The Weasel

Though he lost to Pete Sampras - the most Philistine sportsman since Goliath - Tim Henman was brilliant; and British; and mine
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Indy Lifestyle Online
I can't take any more tennis. I just can't raise even half a cheer for the outcome of today's final. I ceased to care some days ago whether Goran Ivanisevic can serve at 9.273 miles per hour faster than Greg Rusedski, or whether the latter, by virtue of having once owned a guinea pig called Orwell, qualifies as Anglo-Saxon. I do not want to hear any commentator on television or radio ever again murmur the words, "And he's not a bit happy about that line call..." When I am next asked by people on the No 3 bus why it is that all male tennis players blow on their fingers just before being served an ace, I shall no longer amusingly explain that it's because they're drying their nails. I've gone off tennis.

It was the Tim Henman business that did it. You see, I'd never heard of him before last week and thought, for one rapturous afternoon, that I'd sort of invented him. He was, for a couple of hours, my big secret: an English tennis player of drive and charm who ran round the court like a meerkat on speed, and pulled off trigonometrically incalculable shots that whistled past the net judge's lorgnettes like a hairy yellow bullet. Though he lost to Pete Sampras - the most Philistine sportsman since Goliath - he was brilliant; and British; and mine. In the early evening, I popped round for a gin sling with some fellow weasels and discovered they too were raving about Mr Henman. A cheer went up as he appeared on the box, being modest in the face of the mahogany charm onslaught that is Des Lynam these days. There was even some footage from a decade before, when (Ahhh...) he was playing in the Wimbledon Juniors. Clearly, a hero in the making. And then the blasted ball girl ran into a ball he'd struck in anger and everyone turned against him.

Even before there was a chance to celebrate his virtues, the papers landed on him. After the disqualification and the ludicrous pounds 2,000 fine, the newspapers called him "Bad boy Tim", "Disgraced tennis brat" and "outlaw". It was incredible - you'd think the British tennis establishment was determined to scupper any halfway-promising British tennis player before he even got going.

The same day as Mr Henman's rise and immediate fall, the Duchess of St Albans wrote to the Daily Telegraph suggesting that a statue should be raised to Fred Perry, the three-times champion whose memorial service was on 23 June. Nothing special, said the Duchess, just "a larger-than- life statue on a plinth in a good position within the club grounds". Well sure, but I'd go one further. Why don't we fix wheels to the bottom of the thing and wheel it out every year when it's time for our number-one- hope to lose (on the first day)? It'd save time, embarrassment and all that energy spent vilifying our best prospects.

The sun, despite the predictability of its appearance, sooner or later, in the British summer sky, has once again been stupefying the nation. Not just scorching their skin and turning their cars into pre-heated, gas-mark-9 ovens, but worse. A chap on a nudist beach in Hastings, East Sussex, died of "excessive sun exposure" - he went to sleep and just dehydrated. A young woman from Witham, Essex, lying in her 88-degree garden, was surprised to notice her cotton skirt spontaneously combust (it was the metal bits in the drawstring, apparently). As the tales of tragedy and accident come rolling in, I look around and am surprised there aren't more of them. Have you noticed the two new brands of violence to be found around town? The first is the extraordinary fashion for wearing - along with open-necked shirt and fawn-coloured shorts - a pair of enormous Timberland rough-terrain boots from which a lava of thick oatmeal socks is pouring. Why anyone should want, in mid-July, to have their feet swelter inside such bizarre encasings is a mystery; but I just know it'll lead to trouble sooner or later. The second is a phenomenon peculiar to central London on a hot afternoon, when the person you're speaking to, driven mad by the awful griding noise of a dusty tourist coach toiling by in second gear, abruptly breaks off the conversation to yell, "Oh for God's sake, will you shut up you european bastard!". You recognise it? Pavement rage.

In the foreword to his Kingsley Amis biography, Eric Jacobs thanks the BBC archives but mentions his surprise at being asked to cough up a fee. I'm afraid this is a growing trend among state-owned and state-funded institutions trying to show off their market-mindedness.

A friend of the Weasel's recently contacted the London College of Printing to ask if he might use their library for a spot of research in connection with something he was writing. He was told to send a written request, indicating precisely what he wanted to look at, when and why. He was further asked to indicate which other libraries he had tried and why he felt it was necessary to use the one at the college.

After sending his letter, he was surprised to receive a telephone call telling him that his extraordinary request - to be allowed to come into a publicly funded library to look at books - would have to be considered at a higher level. "And because you are using it for commercial purposes, there will probably be a fee," said the librarian.

This kind of attitude wouldn't be so bad if we were talking about some shrine of learning, but we're not. Anyone who has had the misfortune to attend the college (alumni: Trevor McDonald, Neville Brody, er, that's it) will know that the building - the centrepiece of South London's lovely Elephant & Castle district - is more a place for the containment of bored YTS victims than a monument to the love of knowledge.

The Student Book 1996 confirms this impression in its list of the college's attractions: "Good technical resources, CD-Roms, PCs, video recorders, library (not quiet, big social centre)." Clearly, having somebody sitting quietly looking at books would have imposed a considerable damper on the lively recreational scene that's now considered the essence of a modern library. All the more ironic is the fact that my chum is researching a journalism textbook, of precisely the kind that the college's waves of would-be hacks will expect to photocopy and plagiarise well into the next century.

Amid all the excitement about Mr Major's future, I've noticed some disparaging references to the Citizen's Charter. How unfair to something that is now as much a part of the nation's way of life as Balsamic vinegar and Lottery- related suicide. I say this after an encounter with my local council has left me feeling I've been licked by an enthusiastic puppy.

I was enquiring about humps. Like everywhere in London these days, our street has humps, the somnolent-policemen kind, that are meant to slow the traffic and provide a fresh challenge to urban cyclists who are tiring of life. The other morning, while out for a constitutional, I noticed that one of the humps was surrounded by council employees scraping off the white markings before reducing it back to its former status as a (flat) piece of public highway. The next day, however, the hump was as convex as ever, but with no markings. In the interim it had been flattened and then put back. Mysterious or what?

A telephone call to the (fantastically helpful) environment people yielded the news that, having laid the hump less than a year before, the council had had to do it again, following telephone calls from two local people who claimed it had "damaged their cars". Clearly, despite its supine appearance, this was a hump to be reckoned with. A rogue hump. A hump with attitude. A hump with previous.

So two gripes from the local citizenry is all it takes to stir the council into action? I mean you could have repaired a lot more than two "damaged" cars for the price of a new hump. It makes you nostalgic for the days when you could go for months without seeing anyone from the council. Except at election time

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