Arts, Culture & Media

Why cricket's Henry Blofeld believes in 'squeezing the orange' to the very last drop

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Henry Blofeld performs at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe on August 16, 2013, in Scotland.

Henry Blofeld is a BBC cricket commentator. Should you not be familiar with the glories of his program, Test Match Special, understand that his is a style of commentary quite unlike that of his professional colleagues in soccer or (American) football.

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'Blowers', as he's known, will happily talk about pigeons on the field of play, or about last night's dinner, or about that time he met so-and-so. In a game that can take its time, Blofeld's commentary is a marvel of gentle bonhomie, a voice from a bygone age.

Now Blofeld has published an autobiography, "Squeezing the Orange."

At school in England, Blofeld was himself a talented cricketer, perhaps set for greatness. That is, until June 1957, when, after a match, he was run over by a bus.

Blofeld lay unconscious for almost a month.

"That rather messed my cricket up," he says. "Blood was gushing out of my mouth. I had something like 18 major brain operations; they always tell me that I was lucky to live, but I was particularly lucky not to become a cabbage. Although of course there are some of my charming friends who say otherwise."

Blofeld is now 74.

For cricket fans, he's a larger-than-life character — like he’s jumped out of a novel by P.G. Wodehouse. For a start, Blofeld was born with an enormous silver spoon in his mouth.

"There were masses of staff — servants, as they were called in those days. I mean, nannies, nursery maids, I practically never had meals with my parents until I was 14."

Blofeld grew into an eminently social man — always with an anecdote to share.

There’s the time he met Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe: Blofeld says "he would have won a gold medal for spitting, over the medium and long range. I was forever ducking."

Then there’s the time he met James Bond author Ian Fleming.

Blofeld, along with his father and brother, belonged to a gentleman’s club in London, called Boodles; Fleming was a member too.

Fleming recalled trying to come up with a name for the villain in his Bond novel, Thunderball.

"And he said 'I went to bed scratching my head and woke up more or less similarly afflicted and couldn't think of it in the morning and got a taxi to Boodles in St. James' Street and sank gratefully into a leather armchair, reached for the membership list and started to go through it alphabetically, looking for the name of a baddie."

And when he got to the Bs he was gobsmacked by a phalanx of three Blofelds, and in his own words, he said, "I slammed the book shut, gave a yelp of delight, ordered a pint of champagne and never looked back."

The villain, of course, was Ernst Stavro Blofeld — in the movies he’s the bald guy with a white cat.

But Blofeld's favorite adventure came in 1976. He was scheduled to go to India to watch cricket, and decided to drive there: from London to Bombay, overland.

"We collected five people and one of them owned a 1921 Silver Ghost Rolls Royce, the most perfect claret-colored machine," he recalls.

So off they went, in the Rolls Royce, through Europe and beyond — on to Afghanistan, Iran and then Pakistan.

"After we got through the Khyber Pass we got down to Peshawar and stayed, I remember, at Dean's Hotel, which is one of those famous old hotels that the English had a habit of leaving behind them," he says.

From there it was a hop, skip, and a jump over the border into India and on to Bombay.

"It took us 46 days and nights. We always we said we'd get there on the 22nd November in time for lunch, and we sat down to lunch at a quarter to two, which wasn't bad," he says.

A monumental effort culminating in lunch: That gets to the heart of Blofeld’s appeal, I think.

He represents an idealized version of the upper class Englishman of yesteryear, a mixture of adventure and refinement, of understatement and jolly good fun.

"I regard each day as an orange that has to have as much juice squeezed out it as possible," says Blofeld. "And when I finish squeezing one day's orange I go to bed and wait for the next day's orange. I'm all for getting the maximum of fun out of life and having as much laughter as I can. I mean, none of us laugh enough — we live in a gloomy age. And when you do laugh, you feel better."

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