Tim Key: 'The Doctor prised me from my nest and we waddled to the heath for boules'


Click to follow
The Independent Online

I love Wimbledon. Spending day after day sprawling on my sofa, Bermuda shorts on, eyelids half-open, watching sporting princes battering each other. Not to mention the gorgeous grunters in the women's draw, the ballchildren scuttling about and being treated like shit, and the posh haddocks in sunhats braying from the stands. It's my sporting highlight of the summer, genuinely.

But it does give me a thirst to get out there and do some competitive sports. In mid-afternoon the sun shines against my television screen at such an angle that I can no longer see Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. I can just see my own reflection in the glare, a grim apparition of a man in his thirties wading through a bowl full of ice cream, strawberries and triangular sandwiches, and occasionally placing a bet. So after the second round I texted The Doctor and he prised me from my nest and we waddled up to the heath for a game of boules.

In case you don't know, boules is a French game which is a bit like bowls but if you call it bowls some snooty sod will lean in and tear you a new one for lacking sophistication. The idea is you hurl some metal balls/bowls/boules into the air and land them near a jack/cochonnet/it doesn't matter. The person who gets closest wins a cash prize or feels great or their mood doesn't change. It's brilliant. The French play it all the time. It's great for fitness. We stopped off at Costcutters to pick up Kronenburg and lollies.

I remember when I was small I'd always be inspired by Wimbledon. I'd finish watching Pat Cash, don the headband, climb on to my Grifter and hit the municipal courts. There I would defeat mini Beckers, pint-sized Edbergs and pocket Lecontes before shaking hands with the tennis wall, packing up my graphite tennis racket and cycling home to dream about the actual-sized Gabriela Sabatini. Wimbledon's effect in driving people out of their houses and into a fortnight-long affair with lawn tennis is inestimable. And now once more, a guilty feeling of sloth drove me back to sports.

Tennis is a bit much these days. My elbows have too much fat around them to bend effectively, and my racket is no longer an extension of my arm and more something I have to find a place for when I move into a new flat. Now I favour sports where you can do it in jeans and eat a Magnum at the same time. Boules scores on both counts. We licked our lollies and looked across at the tennis courts, crawling with fat, wheezing goons. Inspired by Andy Murray they'd squeezed into their wristbands and were rocketing down 15mph serves and lumbering up to the net in case it came back over for a volley. Dreadful scenes.

Meanwhile, me and The Doctor threw our balls into the gravel and measured the distances from the jack using long paces. We were unfortunate enough to be playing next to some French players who divided their time between landing their boules on the cochonnet every single time and looking across at us and openly laughing and occasionally making comments in their own tongue. The Doctor was seething.

I continued to focus on my own game – I was becoming a brilliant jack-thrower. At one point, one of my bowls hit one of The Doctor's bowls and we high-fived but The Doctor was becoming increasingly incensed and a couple of times made as if to throw a bowl at one of the Frenchmen's wives and she would flinch, and I'd have to step in and say "it's okay, we're cool, we're cool". But one Frenchman was now wielding his jack fairly threateningly and our lollies were almost done so we decided to call it a day.

The important thing was not that we had 'mastered boules' per se, or even that we had particularly 'completed our game'. The important thing was that we had 'gone outside for a while'. We could hold our heads up high. We had done our bit. We slumped back on to the sofa and watched a couple of Russian ball-whacking nymphs. Unencumbered by Magnums, these were serious sporting specimens. I rubbed at the inside of my elbow. It had tightened after our endeavours. I switched my Kronenburg into the other hand and drank, transfixed by these mighty, Slavic athletes. I placed a bet on the one in the visor.