The sports editor is very keen that we do not concentrate on our sports alone. Nonetheless I was surprised on the first day of Wimbledon to be told that if I wanted I could join the National Rust party headed up by Bob Tickler on tour in the west at Windsor for the traditional Monday evening event. On the warmest night of the year what could be more idyllic than to leave the scrum of SW19 for the delights of the Thames river bank ?
John Pargiter was on the phone for Wimbledon tips. I gave him Stan Wawrinka , good value each way at 16-1, a patriotic tickle on Andy Murray playing the best tennis of his life at 11-4 and for the ladies Karolina Pliskova at 50-1, Sloane Stephens at 40-1 and Sabrina Lisicki to win the third quarter. You will see no Djokovic nor Serena. No value there. I asked John for betting advice for Windsor. He said Dick Hannon and his son -in-law Richard Hughes hold court in Windsor but if I wanted to make money lay (bet against) the favourite. I did not fancy the idea of watching a race to see if my horse loses.
We duly convened at the Sir Christopher Wren hotel where Bob had commandered his favourite outdoor table with sweeping views river down and up river. I could have stayed there all day watching the river life of skullers, pleasure boats and motor cruisers in the shadows of the ramparts of the castle. Windsor is a tad touristy but scenic all the same.
We then took a boat to the course seeing Toad Halls along the river bank. I felt myself relaxing. Bob observed that he is not a racing man but when he took guests the comment of being on holiday was often made. Bob ‘s … er … companion was a local nurse to whom I instinctively warmed for her jovial Caribbean spirit. .
On the course we set up camp in the Club Enclosure. Bob was irate the bar did not serve Pimms. “The bar does not have a clue, not serving Pimms on the hottest night of the year.” His nurse urged him to chill out, it was bad for his blood pressure.
A family sat next to us consisting of great grandma, grandparents, an obese mum on crutches with a baby and six year old. It was more like the Royle family than the local Royal Family. Within minutes the 6 year old was moaning he did not want to be there but at a youth club. He sulked, swore and kept up the same mantra. Our nurse was appalled to see orange juice in the baby’s bottle drained and replaced by Pepsi. I caught a reference to the six year old’s supper of 12 chicken nuggets. I bet most meals were takeaways and supermarket-prepared dishes in front of the telly. The arguing after the six year old outburst was almost unbearable.
As for the racing, John was right, only one favourite won, in the first race. Given the low prize money of around £3000 I was amazed they attracted any runners as riders but the rationale was that it’s a track where promising two year olds are run. It was not an especially elegant crowd. Most men wore the check shirts and jeans and the ladies in high-waisted mid-calf dresses were more fashion conscious.
I know there is an ongoing debate on these pages of live event v television. My take was that the best feature was the journey there and back as the sun set on the river. The actual event was too crowded, the racing hard to follow as it was a figure of eight course where much of the race was out of sight, the food ordinary and the drink expensive. At least one drawback of the live event – traffic queues arriving and departing – was avoided. I cannot think of a better way of transport than a river boat. On the journey back I saw an orderly line of ducks, mother at the head, swimming upstream and our nurse and I agreed that nature sometimes produces a less dysfunctional family than Society.