Everything is so bally at the mo!
After last night, we don’t have to watch the footie anymore (yipeeee), but the tennis is still ON and Andy Murray still IN so we need to be very watchy and engagey.
Unfortunately Wimbledon makes me go a bit PTSD. The faintest pop of a ball bouncing onto grass, or the merest murmur of that particularly English-sounding crowd, and I’m on the floor feeling very yakky.
Twenty-seven years ago today was a Friday.
Friday the 7th of July 1989.
Wimbledon was in full erm…swing (yay). Normally my mum would have been rooted to the TV for the whole Wimbledon fortnight. Lights off. Curtains drawn. Bowls of nuts and strawberries. Nobody can speak. Nobody can ask questions like why is it called love when they mean nil and why does the points system make no numerical sense and what is that big buldge in Boris Becker’s shorts? (It’s a TENNIS BALL you filthy arses)…
I’d head out to the garden between sets to be Navratilova or McEnroe. I’d have sweatbands on my wrists and fling myself around with a tennis racket (no ball, I didn’t want to play the actual sport, just the part of a tennis player), being all grunty and intense. I would especially focus on the between-game rituals of drinking Robinson’s orange squash, rubbing my face with a towel and rearranging the strings on my tennis racket.
Wimbledon always changed the whole mood of our house. Mum would be energised and animated. So animated that one year she broke her foot by leaping into the air with glee and crash-landing into a bowl of peanuts.
Wimbledon 1989 was different. At 15, I was too old for the garden amateur dramatics, and Mum was the opposite of energised. But still, most days I’d come home to the darkness of the front room, her face lit by the flickering TV.
Wednesday 5th July 1989 I remember I had really bad period pains and Mum got me a hot water bottle and let me lie next to her in bed for a bit. Her eyes were wide and bright that night, her mind seemingly still. We had a fag together. Cursed the curse. And I went to bed.
Thursday 6th July, Princess Di went to Wimbledon on her own that day which was deemed BIG NEWS as she sat that there with her flicky hair and sad, puppy-dog eyes. Maybe that’s what did it. Mum saw her sitting there and thought, I know how you feel Di, I know how it feels to be so watched and yet so excruciatingly lonely, so trapped…
That night I was performing in Joseph and his Technicolour Dreamcoat at school. I was in the chorus and also played the part of the seductress Mrs Potiphar. I wore a glorious golden dress of Mum’s, heavily embroidered and layered. It made you move deliberately and sit differently and I loved it. Mum didn’t make it to the show.
The next day, Friday 7th July there was rain at Wimbledon. Not that Mum would have noticed. When I left for school, she wasn’t right. That night, no Mum in the audience again. No Dad either. Or sister. In the interval there was a call to the school to say Mum was in hospital. Everyone was dead nice to me, I remember. That was brill. But we’d been here loads of times before and I knew we’d be here again. After the show my sister’s boyfriend picked me up and took me to the hospital. Within a couple of hours, Mum had died. And we were shocked, but not shocked. Devasted but also relieved in a very quiet, hidden way. It was over.
And so was my Wimbledon love affair.
Sunday 9th July, both the men’s and women’s finals ended up being played on the same day because of all the rain. It was Becker vs Edberg, Navratilova vs Graf. We didn’t watch it.
But today I’m thinking, 27 years is an awfully long time to still be so wobbly about a tennis tournament. I think tonight, I might sit down with the fam and watch the highlights of Serena’s match from today. The kids will ask, why do they call it love when they mean nil and why does the points system make no numerical sense and what is that big buldge in Serena’s skirt? And I’ll tell them, that there is her big-ass feminist balls kids…incredible, isn’t she? Who wants to go outside and pretend to be Serena with me…?