot honour then satisfied the game proceeded. For the last game of this tour, at the end of the first week in October, our hosts had forgotten to tell us to arrive an hour earlier owing to the end of Greece's summer time. As a result the last hour of the game was played in complete darkness with the field lit only by the lamps around the Liston Arcade, the bar lights and passing cars' headlights. It was not until the Phené, who were batting, were 5 runs short of victory, with the last man batting, that the bowler was lucky enough to find the wicket with a straight ball which the batsman never saw.
On the home front, 1981 brought a Phené event which will live forever in the memory of those present: Darryl Lobsey's Stag Party. This was held in the basement room of the Man in the Moon at World's End, Chelsea. When the assembled company had been deemed sufficiently inebriated, two strip-tease artists made their entrance. One was slim and blonde and the other dark-skinned and well-built - a Fatima Whitbread look alike in fact. It soon transpired that in line with emerging feminist thinking, there was not much tease about their act and they were soon putting themselves about the audience with Shameful Sauciness. The blonde one, by now wearing extremely little, sat down on John Barrett's lap, inducing immediately steamed up glasses and a storm of high pitched giggles... but worse was to follow: the Man of the Hour was called to the floor by the Brazen Hussies to perform with them. Fortunately Bacchus came to his aid and the Hussies gave up, with spicy comments about not being bleeding snake charmers. This was the moment at which Noel Boyd had reached a climax of desire and/or inebriation and he launched a charge across the floor at them on hands and knees, with tongue rampant. For some curious reason the Dirty Duo decided that this was Extremely Shocking Behaviour and fled to the safety of their changing room, leaving poor Noel prostrate and by now almost unconscious on the floor... Yet another cultural evening with the Phené!
Since the flurry of Phené marriages in 1981/82, things have seemed to quieten down, especially as the younger generation of Marrieds have married younger without having completed the full course of Phené Bachelorhood, as approved by the Ethics Committee. Still, there's always the last Corfu trip in which to make up for lost time.