Saints and Sinners

Mystics versus Saint Neot at Saint Neot, 29th July 2010

The old Cornish woman who lived in a shoe had so many saints she didn't know what to do. Back in the dark ages, you'd have been hard pressed to get through a full day's threshing anywhere in Cornwall without banging into a saint or two, and if you tried to organize a fertility rite in Lostwithiel, you can bet your bottom dollar that Saint Wenn - or, if not him, Saint Veep or Saint Winnow or Saint Wynoccus - would have muscled in to put the mockers on it. Now, it's a matter of curious historical interest that very few Cornish saints were allowed out of the county. I reckon they must have had border guards on 24-hour saint patrol - which is one of the things that makes Saint Neot so interesting. How did he get to Cambridgeshire, I wondered. A special passport issued by King Mark, perhaps, but why? Or was he exiled for fiddling with Saint Pinnock behind the vestry? The real truth, I now discover (via Google), is darker than that. It was in the year of 877 that Saint Neot died, and it fell to the lot of all the contemporary Cornish saints whose names began with an 'E' - Saints Endellion, Enoder, Erme, Erney, Erth, Ervan, Eval and Ewa - to organise a commemorative lock-in at the London Inn of the village on Bodmin Moor that Saint Neot had endowed with his name. 273 saints were crammed into the hostelry, competing in a very saintly manner for their share of mead (Cornish Lust was off for the day), while outside on the patio, eying up the small coffin (the holy man was only four feet tall when alive, and had shrunk a bit since then) that contained the bones of Saint Neot, were two dark-cloaked travellers from Cambridgeshire. Not even the landlord of the London Inn knew that they were mediaeval vets, who had heard of the late saint's wonderful way with animals, and who were superstitious enough (well, everybody was in those far-off days) to believe that their Cambridgeshire reputations would be enhanced if they could sneak off with a relic or two - a femur, say, or a clavicle. It was with that in mind that they hefted the coffin over towards the skittle alley, where they hoped to lever off the lid without being heard by the bevy of imbibing saints. Alas, they had reckoned without the bladder of Saint Issey, a leaky container that threatened to rust up his dangling crucifix unless regularly emptied. Saints, of course, have to wear a lot of clobber in deference to their high office, so it took Saint Issey long enough to locate his urine exit to allow the Cambridgeshire vets to sneak off with the complete remains of Saint Neot, coffin and all. And that, fellow-pilgrims, is how it came about that the bones of one Cornish saint came to rest in a Benedictine priory on the far side of England. Where are they now? No one knows. The priory was torn down after the dissolution of the monasteries, and it might just be possible to sniff out a bit of Cornwall in Cambridgeshire if you nose your way around the plaque that shows where it once stood.

If you're wondering why, for a cricket magazine, I've spent my time researching saints, it's because the 2010 fixture between St Neot and the Mystics was so boring as to defy description. The high spot of the day was the exhibition of juvenile art work, curated by Gemma and suspended from the pavilion railings. With St Neot batting first, we bowled (ineptly for the most part - with Jim Myton, Matt Cook and Fraser Chave honourable exceptions) 45 overs including 15 wides, conceded 42 fours and 5 sixes (178 in boundaries) and had the nerve to take 9 wickets. Some bellicose batting from Kent, Rogers, Bunt, Masters and Ham (dubbed 'Baby' by the scorers on the grounds of his initial 'S') was an entirely appropriate response to the tosh served up by our bowlers, but the trouble, from a view of the game as a spectacle, was that we never - except briefly, when the Cook brothers were smiting together - looked like getting close to their score. In the end, Matt Cook was not so much run out as clapped out, and it was left to Chris Squire and Fraser Chave to secure an illmerited draw for the Mystics. There seems to be a production line of accurate medium-paced bowlers in St Neot. Let's call them the Bodmin Moor Seamers and have them serenade us after the match at the London Inn. One of them, a wild young man called Masters, was scheduled to bowl the 38th and final over. Chris Squire squeezed the second ball away for a single, exposing Graham Sharland to the next assault. He fended off the third ball and was bowled by the fourth. Enter Fraser. Now, most people, faced by a halfpint of Chave, would drop their pace. "Think about it!" warned S. Ham from deep gully. In vain. Masters and thought are not, on this evidence, closely allied. The fifth ball was straight and fast. So was Fraser's bat. That meant that, with 8 wickets down and one ball to go, St Neot couldn't win the match. "Think about it!" shouted 'Baby' again. The warning brushed off the brain of Masters like water off a duck's back. The final ball of the match was fast enough to have deeply dented the anatomy of a twelve-year-old. Heaven be praised, it missed him, but how much was Masters fined? That's what I want to know.

Peter Thomson

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