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High life

Slob’s paradise

Broadsides from the pirate captain of the Jet Set

2 July 2005

12:00 AM

2 July 2005

12:00 AM

Ah! Agh! Aaah! Ah! Aaaaa! Ugh! Ugha! Aha! Aaaah! Aaaha! Aaa! No, it’s not an orgy I’m listening to, just Wimbledon 2005. What has happened to the once-gentle game? You’d think phone- sex operators had taken over. Incidentally, the guttural noise has nothing to do with power-hitting, just gamesmanship. Serena Williams sometimes goes quiet and hits the ball just as hard. Federer makes not a sound. Nor did the great hitters of the past. As they’ve made rules about everything else, they should do something about the grunting, too, otherwise it’s bound to escalate.

I don’t know what’s come over me, but I can’t watch tennis — especially men’s tennis — for more than a few minutes. It’s just too boring. It lacks variety — bang, bang, bang: as subtle as an English plumber handing you the bill for not unplugging the loo. And all that fist pumping and wide-open-mouth bellowing after winning a rally. Haven’t any of these men seen Hoad or Laver or Emerson in action? The women’s game is far better viewing. By the way, after the Greek girl upset the French Open winner, Justine Henin-Hardenne, in the first round, she didn’t even get her picture in the paper next day. (I read the Telegraph and Mail.)

When I went to Wimbledon on the first Saturday, and had a fabulous lunch at Aspinall’s tent, I was surprised by the sloppiness of Centre Court ticket-holders. Horribly cut shorts, even more horrible sandals, the de rigueur backward baseball cap, a slob’s paradise, in fact. Only the royal box and the members’ enclosure retained the decorum and dignity of yesteryear.

How ironic, then, that two of the more obnoxious and badly behaved champions of yesterday, McEnroe and Connors, are the only ones to whom I can bear to listen during a match. The rest cheerlead and spout clichés, like that truly nice Virginia Wade, a vicar’s daughter, in whose eyes the Williams girls can do no wrong, even when they glare menacingly at opponents and linesmen. The Murray match is old hat by now, as are all the ridiculous hype and pictures of him and his old lady with their mouths wide open playing Tarzan and Jane. The hyperbole and superlatives about the Scottish boy were typical of the British press — and it’s hardly his fault — but the hero of his losing match was the Argie, winning 6–0, 6–4, 6–1 after being two sets down in a hostile atmosphere.


And speaking of heroes, here’s a real English one: he is Spencer Crawley, the fifth-generation Crawley to play at Lords in the Eton–Harrow match two weeks ago. His great-great grandfather, George Baden Crawley, played in 1850. Spencer’s grandfather made 83 runs out of 118 before stumps were drawn on the first

day in 1926, when matches lasted two days. Andrew Crawley, his uncle, did as well in 1965 and his other uncle,

Randall, played in 1966 and 67. No other family can boast such a record, nor such tragedy.

Both Andrew and Randall, close friends of mine, died tragically young in 1987 while flying their plane over Turin. His mother, their sister Harriet, lost her husband in last year’s tsunami in Sri Lanka, where she had gone with him to watch Spencer play for Harrow. (Her husband died saving her life.) Spencer went in batting second, and was never out. What’s important, and this is why he’s such a hero, is the fact that never has a young man with so much tradition and tragedy weighing him down produced such results under such pressure. Talk about courage and grace. For a boy to distinguish himself on the 200th anniversary of the Eton–Harrow match, with a final match-winning stroke hard driven into the MCC Pavilion, defies the credulity of any rational being, as well as that of any sportsman. Things like this simply don’t happen outside the movies. The Crawleys would have been overwhelmed with pride. Now that’s what I call a true-blue English hero of the Byron mode.

Last, but certainly not least, Wafic Said. On Saturday I drove to Tusmore Park, Oxfordshire, where Wafic and his wife Rosemary have built a beautiful Palladian house on the site of an old and ugly building in the middle of their beautiful estate. Wafic is a contrarian. Extremely rich, he nevertheless does not adhere to self-importance or bossiness, de rigueur nowadays among people of his wealth; instead he concentrates on philanthropy — there is a Said School of Business in Oxford — and helping his fellow man. He is fun, always smiling, generous to a fault. (He once offered to help me pay for a libel case, unaware that I had a drachma or two in my piggy bank.)

The summer ball was of pre-war splendour: Viennese operetta, singers and violins, a great band which played music one could dance to. It was a mix such as I’ve never seen. The people whose lives he’s touched will agree. If the truly rich were like him, I’d be out of a job. Yes, I understand the animosity that is inevitably felt for the rich such as Abramovich, but Wafic has hit those who hate wealth for a six. The rewarding nature of his relationship with those he and his wife have touched will last long after Roman, Murdoch and that Manchester United creep have descended to the great sauna below.


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