Wimbledon Life: Loft-living with optional airbed

Gone are the days when paying customers will tolerate a walk across a landing to the loo
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The Independent Online

For much of Wimbledon fortnight, dispatched by this newspaper to cover the tennis, I have been staying with my sister-in-law Jackie and her family. Fortuitously for me, not to mention The Independent's accounts department, they live in Wimbledon. I have been sleeping on an air-bed in their office, formerly their loft, which is more comfortable then it sounds. Certainly they could be pocketing £75 a night had they rented it out; there's a television in there, and a heated towel-rail, as well as some extremely swish filing cabinets and a flip-chart.

For much of Wimbledon fortnight, dispatched by this newspaper to cover the tennis, I have been staying with my sister-in-law Jackie and her family. Fortuitously for me, not to mention The Independent's accounts department, they live in Wimbledon. I have been sleeping on an air-bed in their office, formerly their loft, which is more comfortable then it sounds. Certainly they could be pocketing £75 a night had they rented it out; there's a television in there, and a heated towel-rail, as well as some extremely swish filing cabinets and a flip-chart.

Like many Wimbledon residents, Jackie has toyed over the years with offering bed and breakfast during the championships. But to do so properly she realised that she and her husband, Tony, would have to move out of the marital bedroom, which has an en suite bathroom. Gone are the days when paying customers will tolerate a walk across a landing to the loo. For Americans, indeed, those days were gone half a century ago. The great Texan golfer Ben Hogan played in, and subsequently won, only one Open Championship, in 1953 at Carnoustie in Scotland. It is said that the reason Hogan did not return to defend his title the following year, or indeed come to Britain ever again, was because he had been so horrified not to have en suite "facilities" in his hotel.

Anyway, in previous years Jackie decided that her bedroom and bathroom were not in a fit state to rent out to a stranger, and now that they have been smartly refurbished, she has no intention of handing them over to a stranger. Her daughters, my nieces Rachel and Hannah, are slightly disappointed about this. Rachel's friend Gemma has a racket-stringer staying in her house this year, and last year it was a cushion-seller. It's not just the Andy Roddicks and Lleyton Hewitts looking for accommodation in SW19.

But what a thrill if the person renting your house is actually a player, who does actually win the thing. To return to the Open Championship, in 1976, when it was held at Royal Birkdale in Southport, my friend Linsay's parents rented their home to the American golfer Johnny Miller. Linsay's mum acted as housekeeper for the week, which must have felt a trifle odd in her own home, but there was compensation not only in the fee but also in the fact that Miller won. I didn't get to know Linsay until two or three years later but the kudos hadn't rubbed off even then.

Going underground

Coincidentally, 1976 was also the first year that I came to Wimbledon, as a 14-year-old northern hick with my sophisticated London cousin, who knew exactly which Tube line intersected with which, and where. To me, the London Underground was a more mysterious world than anything Tolkien had ever invented, although now, of course, it holds no mystery at all. In fact, I have become one of those anoraks who more often than not knows where to get on a Tube in order to get off opposite the exit. For some reason, it is lodged in my mind that someone once compiled a short book containing exactly that information, and that the someone was Harold Abrahams, the 1924 Olympic 100-metres champion, who later in his long life did not enjoy the interminable walks along Underground platforms. Can that be true, or have I got things mixed up?

Anyway, whoever did write that book, if anyone did, would no doubt have known that the best Tube station to alight at for those going to see the tennis at Wimbledon, is not Southfields, as the people at London Underground advise, but the next station, Wimbledon Park.

Smugness positively courses through the veins as the District Line train stops at Southfields to disgorge thousands on to an already crowded platform, while you remain on board for another minute or two, then enjoy a pleasant saunter across Wimbledon Park golf course rather than battling with the sweaty multitude pouring along Church Road.

The distance to the All-England Club is the same, in fact Wimbledon Park might be closer. You don't get the benefit of the artificial grass complete with tennis court markings with which they have covered the Southfields platform, nor do you get to stick your head through the cut-out face of a cardboard champion holding the trophy aloft, but I'd say the sacrifice is worthwhile. And at the other end of the day, the advantage is even greater. Not that I have to worry about such things, here in my Wimbledon loft.

Criminal overstatement

Wimbledon is not the most crime-ridden part of London, but one of the most noticeable differences between here and rural Herefordshire is the frequency of sirens. Of course, they might not be police cars; they might be ambulances or fire engines. But heavens, there are a lot of them. However, when I pointed this out to Jackie, she said that on her last visit to our house she was pursued for a distance along a country lane by a police car with its lights and siren going nuts, and that she had remarked to Rachel, who was sitting next to her, that "someone must have kicked a milk churn over". This tickled me considerably. In the city they joke about the banality of crime in the countryside, while in the country we joke about the severity of crime in the city, and we both exaggerate wildly.

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