The phrases 'long-suffering' and 'eager anticipation' were probably coined especially for British tennis fans during the annual Wimbledon1 fortnight.
Yes, the rest of the world already knows that the British are obsessed with talking about the weather. No exceptions will be made here. We can't help it, so you may just as well get used to it.
Picture the scene, you've waited a whole 50 weeks for Wimbledon fortnight to come around again. It's day one, you have booked a day off work because there are xx-number of Brits in the first-round of the draw. The weather forecast is good, so you don't bother to take a coat, brolly, wellies or a cagoule. Find your seat and settle down, soaking up the atmosphere, then decide your budget can stretch to six strawberries and a dollop of cream. Find your seat again. A buzz starts going around the crowd, are the players coming out? You strain your neck in an attempt to see above everyone else craning their necks.
Looking around, you wonder why the people in the seats opposite are putting up umbrellas, when the sun is shining, in fact, beating down on your head... then you feel the first drops and inwardly curse the weatherman. Reassuring yourself it's just a light shower, a quick glance at your watch tells you the players will soon be out for a warm-up. Another buzz goes round the crowd, the gates open, out come the ball boys and girls! Giving them an appreciative round of applause, it's somewhat dismaying to see two of them start dismantling the net.
By now everyone around you has pulled out their yellow sou'-westers, put them on and raised their umbrellas. You look about and wonder if there's someone who will offer to share. No, didn't think so. You wonder whether you should leave before Cliff Richard starts singing. However, you know if you do, the clouds will blow away, and a Brit will win. Therefore you stay, just like everybody else. After all, you can only get so wet, after that you can't get any wetter, surely? Two hours later the public announcement system states there will be no play today ladies and gentlemen. Murmurs of disappointment spread through the crowd as people line up politely to exit, some promising to see you tomorrow but none being careful about where they're sticking their umbrella spokes.
You're back at work, so have to tune in surreptitiously in your (late) lunch-hour, on a dodgy mini-portable. The sun is shining and the crowd looks happy, there's not an umbrella in sight. You curse the gods. The crowd erupts with delight as the first Brit walks onto Centre Court. You cheer every point won, then remember they're still warming up. The umpire announces one minute left, you glance at your watch, curse again, and return to work.
Desperately trying not to hear the scores and results on the journey home, you check the TV schedule for the highlights, as play was called off half an hour ago, while you were on the tube. You throw a frozen dinner-for-one into the microwave, settle down in front of the TV, answer the phone2, Henman won his match! In your delight you forget to berate your fellow-tennis-fan but listen to all the exciting details, murmuring mmm and wondering if your curry will taste the same cold.
Finally, feet up, highlights, cold beer in hand, you toast Henman and all his delighted fans on Henman Hill who went home happy. Check Ceefax for tomorrow's weather forecast and order of play. Oh joy! More Brits to cheer on, you wonder whether you should ring in sick now, or wait till next week. Decisions, decisions.
The Rest of Week One
Taking place staggered in-between showers, the men's competition has three Brits left in the draw for week two, and the women - did any British women start? Oh well, we can still talk about Virginia Wade's fantastic win in the Queen's Silver Jubilee year3, can't we? Three Brits in week two, it's almost worth taking your last week's leave, so you log onto eBay4 and search for tickets. Logging off, you ring round friends to see if any of them have won the lottery recently. Some laugh when you mention the ex-Canadian5 (who took British nationality but from that moment on never played as well again). No one offers to lend you the humongous wedge of cash for a ticket, but the matches are live on TV so that's the next best thing, right? You ring work and book next week off.
The Start of Week Two - Day One
No need to get up early, shave, or even shower! There's just you, the cat and the TV. Don't bother to draw the curtains, that'll ruin the picture on the screen! Turn on the TV. Sue Barker is bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and immaculately coiffured. The omens are good. She excitedly reminds viewers that it's XX-years since a Brit has reached this stage at Wimbledon. You chuckle with glee. Curled up on the sofa, waiting for the players to appear, you and the crowd politely applaud the umpire and the line judges: well, you want them to feel benevolent towards your man, don't you?
A huge roar erupts as Henman walks out and he raises his racquet in acknowledgement. The crowd can't contain their excitement and a Mexican Wave breaks out. Sue passes commentary over to John 'Mac' McEnroe, who reminds us that it's XX-years since a Brit reached the next round. You curse and touch wood, cancelling out the bad vibe. Mac chuckles maniacally, he knows he's just made millions of viewers swear. He asks Boris Becker what he thinks of the Brits' chances. Boris opens his mouth, but he's still thinking so no sound comes out. The quick-thinking John Lloyd fills the pregnant pause by announcing that if Henman should lose there are still two more Brits left in the round. Mac laughs out loud. Boris glares at John, closes his mouth, then opens it again just as the umpire announces Time.
Just over an hour later, the worst has happened. Henman's out, and he doesn't even bother to sign autographs, he's so annoyed with himself yet again. Henman Hill is eerily silent. The player-who-beat-Henman is wandering up and down the miserable crowd looking for an autograph book to grab and scribble on. The tannoy announcer asks if people are going home could they please remember their belongings! Going home? Who would do that? The ex-Canadian is up next! All is not lost!
As TV coverage switches back to the studio, teary-eyed Sue takes us through each set and where-it-all-went-wrong. Yes, you nod in agreement. If only the heavens had opened at the end of the second set, he could have had a night's rest and started the game again tomorrow and taken three sets on the trot and won the match, then he'd have been in the semis. Shame! You shrug as the ex-Canadian walks out with his opponent. While they're warming up there's time to make yourself a sandwich and grab a cold beer.
The first set is so tense your sandwich curls. It goes to a tie-break, your heart races and your t-shirt is plastered to your back. Leaning forward on the sofa helps, but you make a mental note to change shirts after the tie-break. You fight the desperate urge to pee. Ex-Canadian's opponent wins a point, bringing the tie-break level again, and the crowd groans. It's our serve. You perch on the end of the couch ready to run to the loo the second he serves his two winners. It's an ace! You fight the urge to leap up and punch the air. One point to go and the first set is in the bag. Mac reminds viewers that, so far, the ex-Canadian hasn't served any double-faults, and you curse and touch wood to cancel out the jinx. The first serve goes wide and you start to rock backwards and forwards in a vain attempt to distract your thoughts from the pain in your bladder region. Eyes never leaving the TV screen, you daren't even blink. You could hear a pin drop on Centre Court, as every spectator holds their breath. The ball is tossed into the air in seeming slow-motion, he hits a winner and the crowd screams, but the umpire calls foot-fault. One explosive response later, and the score level, you grab the chance to run to the loo while they're changing ends.
Halfway through changing your red, white and blue t-shirt and damp pants, you can hear the crowd cheering so fling on a bathrobe. Well, there's just you and the cat isn't there? Just as you arrive back at the couch and shoo the cat off the warm bit you vacated a few moments before, you glance at the TV and wonder why the players are sitting down drinking juice. The ex-Canadian is even taking a bite from a banana but his face is expressionless. What the... what happened? You look at the cat, puzzled. He's still sulking that he lost his cosy seat, and is already planning his revenge. The sound on the TV is okay, because you can hear the crowd buzzing. The camera is panning across the crowd and then switches to Henman Hill, where die-hards wearing Union Flag t-shirts are waving aloft 'Tiger Tim' signs, 'Hello Mum' placards and Union Flags. They all stand, wave and cheer as they see themselves on the large screen. As the umpire calls Time the camera finally fixes on the scoreboard and you leap up and punch the air as you see the ex-Canadian won the set 7-6.
The second set is fraught and tense as the ex-Canadian's opponent, stung by the loss of the first set, uses every trick in the book, including arguing with the line judges and the umpire; complaining loudly about someone's mobile phone going off; demanding a fresh, clean towel; anything to distract the home crowd's favourite from taking a two-set lead.
It's one-all and the next set passes in a blur of action so fast you feel exhausted just watching; ace after ace to cheer as the ex-Canadian wipes the floor with his adversary. Two-one and it's almost teatime, you can't tear your eyes away from the TV to look at the wall clock but your belly's rumbling so you just know. You wonder if you can run to the kitchen, find a microwaveable curry in the deep freeze, chuck it in the microwave, set the timer and have time to visit the loo. You take the chance, and the microwave beeps just as the players prepare to start set four.
Set four is, of course, the anti-set three. The ex-Canadian loses it with a couple of diabolical shots, a few mis-timed strokes and lots of Hawkeye errors. Mac can barely contain his glee. He interjects with phrases like it's getting cloudy here and one wonders how much light is left and you consider whipping off a furious email of complaint to the big boys at the BBC berating them about the misuse of our TV licence fees. After the match, of course.
Set five begins and it's gone dark. Both players complain to the umpire about the lack of light and Mac laughs. The umpire orders them to get on with it, they both serve one game each and then the umpire makes a telephone call, which is always a bad sign. He announces Ladies and gentlemen, play is suspended and the players grab their bags and run to the changing rooms, ignoring all requests from pleading fans with outstretched arms, offering large tennis-balls and pens.
Week Two - Day Two
Stay in bed.
Half an hour before the restart, you arrange everything so you don't have to leave the couch and TV. Even the cat's been put outside, earning you more black marks. Consider whether to take the phone off the hook, then decide to. If there's an emergency the police will knock on the door, won't they? Turn off mobile phone. Load Ceefax weather forecast and smile at the expected sunshine. Settle back with cold beer and hot curry.
When 1:50pm arrives and the players walk out, the crowd erupts. You help yourself to another beer and relish the surge of adrenalin coursing through your veins. Heart's pumping fast, a quick check of your wrist pulse reveals nothing untoward but you keep a spare glyceryl trinitrate pump on the coffee table just in case. The players start warming up, so you nip to the loo before the match restarts.
Twenty dismal minutes later and it's match point to the ex-Canadian's opponent. Mac is very excited, you can't see him but you can hear it in his voice. John Lloyd is practically yelling into his mike, which is very unusual, and you wonder whether the plug is going to be pulled because of the risk of swearing going out live. Boris swears. Sue apologises to viewers and cuts commentary just as the ex-Canadian's opponent blasts an ace and wins the match. When you uncover your eyes, the live feed has been restored and John Lloyd tells us that: 'Boris has gone to comment on one of the outer courts for German radio but John McEnroe is still with us, I'm pleased to say'. You curse, then go look for your lucky rabbit's foot before the next match, which features the Last Brit in the Tournament.
The Last Brit in the Tournament
You just begin to wonder whether it's all worth it, but then out walks the tall, gangly, long-haired youth who bears the hopes of a nation. You immediately forgive him for not bowing to the Royal Box, even though his non-Brit opponent does. As he sits down and removes his tracksuit, the girls in the crowd start screaming and he blushes. The camera pans the blue-and-white-flag waving crowd and finally settles on an elderly Scottish actor, typically dressed in kilt and Tam-O'Shanter6, who is punching the air and mouthing encouragement. You wish he'd close his legs just as the camera jerks abruptly away.
The players finish their warm-up and play starts. Mac queries the blue wristbands with the white cross on, and John Lloyd helpfully suggests that they're the Scottish emblem. Not really a Brit then, if he's wearing Scottish regalia? Mac voices all our thoughts but we grit our teeth and hang on to the tenuous link that we can still claim a Brit might win Wimbledon this year. The alternative is unthinkable. The camera switches to Henman Hill - sorry Murray Mount - and the people in the crowd leaping up and down are wearing Scottish t-shirts. They look like the same people, did they swap when the ex-Canadian lost? Or just bring two lots of clothes? The omens are not good.
You wonder whether John Lloyd still thinks about Chris Evert (well, you and all your mates do, and they never met her). The entire British male population forgave Lloyd for never winning anything because of the kudos he earned from having been married to the goddess Chrissie. You smile as you imagine Mac teasing red-faced Lloyd (when the mike's off) about his past sex life with Chrissie, when play begins. Murray serves first and loses the game. You throw the rabbit's foot across the room and wonder where the crucifix your mother bought you for your 21st birthday is. You let the cat in, nip upstairs for a quick pee and rummage around a few cupboards before finding the lucky cross. You return to your recently-vacated seat to find the cat shredding the rabbit's foot. The omens are starting to look really bad.
You finger the crucifix, chuck the cat in the kitchen, shut the door, ignore the yowling, turn up the volume on the TV and note the score is 2-1 to Murray. The players, of course, have just started a two-minute break. Mac comments that Murray's opponent was really unlucky not to be 3-0 up and you turn the volume back down. As the players begin game five the cat starts scratching at the door, and you let him back in so you don't have to spend the rest of the week redecorating. The cat looks very smug as he stretches out in front of the TV.
Murray wins the first set and punches the air. The other player looks miserable; only to be expected really, considering he's twice his opponent's age, half his height and follically-challenged. John Lloyd remarks that even Sean Connery looks happy but the camera remains focused on the Royal Box. Mac asks whether there are any bagpipe players lined up in case the Scottish lad wins and you curse. Lloyd announces that the players are ready to start set two.
With the cat now on your lap and purring loudly, you break your own rule and start stroking him, wincing when he flexes his claws in your thigh. Murray serves an ace and the crowd cheers wildly. You smile and wonder what Mac is thinking, and why the BBC continue to employ him to commentate when he's so obviously biased against the Brits. The cat's rhythmic purring is almost hypnotic and your eyelids are getting heavier and heavier. You jump with a start at the knock on the door and the cat leaps for its life. Opening the door you stifle a yawn, and take delivery of a parcel for your neighbours, who aren't in, apparently. Glancing at the TV, you're surprised to see Murray is winning two sets to nil and he's 5-0 up and serving for the match! Just as he's about to throw the ball in the air the cat, who had been investigating the neighbour's parcel, screeches and jumps backwards. The lid of the box is flung open and the head and neck of a huge monster wearing a Tam-O'Shanter rises, roaring as its fiery eyes sweep the room. Just as it is about to swallow you, a sharp pain in your groin wakes you and you thank your lucky stars the cat just missed providing you with a free vasectomy.
The news is on, and the newscaster announces that Murray lost, but never mind, there's always next year. A reporter attempting to get a quote from a scowling Sean Connery almost got punched and the clip is played again for those who missed it live. His Tam-O'Shanter is missing, worryingly. You wonder what to do with yourself for the rest of the week, considering there are only Americans and Australians left in the tournament - and that's a more tenuous link than Scotland. You pick up the phone, call your mother and tell her how much you miss her. She invites you over for a few days. Now you just have to find the cat carrier and you're sorted. Roll on next year!