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Summer of Englishness: Wimbledon

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Hamid Ismailov Hamid Ismailov | 16:10 UK time, Thursday, 4 August 2011

Those who follow me on Facebook and Twitter might know that this summer I was accredited for the Wimbledon, but couldn't get to the finals on the Central Court.

No right of passage, to make a pun.
But no offence taken.

After spending some time in the joyous crowd on the hill under the enormous plasma screen I decided to go home to watch it just as I used to watch it all these years - sprawled on the sofa in front of the telly.

Indeed I took no offence, but going back home down the empty streets of Wimbledon, the sight of some suspicious and rather talkative gentlemen at every road junction offering me a spare ticket for £200, had conjured up in me a rather complex feeling, which - I guess - might have been related to the feelings of Andy Murray himself: the building up of his aspirations and not getting to the final...

So I would like to muse a little about this feeling.

I've lived in London for the last 18 years and observed that every year without fail, before the Wimbledon tournament, we as a nation build up our expectations of inevitable triumph: putting our trust in our 'Tiger' Tim Henman, or nowadays, Andy Murray.

Sometimes we even go for Elena Baltacha.

Tabloids predict it, McEnroe encourages it, and we duly believe.

And every year with the same perennial regularity they lose, stopped in their tracks from progressing to the final, as the cups of our tears turn into champagne for other heroes.

And it's not just the case in tennis; I wrote last year about football for instance too.

That is when the soul-searching begins.

Once we were discussing the school results of my son with our very close English friends.

Both me and my wife in our childhood had been pushed to the limits by our parents in terms of our school performance: from maths to astronomy, so naturally we were a bit disappointed by our son's reluctance to aspire to be the best in his class.

Then our English friends said: 'Don't push him too hard. Let him belong to the mainstream. In this country they don't like teachers' pets. There's an English saying 'He's too clever by half'. Let him be an all-rounded man'.

Ever since, I have heard this notion of the 'all-rounded man' mentioned time and time again by many a Headmaster of the best Public and Grammar schools, which our clever, ironic, sometimes sarcastic, witty, articulate, eloquent, well mannered, musical, and sensible - in short 'all-rounded' son has attended.

I guess somehow that he wouldn't become Rostropovich in his cello-playing, neither Fisher in his chess, nor Nash in his economics.

Because you have to be somewhat 'monstrous' towards yourself, if you aspire to become Usain Bolt, Diego Maradona, Maxim Vengerov or Raphael Nadal.

It's not the only explanation.

Who knows, maybe the concept of overnight success which we're talking about in our last entry has replaced the sum of the tireless effort towards achieving something...

Or another thought. George Orwell once said: 'English literature, like other literatures, is full of battle-poems, but it is worth noticing that the ones that have won for themselves a kind of popularity are always a tale of disasters and retreats. There is no popular poem about Trafalgar or Waterloo, for instance. The most stirring battle-poem in English is about a brigade of cavalry which charged in the wrong direction'.

But how do we square it with the history of this nation of conquerors, explorers, and pioneers?

Or is it even more complicated and we are talking about the other side of the medal on which the dearest words of Englishness like 'democracy', 'equality', and 'fair play' are coined?

Just to make my feelings even more complicated, returning from the never happened All England Club's final I remembered another anecdote from my English life.

You know, I've got a friend. A very decent person. Extremely nice character. She lives up in Watford, and sells fish in our local market.

When several years ago I used to buy mackerel and some frozen prawns from her, she would meet me with the warmest exclamation and laughter: "Hi, luv! The same old mackerel and a pound of prawns in weight?"

At that time I drove my first Ford Fiesta and my son studied at a random local school.
A couple of years on I started to buy four heads of silver trout and another pound of skate knobs.

She would laugh heartily and greet me with: "How are you, my dear. Your trout and the usual knobs?"

At that time my car was a Ford Escort and my son had moved to the local church school.

Now I buy red mullet and uncooked king-size prawns and I noticed that she says with a smile: "How are you this morning, Sir? Red mullet and a handful of king size?"

I bet, that weighing my regular fish she knows somehow, that I'm driving nothing less than a Volkswagen Passat and my son goes to the Habs Boys school...

I didn't mention a parallel move from the ex-council house to semi-detached town house and then to a detached Victorian House, while shifting from The Sun through The Guardian and to the Daily Telegraph because, as a freaky foreigner who mixes everything up, I still live in my two storey town house and read the Metro on the tube...

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