Brian Viner: Flag-wavers, take a back seat please

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The Independent Online

As you might be aware, a male British tennis player and a Spaniard today contest a best-of-five-sets match with a Wimbledon final as the prize for the winner. You might also be aware that the last time a British man won Wimbledon, Stanley Baldwin was prime minister and Sir Cliff Richard hadn't even been born. This is partly why most of us will be rooting for Andy Murray against Rafael Nadal this afternoon; he is the flesh-and-blood representation of the Great British yearning to put behind us the annual indignity of hosting a tournament in which we field only losers, with the odd exception in mixed-doubles and, every few decades, ladies' singles. Pomp and circumstance and strawberry cream teas are all very well as areas in which we rule the world, but it would do us untold good to add a mainstream sport or two.

This brings us to the question of patriotism, sometimes confused with jingoism. When Tim Henman was playing and losing at Wimbledon, Middle England went loopy. Murray hasn't been clutched to the collective matronly bosom in quite the same way, witness the sporadic witless shouts of "C'mon Tim!" when he is playing, as if it is only by evoking Henmania that we can edge closer to Murray madness. Also contributing to a slight general uncertainty as to how far we should take the histrionics are Murray's proud Scottishness, his perceived grumpiness, even his uneasy relationship with his razor. Henman, cleaner-cut, cleaner-shaven and cleaner-mouthed (I remember being faintly shocked when he said to me once that the suggestion that he was too nice to win Wimbledon was "a bunch of crap"), was easier to like.

As it happens, Murray is perfectly likeable, too. He has a droll wit and is popular with his fellow players. But perhaps it would be helpful if we applied only a single test to how far we should take the patriotism in a sporting contest that pits one against one, and it is this: which competitor appeals to us more? In this case, is it Nadal, by all accounts a very decent fellow but with that annoying habit of picking at his underpants? Or is it Murray?

The question is more easily settled if we address tomorrow night's fight in Germany to become the world's undisputed heavyweight boxing champion, between our own David Haye, and Wladimir Klitschko from Ukraine. Haye is a bright, articulate man, but in straining for the braggadocio that came so naturally to his hero, Muhammad Ali, he has over-reached. Before he fought his fellow Brit Audley Harrison, Haye promised that it would be as one-sided as a gang-rape. In first promoting the Klitschko fight, he wore a T-shirt depicting Wladimir, and his older brother Vitali, with their heads ripped off their bodies, and this week he has cited both Adolf Hitler and the recent E.coli outbreak. Now, boxing is a brutal business with no place for pussy-footing around even out of the ring. But some of the things Haye has said and done have shamed both himself and his sport. Klitschko, by contrast, generally conducts himself with dignity. Never mind Queen and country, I hope the Ukrainian wins.

In team events, however, this likeability test is redundant. We should duly reserve our flag-waving and painted faces for when our national teams play football, or rugby, or cricket, or for when our boys and girls compete in the Olympics, and let personalities dictate the matter of who we shout for in the one-to-ones. All that said, c'mon Andy!

Don't lie in bed and order me to open the shutters

The sternly reproachful email sent by Carolyn Bourne to Heidi Withers, the fiancée of her stepson Freddy judged to have displayed bad manners on a visit to the Bourne family home, was regrettably high-handed in both tone and content. Nevertheless, it is with Mrs Bourne that my sympathies lie. Since moving out of London to a rambling old house in the country, we have played host to dozens of friends, most of whom have arrived with champagne or flowers, helped with the washing-up, picked up the tab after a pub lunch, or in a variety of other ways made us feel as if we were not simply engaged in the exercise of providing free hospitality, like hoteliers whose guests do a Sunday-night runner.

Some, however, like Ms Withers, have not covered themselves with glory. There was the time I delivered a mug of tea to a friend lying in bed, only for her to ask me, peremptorily, to open the shutters. And the time a friend made porridge for his toddler, then dumped the oat-crusted pan in the sink for someone else to deal with. Or the occasion a couple took away with them the uneaten half of the cake they'd arrived with. These are small gripes, and I should probably be less judgmental. After all, we choose our friends for all sorts of reasons and should revel in their virtues rather than rant about their faults. All the same, Mrs Bourne is surely right when she tells young Heidi that guests "should fall in line with house norms". More power to her doubtless rather sharp elbow.

Adjectives I'd rather not have to read in the shower

Why is shampoo the only product allowed to make us feel terrible about ourselves? Standing in the shower, we are forced to come to terms with the fact that a significant part of the image we present to the world is, depending on which shampoo we reach for, weak, limp, lifeless, dry, misbehaving, damaged, distressed or just "a bit unhappy". Or alternatively, greasy, dull, coarse or "pining for protection". When did washing our hair turn into a wrestle with self-esteem issues?



b.viner@independent.co.uk

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