Wimbledon Fortnight. What does it mean to you, I wonder? Strawberries and cream, washed down with Pimms, while basking in the sunshine on Henman’s Hill?
For Mr B and me, this year’s Wimbledon has been rather special. Let me explain…
There can be no argument, these
days, that Mr B’s short term memory is not what it was. My dear Mum, faced with similar issues all those many years ago, used to refer to her “forgettory” - I always admired her cheerful acceptance of the relentless advance of age and her
ability to find just the right word to describe its impact. Mr B hasn’t yet come up with such an apt description (at least not one I can repeat in the Daily Blog) but he doesn’t allow himself to be unduly bothered, provided I am around to remind
him, over and over again, what we are going to have for dinner….
For the last fortnight, however, it’s his long term memory which has come to the
fore - we have been wallowing in the past. As in 1958, 1959 and 1960 when Mr B was a Wimbledon ball-boy, scooting across the net, scooping up the ball in one hand without losing a stride, making sure the greatest players out on court had each ball bounced
exactly into their outstretched hand as they prepared to serve.
I must have watched more Wimbledon tennis this year than I have for years - going right back
to when our Foursome were young and I spent Wimbledon fortnight while they were at school, knitting their winter school jumpers to justify my otherwise lazy afternoons. Instead of knitting, we’ve been chatting - there really has been so much to talk
That smart new uniform the ball boys and girls are wearing this year, for starters. Mr B reminds me (he has told me before, but I never fail to enjoy the
story) that he and his fellow ball-boys (no girls in those days, I fear) from a Dr Barnardo’s school in Hertford, wore green and purple shirts and shorts which they had to return at the end of the fortnight. As for trainers - or plimsolls as we called
them in the Olden Days - well, they had to provide their own. The training was long and arduous and only the very best were picked. Even today, Mr B tells me, it remains one of the most special experiences of his long life. “How old am I now?”
he asks me. “Did you know me when I was at Wimbledon?” (Answers: (i) 78 and (ii) hardly - I was just 10 years old when he graced the courts for the first time.) I like to imagine Mr B reckons I have always been in his life for all the most significant
moments - but I rather think I am being fanciful.
In 1958, his first year as a ball-boy, he was on Court 18 and for him Wimbledon only lasted for a week - he was
back at school when Ashley Cooper beat Neale Fraser on Centre Court to lift the trophy. On Court 18, he says, the ball-boys had to earn their £2 10 shillings pocket money - they even had to alter the score board as each match progressed. In 1959, aged
15, he was promoted to Court 8; that was the year Alex Olmedo beat Aussie Rod Laver in the final. Rod Laver, in Mr B’s opinion, was the GOAT (Greatest of All Time.) It was while we were watching Rafa Nadal at this year’s Wimbledon when we had the
discussion about the GOAT - Mr B would like to see good old Rod, in his heyday, playing Nadal, or Djokovic or Andy Murray.
In 1960, when the list of boys
selected for the team of ball-boys went up on the school noticeboard, Mr B felt sick to the stomach when he couldn’t find his name. Turning away from the notice board to hide his disappointment, a friend punched him on the arm and called him a “lucky
xxxxxxx!” He had made it onto Centre Court, no less. Neale Fraser and Maria Bueno were the winners that year - and Mr B served up tennis balls to both of them in their respective Finals. He wasn’t a fan of Bueno, but he loved Darlene Hard who was
especially sweet to the ball-boys - and his favourite was Karen Hantze (later Susman) though I am pretty sure that was a schoolboy crush as she was only a couple of years older than he was in 1960. Mr B says he couldn’t possibly comment…
In 2010, the Middle of the Darling Daughters contacted the Powers That Be at Wimbledon and wangled a Centre Court invitation for her Dad and me to mark fifty years since
his ball-boy days. We had an amazing day; watched, among others, Serena Williams at full power; and met that year’s team of ball boys and girls, all drawn these days from local secondary schools. Mr B told them they would savour the memories of their
Wimbledon days forever - bless them, those boys and girls listened to him rabbiting on with utmost politeness and respect. I like to think in fifty years time they will remember him telling them that and know he was right.
Thank you, Wimbledon 2022, for giving us such a truly special week, not only of superb tennis, but of lots easy conversations about a place that means so much to Mr B - and, consequently, to me.
Game, set and many, many matchless memories…