|It was a fair walk from Wimbledon Tube station to the hallowed grounds of the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, much of it uphill; and, whilst priding themselves on being relatively fit for their ages, the former Katharine Gordon and her husband of over forty years, ruefully admitting that they weren't as young as they'd once been, boarded one of the London General shuttle bus services which operated along the route during the fortnight of The Championships. |
Soon they were arriving at the famous Church Road site, and Katharine clutched her husband's arm in excitement as they approached the entry gates. Having been lucky in the ballot for tickets, they were able to join the shorter queue, for ticket holders, rather than the Queue with a capital Q for those hoping to purchase admission on the day. The tickets were stowed safely inside Katharine's capacious handbag. She'd put them in there the evening before, but had checked at least half a dozen times before leaving the house that morning to ensure that they hadn't somehow escaped by themselves. Right up until the moment when they showed the precious pieces of paper and were admitted, she remained a little nervous that she might lose them. She well remembered how her scatty Aunt Luce, gone for many years now but still much missed, had always been losing things! But all was well. They'd arrived!
Once, she'd hoped that she might one day come here as a player. She'd imagined it so many times, walking out on to Centre Court in her pristine white skirt and top, curtseying to the Royal Box, and then taking to the court with the game that won her so many plaudits in her schooldays. Oh, the dreams of youth, when being captain of the school tennis team meant that you might reasonably hope one day to hold the Venus Rosewater Dish aloft, having an article published in the school magazine indicated that a glittering literary career awaited, and taking a lead role in a school play indicated that you would one day see your name in lights in the West End and Broadway! How old were most people, she wondered, when they finally accepted that their names were never going to trouble the writers of history? That they were destined to be ... well, just one of the crowd?
Were any former Chalet School girls likely to be amongst the privileged few watching today's Centre Court action from the Royal Box, she wondered. Or amongst the corporate hospitality clients sipping champagne and eating prawn sandwiches in the areas reserved for their exclusive use, she conjectured with a flash of resentment. How much did any of those individuals, who certainly hadn't obtained their tickets through a ballot which was a mere matter of luck, actually know about the game she loved so much? Still, at least the hospitality seats at Wimbledon were always full, which was more than could be said for those at Roland Garros!
Oh, she couldn't really complain about the privileges enjoyed by others. She'd had the sort of privileged education that, with costs having soared the way they'd done, she couldn't have dreamt of for her children, far less dream of now for her grandchildren. But fame, making your mark on the world ... how many people actually achieved that? Whatever their background? The music aficionados amongst the crowds thronging this most famous part of London SW19 might have heard of Margia Stevens, Jacynth Hardy and Nina Rutherford, and many of the older ladies present were no doubt familiar with the works of Josephine M Bettany, but almost all of her old school's former pupils, and almost all of every other school's former pupils, had become just one more face in a crowd.
"Hey, Kat! Stop daydreaming." Her husband Peter's words cut into her thoughts. He was grinning at her broadly. "Don't tell me – you were imagining yourself coming here as a player! We'd better shift: we're in everybody's way here. How about putting on your best smile whilst I take a few photos? And we'll see if we can get anyone to take some of us together. Then we probably need to get a programme and a copy of the order of play, before we do anything else: that way we'll know where we're up to. And some strawberries and cream, of course! I dread to imagine what they charge for them, but we can't come to Wimbledon and not have any. The same goes for Pimm's, but maybe not at this time in the morning! Then shall we head for the souvenir shop and see what we can find for the kids? And, after that, I assume you'll want to head for the practice courts and see who we can see over there, and then get over to one of the outside courts ready for the start of play, seeing as it'll be hours yet before the first match on Centre Court. I know you'll want to see as much tennis as possible. It's your day, though! Just say what you want to do, and we'll do it!"
"That all sounds perfect." She smiled at him. How well he knew her! Well, so he should, after over forty years. He knew a fair amount about tennis, too, although it wasn't really his sport: he'd always been more of a cricket man. But he followed tennis because he knew how important it was to her, just as she followed cricket because she knew that it was important to him. She'd realised, once she started university, that her own tennis, whilst it wasn't bad – several people she'd met there had remarked approvingly on how good her game was, especially seeing as, during her last few years at school, she hadn't even had chance to hone it against the best players from other schools – was hardly of the world class standard that people at the Chalet School had fondly imagined it to be. Well, many people soon learnt similar lessons at university! How many students had always been top of their school years at their chosen subjects, but were now finding themselves up against others who'd also always been top of their school years at their chosen subjects? It certainly hadn't stopped her from playing the game, and enjoying it.
She still played now, at the local club of which she'd been a stalwart for many years. And, with the advent of satellite television with its dedicated sports channels, and the increased British interest in the sport brought about by the successes of Tim Henman and Greg Rusedski in recent years, she was now able to watch the best players in the world on her television screen week after week. Even if it did lead to a few scraps when there was cricket on another channel and Peter wanted to watch that!
Dear Peter. They'd met whilst they'd both been students in London, and married a few years later. She'd carried on working until their son had arrived, followed by a daughter two years later, and had returned to work part time once both children were at school, retiring when she'd turned sixty. "The kids" to whom Peter had referred were their five grandchildren, their son's two and their daughter's three. The eldest, when he'd been studying the Second World War at school, had begged his grandparents eagerly for tales about those days, and been rather disappointed when he'd realised that they'd all been too young to have done anything which he deemed interesting. He'd also recently developed an interest in the 1960s, and had asked excitedly what they could tell him life during that decade – although, he'd said solemnly, he'd read that, if you could remember the 1960s, you couldn't really have been there.
Well, she remembered the Sixties well enough. She'd owned a Mary Quant mini-skirt and numerous records by the Beatles, but she'd certainly never felt the urge to go running off to San Francisco, with or without flowers in her hair. And, if parts of London had swung like a pendulum swung, the quiet Surrey surburb where she and Peter had settled certainly hadn't. Life there had always been very ordinary.
But there was nothing wrong with an ordinary life. It hadn't been enough for her parents. And their ambitions had been far loftier than success on the tennis court. Imbued with a burning idealism which she had admired but had never been entirely able to understand, Dr Gordon and Sister Gordon had taken themselves off to work as medical missionaries in China, leaving their daughter in the care of her grandmother and then, when her grandmother died, her aunt. They'd returned home only after nearly losing their lives in the chaos that had engulfed the country as the Nationalists and the Communists battled for power. Katharine had been almost fifteen by then.
Yes, their work had been important. But hadn't her work been important too? And Peter's work, and that of everybody around them? And what about the loving home that she and Peter had tried so hard to give their children. She wouldn't have missed seeing her son and daughter grow up for all the tea in the country in which her parents had spent so much of her own young days, and she'd wept openly when, at the party that she and Peter had thrown to celebrate their ruby wedding anniversary, both children had spoken in front of all the guests about the happy childhood that they'd had. She and Peter were blessed not only with each other, with their children and their grandchildren but with many dear friends. Maybe their life was ordinary. Maybe they were really rather dull and boring, a fairly standard middle-aged, middle-class couple, living in England's Home Counties, but what was wrong with that? It was a good life. And she was content. Just to be one of the crowd.
And, today, she was going to be one of the crowd at the most famous tennis court in the world, in the tournament still called, despite the many other tennis championships around the world, simply "The Championships". Fame? Fortune? Changing the world? She hadn't been meant for any of that. Being one of the crowd suited her just fine!