Pints of Pimm’s, summer rain and Sue Barker: I have Wimbledon withdrawal symptoms

Sophia Money-Coutts
Evening Standard
Philip Toscano/PA Archive/PA Images
Philip Toscano/PA Archive/PA Images

Under normal circumstances it would have all kicked off in SW19 today. Well, perhaps not kicked. You’d forfeit the point for that. But, for the next two weeks, the air in Wimbledon would vibrate with the thwack of tennis balls across nets and the shocked murmuring of panama-clad spectators at the price of a pint of Pimms.

John McEnroe would have already drawled something controversial from the commentary box, a top-seeded players would have been booted out in a shock victory for an unknown youth and rain would almost certainly have stopped play.

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Alas, no Wimbledon this year which I’m sad about because it’s my harbinger of summer. I haven’t been to a festival since I overdid it some years ago, threw up into the hoodie of a woman standing in front of me and slept through the remaining three days in my tent.

I hate summer parties because I’m incredibly awkward in real life and sweat heavily through them. People who talk seriously of the “season” and horse-based activities like racing or polo make me want to commit a violent crime.

But I’ve always loved Wimbledon despite the fact that, as a posho, I’ve betrayed my roots by being a dismal tennis player. I loathe playing it, a teenage hangover from being invited to other people’s houses and facing the acute embarrassment of having a “poor” serve.

If you’re posh, having a weak serve is unforgivable, a bit like saying toilet or forgetting to write a thank-you letter to Godfather Algernon. “Oh dear, Soph’s played a dolly drop,” someone would cry as my serve limped over the net, before sending the ball thundering back so hard it would almost blind me.

One summer, unable to bear this daily indignity, I faked an injury and wore a Tubigrip on my right arm for an entire week while staying in Cornwall with a tennis-mad family. Imagine the Johnsons, only more competitive. “Anyone for tennis?” went the cry over breakfast, whereupon I’d rub my fake injury so demonstrably it was as if I was trying to start a fire. Borstal would have been easier.

Still, Tim Henman was one of my very first loves and he sparked an early enthusiasm for Wimbledon. Back in his heyday, in the late Nineties, I was an impressionable schoolgirl whose main ambition in life was to sit on Henman Hill. Less so Murray Mount when that came along later, although I did eventually transfer my affections.

Actually, though, I think watching is better on telly because, honestly, have you seen the price of a Pimms? The BBC’s doing their best this year, rolling out Sue Barker every weeknight to reflect on previous Wimbledons, but it won’t be quite the same. No tantrums to watch, no “new balls, please”, no amusing clips of a linesman taking a swift one right between the eyes. They can be horribly dangerous, those serves.

If you need a new podcast, try Grounded with Louis Theroux — interviews he recorded in lockdown with the likes of Miriam Margolyes, Lenny Henry and Boy George. Watford captain Troy Deeney is brilliant on the row over footballers’ salaries. As he calmly explains, footballers pay vast amounts of tax, often have dozens of dependents and will earn mad sums for “seven to 10 years, max”. He says: “No one ever goes, ‘An actor got paid £8 million for that movie ... What’s he doing with that money?’” Worth listening to.

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