WG Grace glowers down from his perch above the door to the Members Stand at Lord's. You can almost hear the granddad of cricket booming: "This is my house! I demand to know what is going on!"
Leather and willow are out; carbon fibre arrows with steel tips are in. And they're being fired 70m, from under the shadow of the venerable old stand, across the pitch which will host a test match against South Africa in three weeks, and thudding into wooden targets.
On an idyllic, warm summer's day in leafy north London, the sporting world has gone mad. The home of cricket is now the home of Olympic archery, a sport described by cricket commentator David 'Bumble' Lloyd as "posh darts".
Archers, officials and media have the run of Lord's for the next week. Not a cranky doorman with a white coat to be seen. Nor a Lord's member with a hyphenated name and a garish red and yellow tie.
The plaque on the wall reads: "Whilst in the pavilion gentlemen shall wear ties and tailored coats and acceptable long trousers with appropriate shoes." So it seems like a criminal act, strolling past the photo of WG, wandering up the steps and entering the Long Room, wearing jandals, shorts and t-shirt (it is hot over here). Sorry, old chap.
Magnificent oil paintings of Bodyline series combatants Douglas Jardine and Don Bradman loom large on the walls (and another huge, framed portrait of a bearded WG). This is cricketing heaven, the room thousands of nervous batsmen have tiptoed through before a test innings.
The under-dressed Kiwi wanders about, imagining being frog-marched out and thrown onto the street if this was match day. Instead, two Olympic volunteers stroll up and engage in friendly banter. They're in charge of looking after the 'Olympic family' (they're not allowed to call them VIPs) when the competition starts. The Long Room loses some of its magic when dotted with grey couches and loud pink cushions. The office of the Marylebone Cricket Club's chief executive is now the drug testing room.
On the field, temporary grandstands with capacity for 6500 spectators (the competition is sold out) dominate the outfield, either side of where the archers - 64 men and 64 women - will do their thing. No New Zealanders made the cut. More's the pity; this place could have done with Kiwi archer Ken Uprichard, who memorably said of his highly-rated opponent in Athens in 2004: "He's in for a surprise when I kick his arse".
Behind the targets, a 14m-high purple backdrop looms like a giant sightscreen. Peeking over it is the five Olympic rings, hanging on the front of the spaceship-like press box at the Nursery End.
The only stipulation from the MCC was the pitch area remain untouched. The breeze of arrows is the only thing that will ruffle the grass.
All is in readiness. A dress rehearsal for the medal ceremonies is taking place. The Chariots of Fire theme tune gives way to God Save The Queen; a horde of drug testers stand to attention and 10 local volunteers cram onto the gold medal podium, waving to the applauding crowd. A bit presumptuous from the Brits, maybe, but then again this is no ordinary event, at an extraordinary venue.
- © Fairfax NZ News