The fact that our television scheduling has now been thoroughly given over to sport so expensive to buy that you'll never see another original programme in 1998 would have provided an ideal opportunity for the 60 per cent of the country who are receiving nothing for their money to get out and about while the animal element is making life hell for the French.

Amazingly, one of the ways they seem to want to exercise this ability is to spend a fool's ransom on strawberries at the All England Lawn Tennis Club at Wimbledon again. And they'll all need somewhere to meet.

Wimbledon being one of those places that most people only visit at a certain time of year, few know it at its best: no place should ever be judged when teeming with strange crowds, except, perhaps, Blackpool. It deserves more custom: the village, a chain of posh shops, pretty buildings and the Common are about as close to the country as the average Londoner gets, and you can pass a more than pleasant day trotting from bar to teashop and never think about tennis at all, if you don't want to.

An invigorating 10-15 minutes' walk from the Lawn Tennis Club, in the tiny mid-Common hamlet of Crooked Billet, are two charming pubs side by side, the Crooked Billet and the Hand-in-Hand, excellent places to pass a leisurely lunch or drink off the mind-numbing effects of watching a ball go back and forth over a net all afternoon.

The Crooked Billet has been here for 500 years, and refurbishments over the centuries have added to its size while detracting little from its charm. It's one of the more popular places to eat: prized by the locals and laying claim to an impressive (for a pub) wine list. The Hand-in-Hand is a group of four cottages - dark, low-ceilinged and vaguely arts-and- craftsy in decor - which have been knocked together over the centuries, and includes a charming little table-filled courtyard covered in vines, hanging baskets and a horse chestnut tree.

In both places, you are likely, in the summer, to be asked if you want your drink in a glass. Don't be offended: they're not offering you a bucket as an alternative, but a "plastic". The Crooked Billet, a small offshoot of the Common, has, more by usage than official agreement, been turned into one of London's largest beer gardens, a place where knots of people can lounge about with their picnics and never think about ball games.

The Hand-in-Hand, 6 Crooked Billet SW19 (0181-946 5720), and the Crooked Billet, 14 Crooked Billet, SW19 (0181-946 4942) open 11am-11pm

SET MENUS

Cafe Piaf Wimbledon Hill Rd (opposite Compton Rd), SW19 Competent brasserie with French staff and pavement tables.

Samuel Johnson's 49 High St, SW19 (0181-946 3585) Light and airy teashop hung with pictures of and quotes from the great lexicographer.

Volleys Wine Bar 57 High St, SW19 (0181-879 3458) Small green-and-brown bar. Pleasant-looking food, though, and tennis on large-screen TV - so you don't need to waste money on a ticket.

Terrazza 33 High St, SW19 (0181 946-1920) A gem: clean, chi-chi, modern- art-filled cafe-grill with a gorgeous bamboo-blind-shaded conservatory at the back and a menu that covers the entire Levant.

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