While the usual signs of British summer are here — chilly weather, drizzle, deep supermarket discounts on Pimms — this year I’m taking full advantage and doing 2 traditional British summer activities: attending Wimbledon and going to the Henley Regatta.
These two activities incorporate so many things the English hold dear: dressing up, drinking, attending civilised sporting events and “enjoying” summer weather (rain or shine). I’ve never done them before and am surprised they allow me to stay.
This past weekend I did Wimbledon and tried to do it truly traditional style. I put on a houndstooth jacket (from very English clothier Joules), laced up my brogues and set off for the All England Tennis Club with my brolly.
The weather didn’t disappoint. It went from overcast to fat-droplet rain as my friend J and I first stopped at Franco Manca for a bite of warm pizza, then huddled under the awning at the tennis club Champagne bar. We shared a bottle of fizz, chatted with a contingent of Austrians and waited for the clouds to clear.
In the end, sun broke through and we took our seats on Court 1 to watch Alizé Cornet and Serena Williams in what became a “shock upset” of Williams, the five-time Wimbledon winner, by the French player.
As an American, I felt the defeat keenly (as did the Australian sitting behind me, belting out amusing advice and support for her). But as the sun dissipated more and more behind the grey cloud cover, we went home in high spirits at such a marvelous British afternoon. Drinking! Chatting! Feeling cold! We were all in it together being all stiff-upper-lippy about it.
As a large group, we Wimbledon attendees walked back up the hill to Southfields station, and my friend and I stopped at a folding table set up by an entrepreneurial group of children. We bought fairy cakes (not cupcakes) and strolled toward the Tube amid chatter and wet pavements.
You must prepare for sun. You must prepare for rain. You might even see both of them at the same time. This is English summer. You can’t beat it, so just prepare for it.
The sun goes behind a cloud and suddenly you’re shivering in the shade. My friend J looked fabulous in her maxi dress and shrug, but after the 4-hour delay, the match stretched until early evening, and she was eyeing my jacket enviously.
This isn’t an American-style sporting event where everyone wears baseball caps and shorts. Of course it’s about the tennis. But it’s not only about the tennis. Even as it bucketed down on us, the atmosphere was high-spirited and merry.
You can stroll the grounds of the All England Club (a private members club), watch players dressed in traditional white and, yes, eat strawberries and cream. The men were dressed in their preppy best. Women had wonderfully coiffed hair. Break out the tweed, layer with cardigans and scarves and enjoy it, dahling.
I hardly need to mention this but it’s an important rule of thumb. “We might get to see some tennis today!” people say cheerfully as the sky lowers and water runs off their neighbour’s umbrella and drops onto their nose. As we left the ground at 8pm, a steward at the gate asked if we’d like to donate our ticket for resale to people who come late to catch the last hour or so. And who said the Brits weren’t optimists?