Paul Edwards samples life in the mean streets of St John's Wood
You may have noticed that there has been quite a lot of running going on in London this summer. Apparently this chap Bolt has been going at a helluva lick and everyone's been waving their union flags like mad in tribute to the boy Farah. No race, however, could have been more keenly contested than the one I witnessed in St John's Wood on Saturday morning.
It began at nine o'clock when the gates opened to MCC members who had bought tickets for the third day of the final Test against South Africa. On the instant a host of linen-suited gents, spry of gait and keen of purpose, began their very civilised walking sprint into Lord's and up the steps to the Warner Stand. Before long most of the prime seats seemed to have been reserved, some with exquisitely-cut Savile Row jackets or panamas from Lock's, others with human buttocks. The latter may be more functional but they generally lost a little in the style stakes.
The Marylebone Handicap is one of the glorious rituals of the Saturday of the Lord's Test, although I have seen similar races take place on county grounds as enthusiasts make for the one vantage point in the ground from which they believe they will have a perfect view. What makes this battle for the best seats in the house all the more special is the sartorial splendour of the runners - all in red and yellow colours of course - and the subsequent opulence of the occasion.
As I write this, we are deep into the evening session and a fair proportion of the 28,000 seats at Lord's have been vacated as people try to beat the rush home. Nevertheless, over in the shaded Warner Stand, those who bagged their seats early in the morning are still sitting in pastel affluence, content that the day has been honoured by hot weather and a blue sky.
In truth, the cricket itself has been just a little dull. England fought hard to establish a first-innings lead of just six runs but the crowd was denied its morning moment of joy when Jonny Bairstow was frustrated for 15 runless balls and then bowled by Morne Morkel for 95.
The rest of the day has been taken up with South Africa gradually establishing the sort of lead which will make them safe from defeat. Hashim Amla has just reached his fifty and South Africa take an advantage of 139 into the fourth day. What most of the crowd wanted, of course, was a clatter of wickets but Graeme Smith's team are really not the type of bunch that are likely to collapse like a tower made of talcum powder.
On the contrary, they have outfought England in this series and it will take something quite remarkable for them to lose the game now. The clock is running out on England's time as the No1 ranked Test team in the world.
Yes, I am quite aware that all of this may look very foolish on Monday evening. I am also very conscious that the person looking over at the crowds in the Warner Stand and the great pavilion was sitting in the Media Centre in perhaps the very best seat in the house. Privilege comes in many forms.
Photo (c) PA Images