Hello Lord's, I love you
A Test at Lord's between the men with the three lions on their cream chests and the men with a single white fern on their heads is on the bucket list of every New Zealand cricket fan.
Lord's in St John's Wood NW8 is the citadel of cricket that lures lovers of leather on willow like dopey moths to a flickering flame. It feels like a religious spot, despite being named after a bloke called Thomas rather than the Almighty.
I loved seeing all 163 centimetres of the Old Father Time weather vane atop the Mound Stand, placidly removing the bails from the stumps, and his hat-tip to Law 16(3) which requires: "After the call of Time, the bails shall be removed from both wickets."
I loved seeing cricketers past and present adorning the banners and memorialised in statues around the ground.
I loved the puritan, cricket-obsessive signage: "Please do not move between overs." And the ominously worded notice etched into the floor-to-ceiling transparent frontage of the media centre spaceship: "Please do not lean on the glass."
I eventually loved that we could each bring a couple of 500ml Foster's cans or a bottle of pinot noir into the ground without being subjected to a moronic cavity search from ogres in fluorescent raincoats but bereft of common sense. Why? Because Lord's loves traditions and remains the only international cricket venue in the world where spectators can officially* bring alcohol into the ground.
I say eventually because our first encounter with the rule was on day one of our epic Beige Brigade UK tour in 2004 - we'd landed at Heathrow early that morning, having blazed across the skies from Auckland via Hong Kong. Our Paddington hotel beds were screaming for our company but ball one could not be missed so we quickly tubed north and embraced the best rule in the developed cricket world in the booze aisle of the local supermarket.
I love the Nursery Ground that transforms into a smorgasbord of food stalls, betting tents, batting nets, and posh people talking in loud voices about incomprehensible but incredibly important things.
I loved the preposterous "bacon and egg" inspired garb of the members, described recently by a Test Match Sofa's in-lounge fashionista as "bright yellow and really punchy orange". I haven't quite made it onto the Members' list but I do have a Lord's silk handkerchief, surreptitiously stashed in my pocket as a good-luck charm by the best man at my wedding.
I loved people setting up their picnics in nooks and crannies around the outskirts of the stands, then heading back in to watch the cricket, returning periodically throughout the day to feast and rehydrate.
I love the slope, and the way everyone bangs on about this 180cm undulation intermittently (but hourly) for five days. Nasser Hussain and Beefy Botham are hopelessly addicted.
I loved being able to buy an absolute bucketload of Pimm's (for the equivalent of a deposit on a four-bedroom house in New Zealand), furnished in a jug jam-packed with cucumber, strawberries, fizz and happiness. At Kiwi cricket grounds, it's your choice of one beer, two middle-of-the-road wines and occasionally a dirty rum cola.
Among this reminiscence emerges the first Test beginning late Thursday night New Zealand time (weather permitting in the English spring) and the memories turn to envy. This season the Lord's match is one half of a waify, meagre pair of Test matches, with New Zealand regarded as an underwhelming and gristly entrée to The Ashes.
We boast a pretty crappy record at this cricketing Mecca though: played 15, drew eight, tied none, and lost six - including five utter pantsings.
There has been one magnificent victory, earned over four days and culminating with a match-winning leg-side squirt for four by Matt Bell on July 25, 1999. Chris Cairns was sensational with the ball: who could forget that loopy slow yorker to comprehensively de-bail a curled-up Chris Read.
New Zealand in 1999 was a decent team. And a bit on the cranky side too - as Mike Dixon whinged in the Almanac: "Play was also marked by the tourists' aggression; an excess of verbal abuse surprisingly went unpunished."
The Kiwi Mr Miyagi of the verbal stoush, Dion Nash, reckons he bowled better in this Test returning 48-20-100-4 than he did when his well-groomed name was emblazoned on the visitors' Honours Board after he snatched an outstanding 11 for 169 in 1994.
The 2013 edition of the New Zealand first XI is more polite, but both incarnations of the Lord know we were just one excruciating wicket away from a staggering upset series win just 50 days ago. As always, at Beige Brigade headquarters, we dare to dream.
* I have it on pretty good authority that "unofficial arrangements" have been known to occur at the Basin Reserve and in several outposts of the Caribbean.
Paul Ford is a co-founder of the Beige Brigade. He tweets here