The Bluebird does not believe in exercise. Except tangoing at country weddings. The rest of the exercise world passes the Bluebird by in a haze of ill-fitting tracksuits and jockstraps. City walking is the London Bluebirds chosen sport – I am often to be found striding along in last year’s pumps in the friendly walk between work (Mayfair) and University (Euston). At school I was mocked at in Netball and pouted slovenly through tennis lessons whilst wearing my Jim Morrison T shirt. But I do love watching tennis. I find the thwack of a ball against a highly-strung tennis racket one of the quintessential sounds of the English summer. From mid-June when the grasscourt season begins, tennis spools from the Bluebird television in service, after service, after service. I love it when the BBC2 schedules are completely ruined by one of those balmy days on centre at Wimbledon, when tennis players rage against the fading of the summer light to finish their sets. Masterchef can go screw itself when Nadal is on centre. Football ruins far too many women’s weekends. When it comes to the summer tennis season, it’s my turn.
As I mentioned last week I was bound for Queens Club for what used to be the Artois and is now the AEGON. It was cold and wet and an hour and a half was lost to rain. I was scheduled to see top 4 seeds – Roddick, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray. All four were a letdown. It was a corporate day out. I was late and the front gate had misfiled me, under K. Really! Since when does “Bluebird” start with “K!” When I finally found myself, I managed to drop a special ticket that means I cannot get into the Pimms Drinking and Guffawing Area (or something). Lunchwise, when I finally rocked up, it was fine fayre and splendid wine but the half an hour queue for food stank of “school”. Nadal, when he did get out on centre, was petulant and under par. Then rain happened and all hell broke loose.
The English are at their most formidable when there is a tea tent involved. As the skies opened over W14 there was a migratory movement to the scones. By the time we turned up, having been slightly slow off the mark, I could have wept. The members’ buffet area was rammed with the kind of people that look like extras from Four Weddings and a Funeral; indomitably English, well-preserved, radiant with a certain class and jollity. There were no tables left. Instead, we had to stand around for an hour drinking Earl Grey tea and leering at the people who had had all the chocolate cake. Nadal came back on centre, got through but did not deserve to. Murray came on at 7.15pm and we had an hour an a half before his opponent, Fish, decided it was too dark to continue and walked off the court at 8.40pm.
What the day brought home to me – truly for the first time – was the utter, utter obsession with the weather. We were either talking about whether it was going to rain, when it was going to rain, what kind of rain would fall when it did, how wet it would be, would it be water when it came down, or perhaps some undiscovered elixir of the gods? For four hours we talked about nothing but rain. It was enough to almost make me eat my Columbo-style trilby hat. Talking about rain is what the English do between serves. It means we don’t talk of ourselves.
The other thing the English excel at and which dominates the London summer season is drinking Pimms and staring at art and saying “Yes, but are you sure they have hung it the right way up, Angela?”. I had to convince my mother drinking Pimms wasn’t appropriate for 10 in the morning when we zoomed around the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition on Friday morning. In the middle of one of the exhibition rooms is a large, orange egg-shaped Pimms centre from which staff dispense drinks, so RA members get high on lemonade and buy pieces of art. The great thing about the Summer Exhibition is so much of it is affordable art. In this day and age, a piece of art for £250 has more intrinsic actual value than – say – £250 added on to the cost of a house or a holiday. The London Bluebird’s mode of living has only been sustained thus far by her insistence on renting in a overinflated housing market. If I was to buy a house on the current salary in the current climate I would have to leave the city, and move to a shed in rural Bedfordshire, which myself and Mr Bluebird would have to section off into tiny bedsits to let out. We could, perhaps, live on the roof. This lack of property ownership has left me feeling dangerously without investments in the last few years, floating haphazardly upon an impermanent London life.
About a year ago I decided to take this to task, investing in small ways in things that interested me. I bought some limited edition film stills at an exhibition, and Mr Bluebird buys art when the mood takes him. I have also decided to invest in wine at Berry Bros and lay down a couple of cases for several years until they are ready to sell. We have acquired a vintage cinema lobby card and I am looking to acquire more. Apart from the obvious fact that I would rather actively assist artists and drunks through this recession rather than estate agents, it stops those of us who cannot afford houses in the places we would like to have them from feeling economically glass-ceilinged by the world. It opens everything up; in many markets you could invest in a small way for £50 or £100. Unlike an over-inflated housing market, anyone can participate. In this recession small businesses and affordable investments will flourish. Which is why I’m off back to the Summer Exhibition to buy a little piece of it for £100. Because it means something – and because I can.
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