A Premiere Evening in Wimbledon
‘Amazing’ said Claire, head of marketing at the True Volunteer Foundation (TVF); this was in response to my question on what it felt like to see the film which she and her colleagues had spent so much time preparing, projected in a cinema. She emphasised how impressive was the sense of the audience being together, unified by the efforts and achievements which surround sport.
* * *
The Sounth East train ambles past the mixed conifers and deciduous trees, through home county settlement after home county settlement — Ascot, Long Cross. The red-brick, leafy panorama, punctuated with an overly large vehicle or sports car causes the deferential but visceral memory to emerge – this is my old home, the south. Virginia Waters. I’ll change at Twickenham, then go on to Hampton, to my cousin’s as a way-point before I go on to Wimbledon, a VIP no less, for the premiere of ‘Common Ground’ — a film on the history of Wimbledon from a sporting perspective. Egham. The question is: Why is an inexperienced fool like me attending a film premiere among the primates of the sporting world? – Networking. An editor friend of mine, a generous one who has looked over a number of my pieces, edited the script of the film which I will watch. She would have attended this function but couldn’t make the date, so she had me invited; it was a kind gesture, and was generous of the organisation.
6:07 – I was annoyed; because I had already missed my earlier (and more preferable) train; trying to buy a ticket in Hampton station is a strange and trying pastime. I inserted my card and all seemed OK, then the machine claimed an error; I tried again, same error, and again. Then I realised that the problems started when I let go of the card. I jammed the card into the machine and held it in place while I keyed in my PIN with the other hand.
I see a few other people who I could tell – by their conversation – were attending the premiere too. The ticket officers behind me keep switching rapidly between crime and English history in their conversation.
6:22 – I’m slightly trepidatious about the approaching social gathering. Frankly, sport is not a particularly rabid interest of mine. For the last few weeks I have been sitting with a sheet of paper with pictures of the honoured guests and their names, aiming to learn them all like I would have done for a school test. I hope that my memory will be sufficient in the exam situation.
6:30 – Today feels remarkably short because I’ve spent so much time on the train: 8.5h as it happens. Will people talk to me, will they care? Ah…the river, deeper we travel into the metropolis; the train shuddering as we approach Wimbledon – all centre-lines lead to Wimbledon; shooting, croquette, riding, tennis; this is one of the spiritual origins of the noble ideologies of fair-play and sporting honour which are sometimes still expressed when sport is played. Part of the intention of this motion picture is to condense this sporting ideology then to disseminate it to schools in the area as the Olympics beckons. ‘The next station is Wimbledon.’ It would appear that it is crunch time, wish me luck comrades!
6:55 – Smooth jazz, Roman lanterns, Dinner Jackets and my first-ever in-the-flesh red carpet. It repels me with a kind of overbearing esteem. This is what news-papers and television stations spend so much time reporting. A live saxophonist! Was that Lawrie Sanchez on the red carpet? I’ve never seen sartorial efforts on par with those which are being executed tonight. I see the people from the station and experiment with how long I can leave it, remaining outside to watch the arrivals, before I have go inside.
7:10 – It seems that no one can separate a cinema from the heavy scent of popcorn which laces the air.
7:15 – It is very strange to stand among people who are so above my social circle. Taking my seat among the primates, the person sitting next to me seems to be a footballer. A charming singer/guitarist entertains us quite beautifully. She dons a ukulele, stating that everyone should know ‘this song’ – I have to admit that I didn’t.
‘Enjoy the film’ she instructs, departing with her instruments still leaning against the screen. The audience is informed that the framework of the film which we are about to see went from being a 3–4 minute long YouTube video to the feature-length production which we are about to see – the product of 18 month’s work.
The introduction makes reference to the British and Victorian supremacy of 1815 to 1914, in which industrial growth and social development lead to a state in which it was possible for British citizens to have leisure time, with sport being one of the wholesome ways in which people would fill these spare moments. The audience were, in addition, informed how Wimbledon Common, an area of public ground on which such prestigious sports were developed, was formed. The valley in which it exists was formed by a glacier, and as the mass of ice and rock steadily processed it pushed gravel in front of it, a terminal moraine. This area of infertile ground formed the open area which was so disposed to the playing of sport.
Wimbledon village was for a long time a small settlement to the west of London, though its proximity meant that it became popular among the ruling, wealthy and mobile classes as a bolt hole in which they could escape the pollution of the urban area. This, in conjunction with the village’s connection to the railway, meant that it developed into a very high-powered area.
Shooting – Wimbledon was the headquarters of the National Rifle Association, the origins of which were as a scheme to train riflemen to fight the French after Napoleon had been defeated.
Running – The old and highly regarded running tradition in Wimbledon spawned as a method for rowers to keep fit in the winter when the conditions weren’t right for rowing. Roger Bannister, who scored the first four minute mile, was part of the running club which was founded for these reasons.
Rugby – A group of ex-Rugby School pupils played the game in Wimbledon, with the Rose & Crown pub as their clubhouse and changing room. This public house was also the venue for the occasion on which the club’s captain wrote the rules of Rugby.
Cricket – [My apologies, dear reader; at this point, my usually comprehensive written notes read simply '---> Cricket – 1685', for more information than that you will have to watch the film!]
Hockey – This game also originated in this area, and was developed from a melee of people with sticks and a ball into the more codified sport.
Tennis – Conversely, the land which is now Wimbledon’s famous tennis courts was originally flattened to make an area on which to play croquet. When roller which belonged to the gentlemen who played croquette’s roller broke, they organised tennis games to fund a replacement, which became the world famous tournament.
Football – The football club for the village was set up by boys who were educated in a school which provided the poor with an education. The man sitting next to me is bashful as his interview is featured in the film.
The second portion of the film expressed how sport can develop the individual very effectively, such as teaching people how to utilise teamwork and cooperation. At the same time we were reminded what sport can do for people’s health as well as their sense of honour, I see the young man from the station talking about his experience of sport. The motion picture closed with the ‘Wimbledon Song’, as rendered by a group of people with learning difficulties.
* * *
Claire told me that the True Volunteer Foundation — an international organisation — wanted to place a greater focus on the UK this year. To do this the organisation made the film, which it will distribute to the schools in the area, to encourage young people to take up sport and the sporting ideals as the Olympics approach. TVF was founded in Wimbledon, and the organisation intended to give something back to the area.
‘Why sport?’, I asked Claire. She replied that sport is critical to a young person’s upbringing, that it is sport which will teach children important social lessons and of course sport which will use up the plentiful energy which the young possess.
I asked Claire what made her join TVF. She replied, saying that she had been searching for a voluntary role for some time but had experienced trouble in finding one which would allow her to make a significant contribution, then found the TVF, where she has been head of marketing for two years.
* * *
9:20 – I’m on a bench outside a palatial building which is adjacent to the cinema, watching the stream of well-dressed people progress from the film to the after-party. The very last part of the film was, perhaps, the most effective, in that it exhibited the ideology of sport. One’s best is prime, do what you can, it is worthy.
The cool and comfortable air drifts across the town; scattered attendees make their way along the trail of balloons. I think that it is time to head inside for drinks and entertainment. What an atmosphere. Stuck in a maul at the bar, what a fantastic band. The atmosphere is very exclusive. The band starts to play ‘Stuck in the Middle with You’.
Can there be a truly egalitarian society? Or is stratification part of the nature of humanity? What is egalitarianism? Is there nothing really but good times and best tries, near-misses and recoveries.
On occasion, the cold steel of politics takes a more drab hue for me and the abstract goals of beauty and decency seep superlative – stay crazy, remain elitist. This gathering was imposing. I was a small-time fish in a pond of high-achievement and ambition. This is right, I am small. As should be the case when faced with superlative concepts like cooperation and triumph, the human teenager should feel insignificant.
The film was good, the company was good and the band was good. Therefore, when we have objectives in mind concerning the way in which we should live our lives, the more direct reply may be ‘to do a good job’.
Author’s Note: A moment of collective escapism right before the end of the world
I sit at my breakfast, pouring over the news; my paper declares that if Greece were to quit the Euro, the UK would suffer an economic contraction on the scale of the one which took place in 2008-9. Part-way down the steady slide, the grinding progress of failure, the slow motion economic train crash which our leaders nonchalantly try to avert, the people of Britain will promenade the flame of competition, the burning combustion of elitism and achievement among all the provinces, as a prelude to that great fugue the Olympics – a moment of collective escapism right before the end of the world. A solemn nod to Greece, that noble and ancient civilisation, of which a great body of our practices and ideas are the progeny, while it is holding the potential to threaten the civilisation for which it was the inspiration.
It’s all economics, and if it’s not economics it’s escapism. — This sort of statement is something I may have said with a great deal of conviction before I saw the film. I would probably say the same now, but with a very different inflection. Everything other than economics probably is escapism, but one shouldn’t disparage escapism. When we set to one side the cogs of survival; politics and economics, a cynic could call what remains escapism, this, however, could be called life — the way in which we fill the hours, sport, music, all else. In a world in which their is so much disagreement over how we should run things, the merit in having fun should be firmly stressed. In a universe with little point, the only mandate, if any, can be to have a good time, seek beauty and enjoyment.