Joseph and the court of many colours

Wimbledon Diary
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The Independent Online
The All-England Club was strangely tranquil on Friday with nary a Henmaniac or Rusedski-rowdy in sight. This made for a quieter scene but also a duller one. The dress code of the Henmaniacs is best described as Glastonbury meets the Last Night of the Proms: key items include outsize pixie hats in red, white and blue teamed with gigantic yellow fluffy earrings.

But it was not just their sartorial abandon which enlivened the championships but their artistic efforts. One particularly splendid banner combined pictograms and algebra: a hen + a man + a racket = the men's trophy. It was the work of the Junior Henmaniac Joseph Cooper, 11, from Canterbury, who sat up late the night before Henman's quarter-final working on the masterpiece. "We finished it in the queue," Joseph's father, Jasper, revealed. "We brought along some waterproof pens just in case." Sadly, Wimbledon regulations prevented Joseph from displaying his creation during the match, but the rain delay gave him a grand opportunity to put his work on show draped over a balcony on the court, where it attracted many admirers. But now, like the pixie hats and bobble earrings, Joseph's banner must gather dust until Henmania stirs again next year.

Access to the Players' Lounge adjacent to Centre Court is rigorously policed. But one interloper evaded security and then persistently declined to leave: the confused Irish homing pigeon who took up residence on the balcony overlooking No 3 Court and passed a pleasant week on a diet of left-over cakes and biscuits.

Most tennis players in retirement pursue coaching careers or seek employment in the media. But Valda Lake, the exotically named 28-year-old Devon player, is drawn by the smell of the greasepaint: she is retiring from tennis after Wimbledon to concentrate on her new career as a theatre set designer in New York.

Lake never commanded a standing ovation for her efforts on the tennis court, but she spent 12 years on the circuit and was good enough to play for the British Federation Cup team last year. She was also runner-up to Sarah Loosemore in the British National Championships at Telford in 1988.

"I've been living in New York for the last two years dabbling between tennis and set designing," Lake revealed. "But now I'm going full-time with my design work. It's been great fun playing tennis all round the world but you must finish some time."

At least Lake bowed out on the Wimbledon stage with the memory of supporting a real star. Playing with Paul Hand, she was beaten in the first round of the mixed doubles by the South African John-Laffnie De Jager and Martina Hingis. As Lake said, en route from love games to luvvies: "It was a good way to finish, against the best player in the world."

The persistence of rain into the second week of the championship allowed fans on the show courts to polish their performing skills: chants, slow hand-claps and Mexican waves were executed with greater precision in the second week than the first. But observers were still startled by the word- perfect mass renditions of popular ballads on No 1 Court during the rain delay on Thursday. How was it that the fans, many of them foreigners, knew all the verses of "Any Old Iron", "Maybe It's Because I'm A Londoner" and "Show Me The Way To Go Home?"

Simple: they were consulting their London Fire Brigade Songsheets, distributed by Fire Officer Stuart O'Brien, who led the choruses with vim, gusto and a total disregard for tone and key. O'Brien refused to be put off his stride by a group of young women in the crowd who interrupted his efforts with shouted requests for the Spice Girls. By way of punishment, he demanded that the youngsters perform the popular beat combo's hit Tell Me What You Want for the highly amused crowd.

A Visit to Lynam's lair requires not just a library of security passes but keen map-reading skills. Eight security guards patrol the gate of the television complex; past them lies a maze of underground corridors, lifts and stairs built deep into the side of the hill in Aorangi Park. Des's Res is distinguished from the other studios by the "Beware of the Dog" notice on the door, a memento of the interview with his dog Daisy during the rain last week. Des seems at home in the swanky new surroundings. "It's a lot nicer than the old place," he reckoned. "The whole studio used to wobble whenever anyone went up the stairs outside. People must have thought I'd got the shakes." The very idea.

The newsagent next to No 1 Court has naturally done a roaring trade in tennis magazines. But surely stocking top-shelf men's magazines is a waste of time at such an event? "Not much call for them," the chap behind the till admitted. "But we did sell one - to an umpire." There were mitigating circumstances. "It was raining at the time."

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