How do the British deal with the rain? Pimm's, scones and stoicism

'It is the eternal national spirit,' Chris McGrath at a wet SW19 is told by a couple sheltering under two enormous plastic ponchos

The man, hunched miserably under a dripping pergola, put out a hand as a group of girls went by.

"Hey," he said. "Where d'you get those?"

One of the girls simpered apologetically. "These? Oh, these are bin bags. Yeah, we know we look great."

Just below, rain dimpled a water feature on the Aorangi Terrace. "Deep water," reproved a sign. "No bathing." It was hard to suppress a bitter laugh.

This is the soggy solstice of the sporting season. There is nowhere better – not Ascot, nor Lord's, nor Henley – to sample the defining, national acquiescence that into each life some rain must fall. Sure enough, yesterday's deluge disclosed the British variously at their most phlegmatic.

Perhaps the least comfortable of the available social templates was suggested by the merciless division of haves and have-nots on the mound. With the rain at its most inexorable, several hundred could be found crouching under umbrellas before the giant screen, watching events unfolding before the happy few in the cloudless, skyless sanctum of Centre Court.

Poignantly, many of them were holding the hottest ticket of the day, to see Andy Murray on Court One. These included a pair of his compatriots, Henry and Moira Allenby, who sat disconsolately at a picnic table with a bottle of white wine. At least they had no need of an ice bucket. They had journeyed down from near Inverness, where of course they never see weather like this. "The thing is that we were originally going to come here yesterday," Henry laments. "But we swapped with my brother."

It turns out that his stoical bearing may have more specific genetic antecedents than some merely racial docility. Pressed, he admits that his great-great-grandfather was Field Marshal Allenby, who famously entered Jerusalem on foot.

At least they had managed to see The Mousetrap the previous evening. Even that, in its 59th year, could not be counted the most dependable ritual of their trip. But the perennial challenge of rain at Wimbledon was being met in like fashion in every precinct: with resource and humour.

Gabrielle Macdonald and Jen Pemberton, for instance, had hauled a soaking table indoors, spread out a mackintosh and made themselves at home. "We're northerners, you see?"

They, too, had Court One tickets, and were already wrestling with the dilemma of an 8.30pm train back to Manchester. If the forecast proved accurate, they would have to leave in the throes of the Murray match – and these were precisely the sort of supporters he could least afford to lose, unquenchable in their outlook.

"I've never been here before, but it was on my list of things to do before I die," says Jen, a charity fund-raiser.

"The bucket list," adds Gabrielle, who runs a care home. ("A very nice one, not like you see on the TV.")

"So a box ticked," Jen said, with a cheerfully resigned gesture at the rain.

"I was here for Steffi Graf's last final," Gabrielle says. "Eight rows from the front, and blistering hot."

"I'll come back," Jen vows. "Look at all these people, so compliant. They've got their Pimm's, their champagne, their scones. They're happy, and they're improvising."

But their charming determination to make the most of adversity was by no means the only singularly British virtue on show. At the other end of the spectrum came the heroic perseverance, and pragmatism, of Alan and Elizabeth Putt.

Theirs had not been such a long journey – from Croydon – but they had been standing in the queue since 8.30am. Now they were to be found on a bench beside Court 14, peering benignly out of two enormous plastic ponchos. They had turned the situation to their advantage. "It's a free-for-all once the rain stops," they explain. "If you stay put, you've got a seat – and a dry one. These things are really warm, as well."

Nobody seems to be complaining. "It's the eternal British spirit," Alan says quietly.

For some, the rain is even welcome. The shop is doing a roaring trade, above all in umbrellas – roll-ups a tenner, golf 25 quid. "But it's only good for business if it rains a little while," says Jean Cooke, retail director. "If it goes on all day, people get fed up. Ideally we would want this to clear up, everyone to enjoy some fantastic tennis, and then call in for a souvenir to take home."

Even as she spoke, a lorry was on its way from the warehouse with a fresh batch of brollies. "In 2007, I suppose we sold around 10,000 of them," Cooke says. "But we've actually had gorgeous weather the last two years, and then it was all hats."

In the end, it is the real constants that count. The Putts reveal they had tickets for the men's final in the ballot, but passed them up as they would not have been seated together. So here they are, huddled patiently together in the rain, the best of British.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
Jamie and Emily Pharro discovering their friend's prank
video
News
i100
News
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014
peopleTim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
News
people
Life and Style
techApp to start sending headlines, TV clips and ads to your phone
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift crawls through the legs of twerking dancers in her 'Shake It Off' music video
musicEarl Sweatshirt thinks so
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan in What If
filmReview: Actor swaps Harry Potter for Cary Grant in What If
News
Our resilience to stress is to a large extent determined by our genes
science
Travel
travel
Sport
sportBesiktas 0 Arsenal 0: Champions League qualifying first-leg match ends in stalemate in Istanbul
News
Pornography is more accessible - and harder to avoid - than ever
news... but they still admit watching it
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

But could his predictions of war do the same?
Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

Young at hort

Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

Beyond a joke

Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

A wild night out

Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve
Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition: It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans

Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition

It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans
Besiktas vs Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie

Besiktas vs Arsenal

Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie
Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to Formula One

Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to F1

The 16-year-old will become the sport’s youngest-ever driver when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso next season
Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

But belated attempts to unite will be to no avail if the Sunni caliphate remains strong in Syria, says Patrick Cockburn
Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I would end up killing myself in jail'

Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I'd end up killing myself in jail'

Following last week's report on prison suicides, the former inmate asks how much progress we have made in the 50 years since the abolition of capital punishment