Tim Key: I am going to Wimbledon. And I don't even have to clean any dishes

 

I love summer for a bunch of reasons. I get to wear my shades and lie on my roof, sure. And I like eating ice-cold lager with colleagues after work on wooden tables. Summer's also the time of year I tend to find myself eating a pasty in a park on my own. But if there's one thing that really gets me psyched for summer, it's Wimbledon.

There are only two shopping days to go before Wimbledon and already I am powerless in her green and purple thrall. Sat in a nest of souvenir pull-outs, I am drinking in the sweet, sweet sports journalism and hoovering up the player profiles like they are going out of fashion. I don't tire of it. Tomas Berdych is 28! Sloane Stephens is right-handed! Ana Ivanovic's dad is a businessman! Fascinating!

And this year there is more of a spring in my Fred Perry plimsolls than ever. I hate to make The Independent Magazine's readership jealous, I really do. But this year I'm going. I know. I can barely contain myself. I'm shaking that much with anticipation, I think I'm going to have to have someone else do my face paints. The pull-outs I'm reclining in, the photographs of Federer I am licking, these will become three-dimensional reality next week. Not trying to rub it in y'all, but you're looking at someone who's on the verge of seeing Ernests Gulbis in the flesh.

You can't stay angry with me, though. For mine is a romantic tale. This pilgrimage represents a return to SW19 for me. Because, back in the day, I used to work there. Not as a player, obviously. My game never really developed beyond the period where you work out whether you're left- or right-handed. Nor was I a ballchild. You had to go to the right school and have the right temperament for that gig. I wasn't a line judge either – they are very humourless people whose core skills are standing with their hands on their knees and getting sunburnt. No, my employment at Wimbledon was much less glamorous. Basically, I washed up pots.

If you happened to be rich and/or famous and visited Wimbledon at the turn of the millennium, you may remember that your corporate-sponsored food was served on clean plates. Well, they didn't clean themselves. Backstage you had a series of ugly potwashers, snivelling, spitting and getting your plates clean. Clad in black trousers and white coats covered in shit, we'd process crockery for 12 hours straight, allowing you lucky sods out front to reflect on Philippoussis's powerful serves and Martina Hingis's precocious youth in peace, your faces lit up in the gleam of the champagne flutes I had put through the Fagor LVC15 Glasswasher.

I loved it there. The atmosphere among us kitchen-scum was fun and, if you liked tennis – which I did – and if you didn't mind skiving – which I did not – there was tennis to be seen. Regularly I would make some dreadful horseshit up about having to fetch a pot and then I'd whip off my sodden tunic, disappear into the crowds and pilfer 20 minutes of Tarango/Kafelnikov. One year I managed, using this technique, to catch a glimpse of the final. The great Pete Sampras was just putting the finishing touches to his humiliation of Goran Ivanisevic when I slunk past a dopy security guard and assumed my seat next to a fat child. As Pete served out for his sixth title, I think I was the only one applauding him in Marigolds.

This year, I will be on the other side of the divide. Gorging myself on strawberries and Shloer and gazing teary-eyed at the great Andy Murray. But I won't forget the little guy. If I see some poor 18-year-old sod wade past me lugging a binbag-full of rich people's waste, meat juice seeping on to his standard-issue black trousers, I will slap the guy on the back. "Good work," I shall say. "What goes around comes around," I shall say. And I will wink through my shades and smile. "One day this could all be yours."

Comments