Saturday, 30 June 2012

Wimblemund 2012: day 6

Lukas Rosol (CZ) bt. Rafael Nadal (E) 6-7(9), 6-4, 6-4, 2-6, 6-4
Novak Djokovic (RS) bt. Radek Stepanek (CZ) 4-6, 6-2, 6-2, 6-2
Roger Federer (CH) bt. Julien Benneteau 4-6, 6-7(3), 6-2, 7-6(6), 6-1

It's beginning to look like one of those years at Wimbledon. Top seeds and big names are tumbling out all over the place. Could it even prove to be Andy Murray's tournament in 2012? Well, let's hold our horses, here. It may be one of those years, but a Murray triumph would pretty much demand it being one of those years. Normally those years (and, indeed those years) come about because of inclement weather and the attendant delays and interruptions, but that's not really been the case at all so far this Wimbledon. So who knows? 

Perhaps it is due to the very absence of weather. I have a theory that the big names suffer when the Centre Court roof goes on. They're very used to that arena and the change in the atmospheric conditions, the noise and the echo is much more likely to be alien to them than to an opponent with less experience of show courts.

It's no real excuse, though, as the conditions are the same for everyone. Even if one side of the net were to be liberally peppered with dog turds and landmines, you'd still change ends (possibly whilst hopping) every two games. Nevertheless, I'd not be surprised to see Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer shinning up the side of Centre at midnight tonight with a toolbelt full of spanners. Even the increasingly imperturbable Novak Djokovic dropped a set under the old pie crust - the equivalent, in a normal standard professional tennis player, of having lost every set in the entire world.

But blaming technology and progress is all too easy to do. I believe that the root of Roger Federer's problems yesterday evening were writ large at the end of the second set tie break, when the great Swiss immediately left the court. Playing tennis whilst busting for a slash is always hugely inadvisable, especially at a tournament where all-white clothing is stipulated by the rules. It was a rookie mistake, and one which nearly cost him.

My solution is chamber pots under the players' chairs. Or the chairs to be replaced with commodes, if they're going to be precious about it.

And where was the Family Box gatekeeper in all of this? We must be told.

Friday, 29 June 2012

Wimblemund 2012: day 5

Andy Murray (GB) bt. Ivo Karlovic (HRV) 7-5, 6-7(5), 6-2, 7-6(4)

Yesterday on Centre Court a spirited duel was fought out during Andy Murray's four set victory over Ivo Karlovic in the stands as well as on the court. I particularly enjoyed its subtleties and developments.

The first competitor was a particularly strident (i.e. drunk) man, calling for Karlovic. Normally, there's a very special type of partisanship during Wimbledon. All the players are given respect and support, but it's generally accepted that the British players will be cheered to the rafters.

So Come On Ivo man was a rare bird. It's perhaps for the best that ornithologists don't react to rare birds in the same way as the menopausal women who make up 90% of the Centre Court crowd. If nothing else, the rare birds would fly away upon being told to "SHUT UP" in a shrill fashion.

Come On Ivo man was very persistent, though, and refused to be cowed. He even had the answer for his greatest opponent, Obviously-Scrupulously-Planned-But-Ultimately-Very-Tenuous-and-Therefore-Shit-Joke man.

It's the second set tie-break. A tight moment at a crucial stage of the game, with Murray up against his opponent's fearsome serve.

"Come on Andy, make Ivo come unstuck!"

It's a brilliant pun on the famous brand of glue, Evostick. But it's tortured, doesn't quite work and consequently, is shite. This being tennis, though, his opponent came volleying back almost immediately with a winner:

"Come on Ivo".

When the competition is as tight as that off the court, it's a wonder anyone even bothers showing up with a racket.

Family Box Man Update

Current theory: he is the gatekeeper, and will let you into the players' family box if you can answer him his questions three.

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Wimblemund 2012: day 4

Anyone who has been watching the European Championship football this summer will be aware that the TV coverage of the game in Britain is increasingly blighted by its presenters and commentators. You can read a pretty succinct summary of the key issues here.

So Wimbledon running concurrently is a good time to celebrate the quality of the commentary teams on televised tennis in the UK.

The 'lead' commentators are yet to succumb to the dread of silence (or letting the action do the talking) that seems to afflict their football covering contemporaries, let alone the HORROR of thinking they've become personality in their own right. Meanwhile, the 'colour' commentators, the ex-professional players, are unobtrusive and analytical, offering technical insight and analysis.

Obviously, there are exceptions. A number of the American broadcasters are considerably more notable for being walls of sound, particularly John McEnroe, who treats the microphone like a particularly talkative churchwarden doing the public address at the village fete. Boris Becker can sometimes give enough information as to other sporting events that have been or will be on the BBC as to make the continuity announcers redundant. And Andrew Castle's forays as a GMTV presenter give his commentaries the terrifying feeling that he may be about to throw to an outside broadcast with Cheggers at any moment - although this is hardly his fault.

On the whole, though, tennis fans are particularly lucky. Voices such as David Mercer, Andrew Cotter, Mark Petchey, Sam Smith, Jo Durie, Tim Henman, Greg Rusedski, Peter Fleming and the great Barry Davies are all consistently authoritative and informative without ever being obtrusive or at odds with the viewer's enjoyment of the game itself. And in John Inverdale, the BBC can boast perhaps the finest sports television anchorman in Britain today.

It's all a far cry from my dream last night, where Andrew Castle accidentally says "bollocks" during coverage of today's second round match between Andy Murray and Ivo Karlovic. Castle apologised immediately, as one would expect from a professional broadcaster. However, Tim Henman was rather more reluctant to do so a few minutes later when he referred to the Scot as a "shithead".

It was a classic piece of commentary, but more importantly a timely reminder that - at the moment at least - disastrous, annoying or ghastly tennis commentaries luckily still only exist in theory, or in the imagination of idiots. Hello.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Wimblemund 2012: day 3

Ana Ivanovic (RS) bt. Maria Martinez Sanchez (E) 6-3, 3-6, 6-3
Tamira Paszek (A) bt. Caroline Wozniacki (DK) 5-7, 7-6(4), 6-4


Everyone in the world has been the number 1 ranked women's singles tennis player at some time or another. My mum, two of my aunts, a nanny goat, Kirsty Wark, Sister Wendy, Zoe Ball, a fish and Mary Magdalen. If you're a woman reading this yet to have had your week in the sun, never fear, it is coming.

Being adept at tennis has been very much a secondary concern on the women's tour in the last 10 years. Regular attendance has been the key. In recent years, everyone on Earth has been fully aware that Serena Williams is the best female tennis player out there, but she is 30 years old now, a multi-millionaire and 27-time Grand Slam tournament champion, as well as a budding fashion designer. The appeal of travelling round the world playing tennis every week has diminished somewhat.

This is where tennis rankings fall down. Points are awarded for excellence, yes - but sustained and consistent excellence. Play well at Wimbledon one year and you sure as hell better be back the next to do just as well or better. In a way it makes sense, for the big tournaments at least. But ranking points are accrued all year round, in every tuppenny ha'penny tin pot shagfest jamboree held on a pocked field in Rhyl, marked out with string and dog turds, as well as at the All-England Club SW19. This has led to a situation where few of the world's number 1 ranked female players of recent years had ever won anything of any note at all. In the past decade, Kim Clijsters, Amelie Mauresmo, Jelena Jankovic, Dinara Safina and Caroline Wozniacki have all been at the top of the tree without having won a Grand Slam singles title. Of those five, the latter three are still yet to break their duck. Dinara Safina has since given up the unequal struggle and retired. Wozniacki's second, 49-week (67 weeks in all), reign as number 1 was only ended in January this year when Victoria Azarenka won the Australian Open. She in turn was headed by Maria Sharapova after the Russian won the French Open earlier this month.

It's a bold and brave new world, but no doubt a fragile one. Fail to add a second Wimbledon to her trophy cabinet in 10 days time and you can bet that Sharapova's position will again be coming under threat from Jeanette Winterson, Cilla Black or your mum.

In reality, its not that serious a situation at present. And unless your mum is Victoria Azarenka or Agnieszka Radwanska (another player without a Grand Slam title - or even semi-final - to her name thus far), she's unlikely to be troubling Sharapova any time soon. The overarching point is that this is a transitional period for the women's game, one screaming out for a new dominant figure to step up to the plate on a week-by-week, month-by-month basis. Not to swan in, win Roland Garros and then waltz off to design strides for George at Asda instead of playing Indian Wells, in other words.

Today saw former world number 1's Caroline Wozniacki and Ana Ivanovic in action, with only the latter prevailing. The lack of any dominant figure at the top of the women's game is good in a way, as it makes for unpredictable tournaments. The risk is, with everyone beating everyone else and consistent success notably absent, it also makes for perfect conditions for no-one to care one way or another who wins the tournaments. It's hard to have a match to make the roof of your mouth go dry with anticipation when you know the result is as likely to be decided by whose bowels hadn't moved yet today, as it is anything more permanent or tangible.

Any ranking system is always going to have these flaws, but women's tennis in the past decade has been particularly ill-served. My solution would be to have rings, like in Logan's Run. No-one gets to get to the top until they've won a Grand Slam, at which point your ring changes colour. No red ring, no number 1 ranking. Obviously, the imperfection of this system is that as soon as you got to the age of 30 you'd be killed and your body used to mulch the roses, but I'm still not entirely convinced this does not already happen on the professional tennis circuit.

Family box man update

With the Centre Court roof coming into use for the first time in this year's tournament, it's been prime Family Box Man spotting conditions. He doesn't disappoint. Or move from that seat, seemingly. Who is it? Who? I need to know.

My current working hypothesis is that it's an ongoing performance art project.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Wimblemund 2012: day 2

Heather Watson (GB) bt. Iveta Benesova (CZ) 6-2, 6-1
Francesca Schiavone (I) bt. Laura Robson (GB) 2-6, 6-4, 6-4


Ah, Blighty. Home of us Blighters. It's probably not escaped anyone's notice that British tennis has been enduring a little bit of a slump in the past five or six decades. But things are looking up! Heather Watson and Laura Robson both appear to have the genuine potential to be challengers in the ladies' game - especially given the fact that it is currently moving into a bit of a talent vacuum caused by the semi-retirement of the Williams sisters. Watson is now in the second round, having beaten a well-respected and higher-ranked opponent in her first match and Robson took the 2010 French Open champion Francesca Schiavone all the way this afternoon. Better still, like Henman and Rusedski in the 1990s, there's the potential there for both Watson and Robson to spur one another on to greater heights.

On the male side, there's still no-one to supersede Andy Murray, whose Wimbledon starts later this afternoon against Russia's former world number 3 Nikolay Davidenko. Andy Murray hasn't needed internal British competition to reach the heights he has, which is pretty lucky when you think about it.

Luck isn't the foremost weapon in Murray's arsenal, however. A player of his standard in most generations would already have won Grand Slam tournaments. But along with some of his very talented contemporaries - particularly Jo-Wilfred Tsonga, Robin Soderling and Juan Martin Del Potro - he has come along at the wrong time, rather. It's rare that a player of the standard of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal or Novak Djokovic should come along at all, but of course here they are, all three of them at once. It's a treat for the spectators, but less so for the rest of the top 10 players. If Federer, Djokovic and Nadal bought themselves a VW camper van and a great dane to establish their own private detective agency tomorrow, then Andy Murray would be the overwhelming favourite for this tournament. Until that day comes, however, it's hard to see how he can get past the semi-final, no matter how well he plays.

This is the sort of thing that's got to bum you out, however pleased it makes your bank manager. But Andy Murray will always have the option to console himself with the thought that there are few players in the history of the game who have done what he has, and even fewer who have done it without eventually winning a Grand Slam singles title. So although he is seemingly doomed for the forseeable future to match Tim Henman's record of a yearly whirlwind of hair loss heart attack tennis to the semis, Andy Murray is a very different proposition.

I'm not sure I like it. It's probably just the fear of the unknown: a genuinely competent top line British tennis player? but I don't know... there was something so unmistakably British about Tiger Tim. Plucky. Upright. Sportsmanlike. Reserved. Ultimately doomed. I find Murray's more Latin temperament much more difficult to get behind or even to love. But also, there's the aspect that Murray winning Wimbledon would only be a big deal from the point of view of history and numbers. It wouldn't represent any great overachievement on Andy's part, merely the fulfilment of his very obvious potential. Suspiciously continental behaviour, that.

If Tim Henman had ever won Wimbledon, he would have gone far and beyond his own skill. It would have been a film plot, miraculous, a phenomenon in mass telekinesis. There would have been a national holiday and street parties. That magnificent bastard.

There's no doubting that Andy Murray is the greatest British tennis player in over 70 years. But it will always be Henman Hill.

The joy of sloths

There's a risk that this post may upset those readers amongst you who subscribe to creationist theories, as it is going to make continued references - both explicitly and implicitly - to the theory of evolution and the planet Earth being more than 4000 years old. Sorry about that, but it's arguable that you have bigger problems than just this blog post if that is the case. You maniac.

One of my very favourite things about being a human being is that you get to live on Earth and that means you are sharing the self same small celestial rock that used to be the home to dinosaurs and GIANT GROUND SLOTHS. There's very little that makes me happier than a sloth, and the idea of a giant ground sloth lumbering around the place is simply thrilling. These animals were the size of elephants, plodding around, being sloths. It's a buy one, get 99 free sloth extravaganza. Hitting the sloth coupon book hard.

A giant ground sloth, yesterday. Geologically speaking.

The joy of the giant ground sloth is only just beginning, though. There are two more cherries on this particular delicious fuzzy giant cake.

First is co-evolution. If you've ever eaten an avocado or a mango, you owe it all to these now extinct giant animals. Fruit plants propagate their species, of course, by having their seeds inside their edible fruit pods. Lovely hairy animals come along and wolf down the tasty goodness and then wander off to do a crappins. The seed is therefore spread far and wide and even has its own rich and fertile starter growbag of poo to help it along. But how do you spread your seed (hur hur) far and wide if it is the size of an avocado's or a mango's pit. You need an animal gigantic enough to swallow a your fruit whole (and with a bunghole big enough to plop out the seed hole, too).

The theory goes that this necessary interdependence has led to such evolutionary anachronisms. So, hats off to animals like the giant ground sloth. They did a lot of the leg work (and the bottom work), just for long enough for a Mexican to come along and discover the potency of guacamole, then start to cultivate their own avocados without needing a slotharse. Unfortunately for the sloth, this co-existence with early man is likely to have caused their ultimate extinction. Because, obviously, you can't eat guacamole on its own.

Secondly, Mapinguari. Yes, some people believe that the ground sloth is not extinct at all, and still yomps around the forests of South America, pooing avocado trees out of its bum. Now, it's easy to be cynical here:
"...as a 1937 report from central Brazil claimed a mapinguari had gone on a three-week rampage, killing over 100 cows and ripping out the tongues from their carcasses. However, in all accounts it did not eat humans, although when it smells the presence of people it stands up on its back feet, becoming as tall as two metres, a movement similar to grizzly bears."
Of course, the common sense explanation for this is it's more likely to be a rogue population of bears - a currently existent animal - rather than a hitherto undiscovered pocket of an animal unknown to science beyond the fossil record. Not to mention the likelihood of slothful behaviour from a slothlike creature - presumably a giant ground sloth would need lots of giant ground naps and therefore would be fairly easy to stumble upon in rainforest clearings. Surrounded by dead cows and avocado trees, I would expect.

But I'm not going to be the one to do a avocado poo on this parade. The joy of cryptozoology (which regular readers of my blog will know is a subject that fascinates and excites me in equal measure) is in the fun of speculation, of possibility and of the unknown.

So a salute to our ground sloth cousins. They crapped out avocados and the ones who live in Bolivia shriek like stuck pigs, stink the place out and have great long matted woolly tails. A salute, too, to their smaller modern day cousins, why not. They are awesome.

Monday, 25 June 2012

Wimblemund 2012: day 1


1258: It's day 1 of Wimbledon and I've got an R. White's lemonade ice lolly. Things don't get much better than this. Although I'd prefer a lemonade Sparkle. And is it too much to ask for a joke on the stick? Come to think of it, my day is ruined.

1301: The champion returns to Centre Court: it's Novak Djokovic, the man who is channelling the spirit of Screech from Saved By The Bell, about to play Juan Carlos Ferrero, former world number 1 back in the days when rackets were wooden and dinosaurs ruled the Earth. It's a tricky opener for Djokivoc, who'd probably have preferred to have drawn Mats Wilander.

1306: Juan Carlos Ferrero, venerable tennis veteran, is in fact the same age as me. This is why I hate tennis.

1309: We're under way on Centre but they've already begun on Court 1, where 8th seed Janko Tipsarevic is playing David Nalbandian. It's a cautious start from Tipsarevic, who is wearing shinpads. Meanwhile, anyone who blinked on Centre Court may have missed that Djokovic is already 1-0 ahead.

1313: That ice lolly was delicious, and only 60 calories! R. White's Lemonade Ice Lollies - buy some today.

1314: There's the first sight of that man with the beard who sits in the players' families box at Wimbledon every year, wearing a daft hat. I don't know who he is or what his role is at the All-England Club, but he's a permanent fixture. So permanent, in fact, that in these days of blanket TV sports coverage you'd have thought someone would have mentioned his name. Concern: am I the only person who can see him?

1316: Djokovic faces down a break point on his serve by means of tennis. I've not got the heart to tell him but he seems to have an ice cube bag stuck to his right elbow. Embarrassing.

1318: Theories as to the identity of the families' box man I have had in the past: ornament, automaton (once I first saw him move), Roger Federer's grandpappy.

1322: Djokovic made a bit of a meal of that and Ferrero breaks his serve to lead 2-1 in the first set. Djokovic was hindered by his continual service of the ball into the net instead of over it, which is apparently frowned upon. Boris Becker, who is my schoolboy crush, ponders in commentary for the BBC that Djokovic's footwork is off, a point that Novak quickly disproves by falling over at a crucial stage on Ferrero's 4th break point.

1325: The reigning men's champion kicks off proceedings on Centre Court every year and almost never loses. But this is Novak's first Wimbledon defence and he's playing like no-one has told him this. Could he fall at the first hurdle to a clay court specialist with a wooden leg? Perhaps not, as Djokovic breaks Ferrero back for 2-2.

1328: Playing tennis on grass is a bit of a daft thing to do, when you really think about it.

1334: Novak Djokovic was born on 22nd May 1987 in Belgrade, which was then in Yugoslavia and is now of course the capital of Serbia. Serbia is a landlocked country, which means that whilst Djokovic excels on grass, clay and hard courts, he's not so good on water. Could he have been had Yugoslavia not been broken up by its ruinous civil wars? And could Novak be the most famous living Serbian? These are the big questions, one of which is almost certainly answerable.

1337: Juan Carlos Ferrero has very thin legs. They're like pipe cleaners with a Monster Munch on the end. It's 4-3 Djokovic, by the way.

1340: Old Crazylegs Ferrero has suddenly remembered that he's supposed to be completely obsolete and loses his second service game of the day. Now Djokovic is serving for the first set, one of three sets I suspect he will be aiming to win today.

1343: To celebrate his success in the first set, the TV director shows us some slow-motion close ups of Novak Djokovic, the man, in action: removing a racket from its plastic sheath, drinking a bottle of water... ooh stop it. IT IS 6-3 0-0* DJOKOVIC.

1345: Our first view of Henman Hill. I like the fact that it will always be known as Henman Hill, which is a fair reflection of Our Tim's contribution to British tennis. I don't so much like being waved at by 2,500 menopausal women, and as such I treat the camera cutting away to the scene there with great disdain.

1349: In many ways, this match puts me in mind of last night's penalty shoot-out in the European Championships. Juan Carlos Ferrero is currently expertly essaying the part of England. 6-3 1-1*

1352: Djokovic is settling in nicely. As the BBC commentary team, he's seeing the ball a lot better now. He's seeing it as large as a watermelon, in fact. All of which is well and good until you consider the fact that he has just gone to fetch a racket of appropriate size for such an eventuality. Nevertheless, Djokovic has broken Ferrero again. With his big racket. 6-3 *2-1.

1357: Remember when the mini fridge on the back of the umpire's chair at Wimbledon was full to the gunnels with Robinson's Lemon Barley Water? I miss those days. It made for a world where you could believe some of the world's finest athletes were powered solely by lemons and barley. A cursory glance in the same fridge now reveals a saddeningly modern sight: 4 cans of Monster energy drink, 12 blue things which have apparently got electrolytes in and Maria Sharapova's femidom.

1359: Apparently the net on a tennis court is 6 inches lower on the centre line than it is at either end. I find it hard to believe the dip is so pronounced by just looking at it, but there you go. I can see I am going to need to go and measure it with whatever I have to hand.

1401: Has anyone ever hit the ball so hard that it's been turned into strips of yellow fuzzy rubber tagliatele?

1405: Latest from other courts: David Nalbandian has so far managed to avoid assaulting anyone, but he's a set and a break down to Janko Tipsarevic on Court 1. Meanwhile, five-time ladies' singles champion Venus Williams is 0-5 behind to Russia's Elena Vesnina. Who is from Russia.

1407: I'm not sure what it is about families' box man, but in my mind there is no way that he is not from Austria. Also, he doesn't ever seem to age, which adds further fuel, perhaps, to my "figment of my imagination" theory.

1412: Venus Williams' tormentor, Elena Vesnina is 25, from Russia and a former world number 22. She was born in Lviv (now in Ukraine, as you football fans will know) but lives in Sochi. She is more of a doubles specialist, having reached the final of both the French Open (2009, 2011) and Wimbledon (2010). Her best performance in the Wimbledon singles to date was round 4 in 2009. And if you think I'm just reading all of this off of Wikipedia, how do you reckon Sue Barker does it?

1415: Ah, now, Hawkeye makes its first appearance on Centre this year. I am largely indifferent towards Hawkeye, not least because of the way everyone claps waiting for its verdict. I am opposed to a lot of technological intervention in sport, actually. I think it causes as many problems and poses as many questions as it solves or answers. However, I accept that it is necessary in sports such as Formula 1 motor racing or robot golf.

1419: I may have lost sight of reportage slightly, so now would be a good time to point out that Djokovic is now really motoring away convincingly, and leading 6-3, 5-3*. Ferrero has just faced down two set points on his own serve, though, so perhaps he is lulling Djokovic into a false sense of security?

1422: He was not, probably. 6-3, 6-3.

1423: David Nalbandian has now gotten more games into his first round match without physically attacking anyone than he managed during the final at Queen's, but there's a glint in his eye so I'd still recommend wearing a cup.

1425: Which animal do you reckon would be the most inconvenient to be loose on Centre Court at Wimbledon? Within reason, I mean. We all know that a lion or a randy bull elephant loose at any sporting event would be far from ideal.

1427: I'd quite like another R. White's lemonade ice lolly now, but there's only one left in the box and my girlfriend - who bought them - hasn't had one yet. God; if you think it would be OK for me to eat the last R. White's lemonade ice lolly, send me no sign.

1429: Juan Carlos Ferrero is starting to looks like he doesn't believe he can win this. Lesser mortals wouldn't have to wait until they were 6-3, 6-3, 1-0 (30-40) down to the reigning champion and world number 1 on the Centre Court at Wimbledon before this happened, but Ferrero is made of pure beef.

1431: God sent me no sign, but He in His infinite wisdom also blessed me with a conscience. Rats. I've decided to just lick some moss instead.

1434: I think they should bring back trousers at Wimbledon.

1436: I love tennis, but even I accept the game would be more entertaining if each player had to have a glass of Pimm's at each change of ends.

1440: On Court 4, there are already signs that the grass is starting to wear away around the baseline. Grass used to be made of sterner stuff. But no matter, as Vesnina is still giving Venus Williams a serious run for her money, leading 6-1, 4-2. It is a sonically interesting match, too. Venus favours her now classic "hup-uggh" but Vesnina is breaking in a "hueegghhy" which seems to be highly effective on this surface.

1444: I turned over to see what was happening with Vesnina and Williams and upon my return to Centre Court found Djokovic was now serving for the match at 5-1 in the third set.

1445: On Court 4, incidentally,  there are still four bottles of Robinson's Barley Water proudly on display under the umpire's chair. But in keeping with the modern world of MTV and cellular telephones, it is diluted exclusively with lager.

1446: I could go for a Lemon Budvarley Water right now.

1450: Djokovic is through, 6-3 6-3 6-1. This raises the question: Juan Carlos Ferrero is out of Wimbledon a mere hour and 48 minutes after it started... what's his schedule going to be like for the rest of the fortnight? Play some doubles? Move on to enter another tournament next week? Or just dick around eating pies in the hotel room? With the money for a first round loser at Wimbledon being well over £10,000, I'm pretty sure I know which one I would opt for.

1452: Elena Vesnina has knocked out Venus Williams, 6-1, 6-3. Venus is the very picture of dignity and sportsmanship and doesn't even take a bottle of Barley Water like you or might have done. Also, it turns out it was Court 2, rather than Court 4. Currently on Court 4: wasps.

1457: Next on Centre is Maria Sharapova, not the reigning champion but perhaps Petra Kvitova is caught up with those wasps on 4? Sharapova's up against Flora Notachanceinhell of East Europeania.

1504: Maria's competition is in fact the Russian-born Australian Anastasia Rodionova. Apparently she's a ornery sort when she plays, so that could prove entertaining. However, her best at Wimbledon is round 3 in 2010. Mind you, she is the reigning Commonwealth singles and doubles champion. However, this may be related to Russia's - and therefore Maria Sharapova's - peculiar ongoing reluctance to join the Commonwealth as much as it is to do with her talent. Let's find out, in the company of former British number 14 and world number 1693 Terry Backhand and American starlet Teeth Ferguson.

1505: They've only just finished hitting up before the match but Rodionova already looks like she's fair gasping for some lemon barley water.

1508: Rodionova has made a bold start, losing the first seven points consecutively in order to spook Maria Sharapova into changing her approach.

1511: Idea: shoes with rackets attached to the toes.

1516: "Jack, draw me like one of your French girls. And make my bush look like the Centre Court lawn on day one at Wimbledon."

A little bit of politics

Today is the day that Wimbledon starts and I am very determined to not be on a downer for that, because it is my favourite sporting event of the year. It's possibly the only televised mass aggregation of posh people that I can still tolerate.

However, as the current joke of a government that we in the United Kingdom didn't quite elect are still determinedly trying to make good on Margaret Thatcher's claim that there's no such thing as society, a bit of a rant was unavoidable.

I don't blame David Cameron for this. He's an archetypal Conservative politician, so we all knew that he was a clueless, disinterested elitist going in. Hey, maybe that's why we didn't give him a mandate to govern? And you know, I don't even blame Nick Clegg any more. It almost seems cruel to beat up on someone so craven, cowardly, pathetic and doomed.

No, I blame the Labour Party. They got what they deserved at the last General Election. I'm kind of glad we still live in a land where waging a hideous, deceitful and illegal war against a defenceless foreign power will still earn you negative repercussions, however minor they might be (we're never going to win Eurovision again, for starters). But it's all over now! It's no reason to keep flagellating yourselves. Maybe you aren't? Maybe you're punishing us to have the temerity to protest in the streets against Saint Anthony's holy crusade? Either way, they elected Milhouse as their new leader. Pretty cruel.

Unfortunately, the sole national voice against this venal, spiteful government's 2 year rule to have carried any weight came from a sheepdog-owning, former Blue Peter presenting, gymnastics commentating, smiley and unoffensive light entertainer. I'm afraid that until such a time that Matt Baker isn't the leading vocal campaigner for compassionate socialism in the UK, we have little hope.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Tennis greats dressed as other tennis greats, day 5

To celebrate the coming of Wimbledon (WHICH STARTS TOMORROW) and the Olympics, I am assembling a gallery of some of the greats of tennis, dressed as other ones. Today it's 6-time Grand Slam tournament winner Boris Becker dressed as 59-time Grand Slam tournament winner Martina Navratilova.


Saturday, 23 June 2012

Tennis greats dressed as other tennis greats, day 4

To celebrate the coming of Wimbledon and the Olympics, I am assembling a gallery of some of the greats of tennis, dressed as other ones. Today it's 17-time Grand Slam tournament winner John McEnroe dressed as 27-time Grand Slam tournament winner Serena Williams.


Friday, 22 June 2012

W for

It must come as a great relief to you all that the Animal Alphabet is nearly at its end. Today is the letter W and one of my favourite animals of all.

Wildebeest

If you would like an A4-size version of this to print out, colour in and burn, you can find one HERE. And I've even now spelt it all correctly, too.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Tennis greats dressed as other tennis greats, day 3

To celebrate the coming of Wimbledon and the Olympics, I am assembling a gallery of some of the greats of tennis, dressed as other ones. Today it's 39-time Grand Slam tournament winner Billie Jean King dressed as 10-time Grand Slam tournament winner Bill Tilden.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Tennis greats dressed as other tennis greats, day 2

To celebrate the coming of Wimbledon and the Olympics, I am assembling a gallery of some of the greats of tennis, dressed as other ones. Today it's 14-time Grand Slam tournament winner Pete Sampras dressed as 8-time Grand Slam tournament winner Suzanne Lenglen.


Monday, 18 June 2012

Tennis greats dressed as other tennis greats, day 1

Tennis tennis tennis... I love tennis, me. Particularly Wimbledon, of course. Us Brits spend all of the Wimbledon fortnight every year singing the national anthem, wearing Union Flag bunting and eating kilo after kilo of strawberries.

To celebrate, I am assembling a gallery of some of the greats of the game, dressed as other ones. Today it's 24-time Grand Slam tournament winner Margaret Court dressed as 11-time Grand Slam tournament winner Björn Borg.

You're welcome.

Friday, 15 June 2012

Veefer

Today we, as a people, find out what animal V is for. It is pretty significant and pioneering news, as you may expect.

Vulture

If you would like to download a print-sized A4 version of this to wrap your dinner up in, you can do so here.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

I'm not pulling a face, it's just my face

Yesterday for some completely inexplicable reason my girlfriend was sat in bed on her laptop applying for jobs or some such madness. So, because I am a grown-up, I sat there with my book drawing in my book. I got my book last November at Boring 2011, as part of the pack that all attendees received. It was a plain, old school lined exercise book, ostensibly for making notes in. But as it - along with a black ballpoint pen and some badges - was the only thing in the pack that you couldn't eat, I still have it. You probably remember it from late last year and early this year, as I used it to do a lot of the illustrations for my blog posts on the subject of films.

After my girlfriend had finished trying to find herself a new career and a better life or some similar insane nonsense, she picked up my book and had a look through it to see all the pictures I had done. At one stage she turned to this lion and said "oh look, it's doing your face".

Me, yesterday
I did not know what she meant, so I said "what do you mean? I don't know what you mean", or words to that effect. She explained that a lot of my pictures of sentient beings - or of things that I had gifted with sentience for the purposes of a cheap joke about washing machines or robots or tumble dryers - had my facial expressions. "A lot of you comes out in your drawings", she patiently explained.

I am quite excited about this. First of all it is a reminder that I am a sentient being, which I often forget about in the numbing fug of nothing that is my life. But secondly and more importantly, it's something that I have never done on purpose. I am not one of these artists who study their face in the mirror trying to find TRUTH (or PIMPLES). I just go with what looks right on the page. So without knowing it, I am managing to reflect myself back at me with my own arm.

A neat trick. Although not one without its concerning aspects, as you will now observe.

Running the full gamut of emotions from "hmm" to "oh blimey"

Screw you guys, I'm going home

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

A visit from the moos

Being a creative person -  much more creative than, let's say, you, for instance - I have always been interested in the elusive Muse, that thing that visits people with inspiration and ideas. I'm especially intrigued by how this works for musicians, because music is something I can't do. Music is the greatest of all the artforms, and anyone who tells you that it isn't is almost certainly a self-deprecating musician.

Richard Strauss, yesterday

Over the long Jubileekend, however, I had a little flash of enlightenment which led me to perhaps understand a little better how the great musicians and composers come by their ideas.

I imagine that Richard Strauss was walking through a farmyard one morning when, all of a sudden a succession of pigs started to appear over the wall of their pen.

Oink.

Oink.

Oink.

Oink.

Then a cow wandered past.

Moo moo.

And with that, 'Sunrise' from Also Sprach Zarathustra was born.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Jubilee jubilee

I love a street party. There's nothing I like more than just chewing the fat with all the people who live my street. We all have so much in common. I mean, we all live in the same street, for one thing. We can discuss the fact all our bins are collected on the same day and perhaps find out who parked the huge, throbbing and possibly sentient pool of vomit where the road curves, or left a bottle of Desperado with an inch left in the bottom on next door's garden wall. Maybe they were the same person? All of this whilst eating really manky food.

Maybe I don't like these things after all, actually. Nevertheless, the old street party refuses to die in the United Kingdom, particularly for royal events such as coronation anniversaries, weddings and acrimonious divorces. So, I decided to look through the annals of history to find pictures of the street parties which took place for the Queen's coronation in 1953, which we are all celebrating this weekend even though most of us aren't and anyway we're not because 1953 was 59 years ago.

Fuck's sake.

Nevertheless, the Queen is now the Queen and then was the Queen and crowns were worn and curried chicken was consumed and diarrhoea was enjoyed by all. Here are how our ancestors celebrated a good old-fashioned royal shindig before we got all cynical because of MTV, smart phones and Tony Blair.

Liverpool, 1953: fancy dress
Here we see the true joy of the street party. A whole community coming together, putting their differences behind them and dressing their unwilling children as palace guards, policemen,Tinkerbell and Wilbur Smith. They have also let the street nutters - the ones who have a load of cats or who swear their budgie is a Catholic - out to join the fun.

Liverpool 1953 - no-one told him it didn't wash off
The whole Commonwealth is represented here, with particular regard to sailors, clowns and black people.

Edinburgh 1953 - wonky table
This one is bugging me. The industrial scale of the tressle tableage here is completely undone by the disconcerting wave of the decoration down the centre. This caused great outbreaks of seasickness.

Newham 1953 - close encounters
I love this one. The table location is rather reminiscent of something which has dropped from space to anally probe the populace to figure out their penchant for sausage rolls.

Trowbridge, Wiltshire 1953 - space saving
The good people of Trowbridge have obviously decided using up the whole length of their street is inefficient. Time and motion studies of their street party commemorating the first time Edward VIII fucked Wallis Simpson proved the doubled-back approach was the best one for distributing fish paste sandwiches.

Brighton 1953 - limited interest
This final one is from my home town. Totland Road in Brighton, just down from the racecourse. It seems that support wasn't easy to drum up here. Us Sussex folk are not easily excited by what's going on in that London. The people sat at this table here represent about two household's worth in austerity Britain of 1953. Note also that one homeowner has taped up their windows. Either this party was really expected to go off later or they were worried about the Red Menace.

Friday, 1 June 2012

Flowers in your dustbin

It's funny how I don't get more right wing as I get older. Most people do, you see. Or at least, that's how the theory goes. I find myself becoming more and more socialist as I get older. By the time I die I imagine I will essentially be Lenin. Although being Lenin on your deathbed would be fairly handy: they could just turn your bedroom into a mausoleum. I would quite like people to file past my body when I'm dead. Especially if they had to or else they'd put your children in a gulag.

What I've come to realise this weekend is that I essentially hate almost every single institution in Britain. I love this country. I have in fact never left it, and have never even wanted to for a single day in my life (apart from when I saw that documentary about dancehall parties in Jamaica on BBC4). But it's a fucking shithole, rotten from bottom to top and, more importantly, from top to bottom. And I increasingly find myself feeling nothing but disgust at the whole wretched writhing mass.

I'm particularly fed up with the stupid things we accept without thinking, when even the most basic analysis could bring the whole thing crashing down.

It's a long story, and one which is none of your business, but I have had cause to think about marriage recently. I personally think that marriage is the most offensive, anachronistic institution in society today. The sad fact is, the country is still set up in such a way that for countless administrative and financial reasons it is a prudent step. But it shouldn't be. When it works, it adds nothing to a relationship. And when it doesn't, it just makes life much more uncomfortable and complicated.

I know this bloke. He obviously read his Book of Common Prayer very carefully and decided that marriage was a contract that signed his wife over to him like a slave. Any vague attempts at love or mutual respect that had been used in the run-up to the whole thing could therefore be abandoned at once. The title "husband" itself was enough to imply love, even though there was none. Only dismal, pathetic dependence and unreasonable expectations. Needless to say this marriage did not work. Needless to say he dealt with it with the amount of intellect and equanimity as he'd brought to the whole union in the first place.

Oh, but if it had worked. Oh the tax breaks. No explaining "oh yes well we're not married but..." When a society is set up so that it's easier for the fucking lawyers to do their job, that society is not worth preserving.

Speaking of things not worth preserving, it's Jubilee Weekend here in Blighty. It's rather quaint and jaunty, having all Queens and Kings and Princes and Princesses living in castles, what what? Brings the tourists in! No it doesn't. Britain brings the tourists in. Britain is a beautiful land, with as rich and varied a social history as any country on earth. For several centuries our country was the hub of the entire world. It just was. Plague pits and The Great Fire of London and Jack the Ripper also bring the tourists in, and no-one is seriously arguing that it would be good if we could bring them back. Maybe Jack the Ripper could work on a system of inheritance, like the Royal Family. The Ripper is dead, long live the Ripper, look out whores.

The entire Royal Family is an obscenity, when people can't afford to feed their children properly or to receive adequate healthcare, despite working several jobs. In this country we force people to work for nothing, just for a pittance of money from the State every week, whilst retaining and maintaining a Royal Family. I'm continually staggered just how many people who are exactly the people worst served by this inequality who are the most devoted and dedicated to the Royal Family as an institution. Given half a chance, they would harvest your children's organs. They would. They'd take both their kidneys, just in case the first one itched. They probably don't even eat Monster Munch. I suppose that it's hard to cry rape when you don't even realise you're being fucked.

The biggest problem of the lot: I've written this. This is what I'm going to do about it. Because I am British and that's what we do. Nothing. Fuck all. Just roll on.

I'm angry today. Hello.

Attention

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