Note to reader: please excuse the last version – it’s really not like that!
I woke up this morning with two options for the day ahead: Pride or Wimbledon. Both, of course, would require me getting into London and that didn’t particularly appeal. To be honest I don’t have any reason at all to join the annual Pride march through London; not because I have any issue with anybody else’s sexual preferences (provided that not having an issue is now somehow apathetic enough to become an issue for the people I have no issue with in the first place), but more because I imagined I would find being surrounded by a million members of the LGBTQ+ community, all dressed up and chanting and frantically celebrating themselves, a touch tiresome. Let them get on, I thought. I hope they enjoy themselves, I thought. So, if I wasn’t going to go marching with an assortment of all sorts that only left me with Wimbledon. But then I was reminded of the very wise notion that most sport is ideally best enjoyed at home, where you are guaranteed a good seat, reasonably priced alcohol and a significantly reduced chance of having to sit next to an arsehole for eight hours straight. Besides, I’ve never been to Wimbledon so that means I can make sweeping assumptions about what I imagine it must be like and not care less. Not a bad way to break the spell.
I like tennis. Not playing it particularly, though it does have its merits, but I’m very happy to use up one of my allotted afternoons alive watching it with one or both eyes open. I have relatives who have been to see live tennis many times and they highly recommend it (which is why they keep going back), but the prospect has never tickled me much of enough to make me dance. There is no doubt it is a sport of enormous skill, physical graft and psychological stamina, and if I was wearing a hat I would take it off to all the players who have struggled their way to the top and to all those who grit their teeth and continue to try. Professional tennis is not for the lacklustre of soul or for those lacking in either vim or vigour. It takes a lot of effort to make it to the top. And, more often than not, quite a bit of cash. You need money to play tennis, and if you want to keep up with all the big guns you need money to watch it too. It is very high up on the list of elitist sports. Not quite croquet (as in proper croquet, not the kind you can play in the back garden of a Wetherspoons) or polo, but not far off. And in the world of tennis Wimbledon is almost certainly as elitist as it gets.
Earlier on this afternoon I watched an unpronounceable Australian lady beat an unpronounceable Slovakian lady on an outside court and I reasoned that if I had tried to get to see some real tennis today then that would be about as close as I could reasonably expect to get to someone half well known. It feels like it is these courts that the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club open up to let the masses come and dirty up for a few days in the hope they won’t darken the show courts. They seem to like their fat people in club colours or working as line judges, not distracting Richard Gasquet with a Ginsters pasty. And of the show courts there is none showier than Centre Court, and Centre Court only gets to be sat in by four sorts of people: rich people, famous people, people who know rich or famous people in some fortuitous capacity, and people so lucky to have managed to get their hands of one of the thirty tickets that haven’t already been issued to rich and famous people that they can’t believe their additional luck when they realise they’re sitting eleven rows behind George Clooney’s wife and the Chairman of Coutts. Bizarrely there seems little shame for the BBC in highlighting all this ‘free for those who can afford it’ attitude and between most points (of tennis, I haven’t quite forgotten about the tennis) played there is a lingering shot of some celebrity or other chatting to some hedge fund manager or other or challenging each other to spot as many of those thirty scrimpers in the crowd as they can before the end of the first set. Wimbledon is also shockingly white, to the extent that the only black people I could spot this afternoon that weren’t playing tennis were a ball boy, Coco Gauff’s parents and the Paralympian Kadeena Cox. Surely that can’t be right.
And the reason Kadeena Cox is in the crowd is because it has apparently because common for Centre Court to open business on a Saturday by introducing all the rich and famous people in the crowd to all the other rich and famous people in the crowd and then to sprinkle amongst them a few sporting heroes to make them feel they’ve really earned the tickets they got for free through some hideous corporate backhander. Kadeena and her friends (for whom I have plenty of respect) were introduced by Claire Balding (she surely can’t have been home since Crufts was on because whenever I watch anything on TV she’s always fucking hosting it) who briefly recounted their sporting endeavours while the speakers piped out some awful, semi-stirring, epic-lite music in an attempt to convince the rest that they were in the company of true gladiators – though it made me think that in reality there is quite a big difference between being a highly trained ex-soldier capable of killing seven Nubians with a broken spear before chopping a lion in half, and winning a bronze medal in table tennis. But perhaps this only occurred to me. Balding then went on to introduce Lord Gareth Southgate, who frankly doesn’t have time to be watching tennis at the moment because his England team have turned to shit and in a few months’ time they’ll be having their testicles poached in Qatar as they get knocked out in the second round by a particularly feisty Costa Rican team.
I’m being cynical and snide, as you have no doubt sensed. What better says a British summer than the sounds, sights, smells and snoot of Wimbledon? I’m sure it’s fantastic. Indeed, I suspect that if I had got up very early and queued up for a few hours and forked out a lot of money to get in and trudged about in crowds full of dickheads called Barnaby, who own yachts and piss Veuve Clicquot, and paid £18 for a cup of lukewarm lemonade with a dash of Pimm’s, and thought for a minute I’d just seen Hugh Grant but probably hadn’t, and then finally sat down on Court #8 behind a man in a top hat to watch the last six minutes of a mixed wheelchair doubles qualifying match then I would consider myself a very lucky man indeed. Looking at this afternoon’s Centre Court matches I can see that there are still a few seat available and I have half a mind to put some pants on and run to the tube station before they get filled. But the other half of my tiny mind tells me not to bother, because even if the tennis is really, really good I’ll just sit there wishing I had finished this post and then spend the rest of the time wandering off for another Pimm’s or wondering where Mick Jagger is sitting. Oh Wimbledon, I don’t care what anyone else says: it just isn’t what it used to be, but it’s still pretty good on a pretty good day. I’d just rather watch it from here, if it’s all the same to you. And you wouldn’t want me next to you anyway, I’d just be an arsehole for eight hours straight.
G B Hewitt. 02.07.2022