07 July, 2006

Pick a Complete Stranger, Then Root Your Heart Out

Boy did we have fun at Wimbledon! Way more than I expected. My single experience with the tennis in the past was way back in... gosh, was it 1991? That year, there was so much rain in the first week that Middle Sunday, always playless until then, had to be called up to accomodate all the delayed matches. And since there had been no advance ticket sales, since that day had never been open for play before, the powers-that-be at Wimbledon decided to let the masses take control. First come, first serve, in PERSON! So John and I gathered up our waxed cotton coats, and blankets and whatever else, don't even remember, and slept out on the pavements all night, waiting for dawn. As I remember it, we had a great time! There are some very scary photos of us to prove that sleeping rough is not a way to look your best the next day. But we didn't care. We trooped in, and it was a blast. Our crowd, on Centre Court that day, brought The Wave to Wimbledon! Until then, and since, such a breach of etiquette and Stiff Upper Lip would never have occurred. Such fun.

It was quite a different story this year. I showed up in a little black sheath dress and the beautiful Ferragamo scarf John's mom brought me from Florence, and John was in white shirt and linen khakis. We headed for the Debenture's Lounge, where corporate sponsors and their clients can hang out, and met up with John's work colleague Ed and his drop-dead gorgeous new wife Trupti, for lunch at windows overlooking Court 17. Lovely rose wine, langoustines and avocado with marie rose sauce, smoked salmon. Yum. Then down to Court One, where two players we had never heard of were listed, just by their first initials and last names. "Now how to we decide who to root for?" I asked. "Not even knowing their first names. It's rather random." "Oh no," said Trupti, "You see who has the better bum, and that's who you go for. It's easy." So we decided that Random Czech Whoever had a better bum, consigning his Random Swedish Opponent to ignominy, and the match was on. Unfortunately for court manners, Trupti and I (and several hundred other people) found much more interesting things to focus on than the match, like how she and Ed met, and her Indian heritage, and of course Avery's winning the Latin cup. The referee had to shush us, so we calmed down and decided really to get behind our Random Player and show our support.

When play was dull, I pelted Trupti with questions about proper English. She and Eddie speak quite the most perfect plushy version of the language, with all the most elegant phrases and responses to queries. "Precisely!" and "Yes, very much so indeed." I would love nothing more than to have been born such an elegant person. "How bad is it these days to say 'bloody'?" I asked. "Oh, not bad at all, it's quite the done thing," she assured me. "There are far worse. Things I am afraid to say I said during the Portugal match, in front of my mother! In quite a family environment." Of course I cannot print them here. And then there is "chap" versus "bloke," and it seemed that "chap" was rather more formal, where "bloke" is chummy. I should follow in Avery's footsteps and read the wonderful book I gave her, "Watching the English," which explains all the little intricacies of the class system, the way different words for different things are used by the various classes. For instance, who says "lav," who says "loo," who says "toilet," who says "ladies"? We'll have to read it to find out. Or ask Avery.

There was a rain delay conveniently just at teatime, so as the ball boys ran to cover the grass with the precise and perfect rolled-up cover, we retreated into the lounge again for peppermint tea, egg and cress sandwiches, and strawberries. Just as we finished eating, play was back on! Perfect.

Well, as the hours and sets went by we got more and more enamored of our Player. Finally, frustrated by cheering on someone about whom we knew nothing, we got Eddie to look him up on his Blackberry, thereby revealing that his name was Radek Stepanek, and of course we knew he was Czech. By that time we could identify all his tricks, his weak points, like approaching the net and trying to hit the ball back without letting it touch the ground. "No, Rad, no! You know what happens when you do that!" Finally Trupti said, "I've got to get down there and talk to the man. He's losing my loyalty." The match went on and on, into the fourth set, with even tie-breakers being tied. The sun sank below the top of the stadium, revealing a perfect summer evening sky, and it even got a bit chilly. At long last the Swedish player, Bjorkman, broke our boy Radek. He was quite cute in winning, hugging himself and dancing a little jig. Since then I've discovered he was the oldest player in the singles tournament. I think we backed the wrong dude. Although as John pointed out, I think I enjoy watching the little ball boys and girls as much as the players. They are so earnest! Hands behind backs, little white sneakers planted precisely hip width apart, ball in hand shooting up in the air, virtually begging the player, "Choose this one, choose this one!" Funny story: this year Ralph Lauren was awarded the coveted task of dressing all the ball kids and linespeople and judges. Certainly they look very swank, in cream trousers, blue jackets piped in cream, the whole nine yards. Except that on the first day of play, 60% of the line judges needed repairs as their trouser seams burst! And there was only an hour of play. Got to get better sweatshops, Ralph, how embarrassing.

We headed off back toward London in Eddie and Trupti's darling little black Mini convertible, or "cabriolet" as John insisted on showing off. I would dearly love to have that car. They dropped us at Vauxhall Station and purred off. We had arranged for Avery to stay the night at Anna's (poor Becky, although apparently her children get up easier in the morning when Avery's there to entertain!), and so came home in the soft twilight, feeling that we need to do things like that more often. A Day Out, as they say here in our adopted land.

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