John Light: Chairman of Gloucestershire County Cricket club
PUBLISHED: 13:39 31 January 2010 | UPDATED: 16:02 20 February 2013
Katie Jarvis finds out how a 'slow Cotswold farm child' went on to become chairman of Gloucestershire County Cricket club. Pictures by Shaun Thompson
the village's cricket team, "and if you grew up in Gloucestershire, as I did, in a family where
there wasn't too much money about, you passed your time playing cricket in summer and
football in winter," John Light says.
When the young John showed promise, his father speculated he might one day play for Gloucestershire. "But I told him I'd rather aim for the committee instead. 'John,' he replied, 'a working class Cotswold lad has more chance of passing through the eye of a needle than getting onto that committee.'"
He'd be delighted to know his son not only made the committee of Gloucestershire County
Cricket Club, but became its excellent chairman in 2006.
Now retired after a distinguished career in teaching, particularly in underprivileged areas of
the country, he is married to Penny, who is training for ordination into the priesthood. John
has three children from his first marriage: John Light, the actor; Liz, who runs a youth
theatre company in Birmingham; and Sue, who splits her life between Thailand and England.
Where do you live and why?
In central Cirencester: having moved here from London, where we lived for so long, the speed of getting to places in the car is a joy. Penny is studying for ordination and will serve her curacy in Cirencester parish, which will be an absolute joy. The welcome we've received here has been warm and wonderful.
How long have you lived in the Cotswolds?
I was born in Sheepscombe in 1940 and left to go to Reading University to read history in '59; but with mum and dad living here, I would visit continuously. It was a shock to realise I could get to university; I'd been brought up in villages where you would touch your forelock to your employer. I went to Cirencester Grammar School (now Deer Park) when Peter Maxwell Davies, the current Master of the Queen's Music, was teaching there. At the time, he was quoted in the Times Educational Supplement as saying what a terrible task it was to have to teach 'slow Cotswold farm children'. Nine of us from my year went on to university, four of us - by his definition - being 'slow Cotswold farm children': an awful phrase. I found university hugely exciting, especially meeting so many people from overseas for the first time.
What's your idea of a perfect weekend in the Cotswolds?
Easy! Early Saturday morning to Tesco: friendly, cheerful customers and staff; back home to unpack; walk into Cirencester - farmers' market; The Wonderwall Gallery; coffee or tea in Corner Stone where I'm allowed a piece of cake! Then Forest Green football in the afternoon. I love that journey: through Minchinhampton, across the common, down the 'W' and up the other side. What's more, whether it's a win or a loss, the factor that transcends all others is the exciting story of a village club rising to the edge of the football league: I love going.
Saturday evening will be a drive to a Cotswold pub; then I'll sit down and devour the local papers (I'm a journalist manqu!): the Stroud News and Journal and the Wilts and Gloucestershire Standard. I even read the planning applications.
Sunday is spent supporting Penny, followed by lunch either in the Oddfellows or the Twelve Bells - both excellent. Sunday lunches at the Twelve Bells are gargantuan; marvellous landlord - admirably arch, acid and acerbic.
If money were no object, where would you live in the Cotswolds?
My heart's still in Sheepscombe, but the price of houses, the hills, and the lack of public transport mean it's probably not a good idea.
Where are you least likely to live in the Cotswolds?
Bourton-on-the-Water: lovely to visit; too many people to live there. Nor in Gloucester (which is in the Vale not the Cotswolds), which should be a lot better than it is: I hope the regeneration work goes well. The area around the cathedral is magnificent, but the '50s and '60s development is dreadful. While I was watching our second team play cricket at Hatherley recently, I happened to chat to two men who regularly go on holiday to cathedral cities. They told me that, apart from Derby, ours is the worst.
Where's the best pub in the area?
There is one particular collector's item: The Red Lion at Ampney St Peter - four landlords since 1887. You can buy crisps and peanuts, but no food; and you can buy two draught beers, beautifully looked after. The bar is half the size of my sitting room and filled with a mix of Gloucestershire people, talking about their lives, hopes and dreams. It could be 100 years ago - it is, in some respects. People come from afar to sit and wonder, and I love it.
And the best place to eat?
Jesse's Bistro in Cirencester. Andrew Parffrey runs it with an easy grace. Top quality in service and ingredients, and wonderfully hidden away.
Have you a favourite tearoom?
Huffkins in Burford. When Penny and I lived in London, it was the first stop we'd make when coming to see the family in Gloucestershire. We have romantic reasons, too - we had our honeymoon in Burford.
What would you do for a special occasion?
We're aiming to get to Barnsley House for a special meal at some point; and last week, as a surprise, I drove Penny to Rick Stein's in Padstow because she'd been working so hard.
Other special occasions include Gloucestershire successes: to win that clutch of finals, as we did at Lord's between 1999 and 2004, was absolutely tremendous. We'd book a room in the banqueting suite, and the cup would be held up high and passed round.
What's the best thing about the Cotswolds?
Firstly, the people who work to give youngsters an opportunity to play cricket, in places like Poulton, Chedworth, Minchinhampton, Stroud, Frocester... I'm president of the Cotswold District Cricket Association: 67 clubs between Adlestrop and Badminton, many of them with thriving youth sections.
And secondly, the Cotswolds' fine comprehensive schools. My wife and I were shown round Cirencester Deer Park school on its 40th anniversary by Miss Henson - I taught there from 1967-1971. Penny and I were both teachers, and have both worked in inner cities, where we saw nothing with those sorts of facilities. When comprehensives opened in 1966, the opportunities that were afforded ordinary people were life-changing.
... and the worst?
The number of second homes, which are having such an adverse effect on village life.
Which shop could you not live without?
Tesco at Kingsmeadow, Cirencester. It's a combination of the selection of exciting goods on offer from all over the world, and the part-time jobs, at all sorts of hours, which are a great help to Cirencester families.
What's the most underrated thing about the Cotswolds?
The five rivers: the Churn, the Coln, the Leach, the Windrush and the Evenlode. All have their charm.
What is a person from the Cotswolds called?
What would be a three course Cotswold meal?
Since my triple bypass operation, Mr Khan, the consultant at Cheltenham, doesn't think I should have three-course meals! He put his arm round me and said, 'John if it tastes nice, you can't eat it.' I would have pigeon, in some form, as a starter; then Bibury trout, with new potatoes and broad beans from the Over Farm stall at Cirencester Farmer's Market; followed by apple tart and custard.
What's your favourite view in the Cotswolds?
From the boundary at the Cheltenham Cricket Festival, you have Leckhampton Hill, Cleeve Hill, the buildings of the college, and the crowd: all Gloucestershire is around you. It moves me to tears.
What's your quintessential Cotswolds village and why?
Sheepscombe. So many exciting things go on there, probably because there are no large landowners; there's no feudal aspect to it. It's so different from somewhere like Miserden, where the Wills family dominates. If I look at my father's cricket team after the war, there were so many self-employed men with small businesses: people of independent spirit. And that has a very positive effect on the life of a village.
Name three basic elements of the Cotswolds...
The beech woods - my father was a Cotswold forester, as was his father before him;
The streams, which have supported so many industries;
The geography and the shape of the land: those hidden valleys have an identity of their own.
What's your favourite Cotswolds building and why?
All the buildings at Stanway are lovely, including the tithe barn and the cricket pavilion, donated by JM Barrie. The Earl of Wemyss and March, who owns Stanway House, is splendidly eccentric; a very nice chap.
What would you never do in the Cotswolds?
Leave - not again.
Starter homes or executive properties?
If you look at villages such as Ashton Keynes, South Cerney, Meysey Hampton and Down Ampney, they've all expanded in recent years with executive and starter homes. Those villages are success stories and have maintained, and in some cases enhanced, village life. I think the Swindon expansion has had a really beneficial effect on the South Cotswolds.
What are the four corners of the Cotswolds?
Mickleton, Chipping Norton, Cricklade, Bath.
If you lived abroad, what would you take to remind you of the Cotswolds?
The Wilts and Gloucestershire Standard.
What's the first piece of advice you'd give to somebody new to the Cotswolds?
Join something: preferably a cricket club!
And which book should they read?
I'd recommend Cider With Rosie. Much of it is myth and whimsy, as is Lark Rise to Candleford, but we love myth and whimsy. My Great Aunt Annie was Laurie Lee's mum, and I well remember my first meeting with Laurie: I'm three or four and I hear a strange noise downstairs. I creep and sit on the stairs, wrapped in a blanket, and there is this noise, like something I've never heard. So I have to open the door. And there's Laurie, playing his violin.
Have you a favourite Cotswolds walk?
Around Painswick Beacon. You can look into the Vale; you can see the Severn; you can see Wales; you can look back to Cranham, Painswick and Sheepscombe.
Which event, or activity, best sums up the Cotswolds?
Cheltenham Cricket Festival: 1949 is the first I ever went to. Gloucester were playing Surrey, and the first ball I saw bowled was by Jim Laker; then McIntyre, the Surrey wicketkeeper, stumped Jack Crapp. But the wicket had broken so quickly, I thought he was bowled.
Eight years ago, when my father was dying in Gloucester Hospital, I said to him, 'Remember the first ball I saw at Cheltenham - Laker bowled Crapp'. My father said, 'No, he didn't; McIntyre stumped him'. And I didn't believe it. But I came home and looked it up in Wisden, and my father was right. It had happened so quickly that, as a little boy, I didn't realise.
If you were invisible for a day, where would you go and what would you do?
I would go and watch Gloucester play cricket, walk round, and listen to what people were really saying. Mind you, I hope they trust me enough to tell me.
To whom or what should there be a Cotswolds memorial?
Jack Russell, who kept wicket for Gloucestershire and England with absolute distinction. But much more than that: wherever Jack went in England or abroad, he took with him the spirit of the Cotswolds.
Which attitude best sums up the Cotswolds?
With whom would you most like to have a cider?
Susan Hill: I think her book The Spirit of the Cotswolds is the one that gets beyond chocolate-box clichs; I'd also invite Elizabeth Skinner, the Sheepscombe historian, who writes with sensitivity and scholarship about the village; and I'd ask my good friend, Jack Russell. Between us, we would complete my wife's Cotswold education: up until we moved here, Penny had lived all her life on page 45 of the London A-Z. Instead of cider, we'd drink Timothy Taylor's Landlord - probably the best draught beer of them all - if Mr Khan allows me!
Fixtures at Gloucestershire County Cricket Club include Home Twenty20 matches on June 1, 3, 22, 26 and 28; and the NatWest Pro40 Floodlit match vs Somerset Sabres on Thursday, August 13, all at The County Ground, Nevil Road, Bristol BS7 9EJ. The County Ground will also host an Elton John concert on June 13.
C&G Cheltenham Cricket Festival will take place at Cheltenham College on July 12-24.
For more information, phone 0117 9108000 or visit www.gloscricket.co.uk