Luxuriating in William Blake’s ‘green and pleasant land’

My bucket list gets shorter. Having frequented London over the decades and not taking in SW19 (Wimbledon’s affectionate moniker) has been a sore miss. Regrettably, my work or holiday schedules precluded a trip to the sylvan grass courts of the Grand Slam of them all. Mind you, even if I wanted to go, I am not sure my shallow pockets would have run to the price of a ticket. So this year, I planned well in advance, approached friends in the right places and lo and behold, I was let in to the pearly gates – a proud bona fide ticket holder for the first Friday and the second Monday. And to be sitting adjacent to the Royal Box at Centre Court and Court No.1, now also adorned with the amazing, hi-tech retractable roof. That meant, getting to watch Djokovic, Federer and Nadal, as well as Kvitova and the precocious Coco Gauff. Even if the latter names don’t trip off the tongue, the first three were a mouth-watering repast fit for kings. And kings and queens there were aplenty at Wimbledon. Federer is royalty in his own right, never mind Kate, William, Harry and Meghan.

The long walk from Southfields station to the hallowed grounds of the All England Lawn Tennis Club, along with hundreds of other tennis buffs, is a heart pounding experience. Partly because of the deceptively steep gradient of the broad pavements and more because of the breathless anticipation, the thought of entering the holy of the holies. Once you’re in, a magical world opens up. We have seen it on television year on year, but nothing comes close to being there. I shall eschew talking about the tennis. All of you know the results and how the matches went. If you don’t, please cease reading.

From the outside courts where the lesser mortals slug it out, the souvenir shops to the several food courts offering a wide variety of eats and drinks, to say nothing of Henman Hill (or Murray Mound), it was a rollercoaster ride. One simply had to savour the legendary strawberries and cream. Pimm’s cocktails was the most in-demand drink to slake your thirst. Players from the past and present were constantly seen strolling about or relaxing in the ‘Last 8 Lounge.’ Indian stalwarts like the Amritraj brothers, Ramesh Krishnan and Leander Paes were spotted. The superstars of today could only be seen on court. They were preserved in mothballs!

Which brings me nicely to my first experience of Centre Court on a day when both Federer and Nadal were bookending British hope Konta and former champion Kvitova in fourth round singles action. All in spotless whites. The Centre Court is more a temple than a tennis court. The ivy-covered exteriors are brilliantly contrasted with the blue and purple petunias and hydrangeas dotted all over the 42-acre property. Despite the packed house, spectators were guided to their appointed, numbered seats by polite, but firm and knowledgeable stewards. If you stepped out for a toilet break, you had to wait in queue for the players’ change of ends before getting back in. Speaking of stewards, one of them, David Spearing, 83, has been serving Wimbledon for 46 years. I have watched him sitting in the players’ box with his black suit and hat for several years now, a minor celebrity. I had the pleasure of buttonholing him outside and having a friendly nostalgic chat, talking of Borg, McEnroe, Billie Jean and Graff.

As for the play itself, the crowds are scrupulously correct and hardly ever do anything not ‘proper.’ When an incredibly exciting rally ends, the applause and wolf whistles are deafening, but when the Chair Umpire admonishingly intones ‘Quiet please’, the eerie silence can make you hear a pin drop. I was aware of all of this before I stepped on to Centre Court, in a manner of speaking. Nevertheless the live experience defies description. I spoke to some Wimbledon regulars and a couple of officials, and all of them were in unison that you don’t get this kind of unique audience participation in any of the other Slams. The spectators religiously follow their own unwritten code of conduct, a tradition honed and perfected over a hundred and forty years.

Then there’s the ever-so-alert ball boys and girls, scurrying hither and thither in pursuit of stray balls, like cats after pigeons. Not to forget the blazered linespersons, some of them a tad overweight but swift enough to duck and weave out of the way when a blistering ace is headed right between the eyes. The scoreboards, simple, elegant and functional, brighten and dim conversely with the fickle English weather. Finally, the Chair Umpire, the master of all he surveys, who wouldn’t think twice about rapping one of the top seeds on the knuckles if the player’s behaviour so warrants. A place of worship, this Centre Court. A devout Djokovic knelt and consumed a tuft of grass from the court after his monumental vanquishing of Federer. He did the same last year. After all, grass is for GOATs.

Tailpiece: A quick word on the cricket World Cup. In between my two Wimbledon days, I scooted off to Headingley, Leeds to take in India putting it across Sri Lanka. A historic ground Headingley, but honestly I could have been at the Eden Gardens Calcutta. India’s sea of blue was all-pervasive with fans screaming and yelling boisterously in Gujarati, Tamil, Bengali and other Indian tongues, while wolfing down khababs and khachoris. A human Hanuman was seen prancing around. A touch of Ramayana to remind the Lankans! A small plane kept circling over the ground displaying a changeable banner with anti-India slogans, but this was loftily ignored by the Indian diaspora. And the train journey back to London reverberated with incessant chants of India jeetega. Though we didn’t quite jeeta, the Bharat Army lit up the World Cup.

That said, my green and pleasant English summer was all about ‘Game, set and match, Wimbledon.’

The puerile offer autobahn corrigendum

                               

 ‘The perils of the auto-correct’ was my intended headline, but the all-knowing auto-correct took matters in hand. More of that soon. The smartphone is a godsend. We have become craven slaves to its bidding. You can send messages, emails, photographs, videos, order food (one day you’ll eat straight off the phone screen), book movie tickets and restaurant tables, video chat with your near and dear ones across oceans, binge-watch movies and stay up to speed with the latest news. All good. Or is it? I know many people moan about how the fabric of our society has been ruined, how we’ve become self-absorbed outcasts in civilized company, thanks to our smartphone addiction. All this has been analyzed to death by sociologists and other busybodies, like yours truly.

There is a funny side to this social malaise, namely, the auto-correct mechanism installed in all smartphones. Some think it’s a boon, others a bane. The idea of introducing this tool stems from pure altruism on the part of the smartphone brands. However, in my opinion and that of half the world, this keenness to spell check is totally misplaced. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. After all, whether it was the trusty Remington typewriter or our sturdy desktop, we are not badgered with three options for every single word we type, as is the case with smartphones. At least Microsoft Word discreetly underlines words or phrases in red, if they think we may be erring in spelling or using words they don’t recognize. It is entirely up to us to decide whether we take heed of their quiet alerts or not. But they do not, like our too-clever-by-half smartphones, catch us in an unguarded moment and slip in a ‘Henry’ instead of a ‘Hennur’, or a ‘Tooting’ instead of a ‘Thoothukudi’. It is only after you hastily depress the ‘send’ key that you discover the value of the adage ‘haste makes waste’. Or, as my smartphone might sadistically put it, ‘taste lakes Bates’. The receiver of the missive is doubtless wondering if this is some top secret coded message, and spends the rest of his day attempting to decipher it. Bates? Bates? Alan Bates? H.E.Bates? Jeremy Bates? Have a good day.

It then occurred to me that it might be fun to indulge in a spot of contemplation as to what the harvest might have been had some of the greatest passages in English Literature and Poetry fallen prey to the dreaded auto-correct. What if the likes of Shakespeare, Jane Austen, John Keats, T.S.Eliot and their ilk been unmindful of this pestilential technology, had it existed during their time, and the publishers / editors of their books ditto?

Let us, absolutely at random, take a well-known passage of Shakespeare’s from Julius Caesar. Mark Anthony’s memorable opening lines at Caesar’s funeral, ‘Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears; I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him. The evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interred with their bones; So let it be with Caesar.’ Among the Bard of Avon’s innumerable famous speeches this one by Mark Anthony will rub shoulders with the best of them. And yet, if William Shakespeare had keyed in those lines on his smartphone circa 1599, those seminal words may forever have been mauled beyond recognition, changing the course of history and literature. Imagine if you will, Shakespeare’s auto-corrected passage for posterity, ‘Glands, Rheumatism, concubines, lentil manure earplugs; I congratulate berry seizure, non-plussed hymn. The Evelyn that menopause delivers after thermostat. The gluten esophagus intricately withered boney; Salted bee will geyser’.’ Come to think of it, now that I read those auto-corrected lines, they have a certain strange, mesmeric ring to them. ‘I congratulate berry seizure’. Even Shakespeare would have struggled to top that. After all Caesar was known to suffer from epileptic seizures!

    Then there’s the unforgettable opening lines of one of the great poems of modern times, T.S. Eliot’s immortal ‘TheLove Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ – ‘Let us go then, you and I / When the evening is spread out against the sky / Like a patient etherized upon a table’. And the haunting refrain, ‘In the room the women come and go / Talking of Michelangelo’. How would Eliot’s lines have fared under the tender ministrations of auto-correct? ‘Lettuce Gotham ennui / When the weening is spirited angst the eye / Lick of paint ethereally unstable.’ Followed by the reverberating punch line, ‘Infra broom the vermin commando / Tracking of myocardio’. Once again, the auto-correct produces its own whimsical cadence. A kind of nonsense verse or Poetry of the Absurd. Though Thomas Stearns Eliot could be turning fitfully in his grave.

    Equally memorable are the first two lines of John Keats’ ‘Ode to a nightingale’, ‘My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains / My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk’. And like many of us, if Keats had been less than hawk-eyed while tapping in those lyrically lugubrious words, he might have ended up saying, ‘My part achtung a lousy bum pains / Licence through Hemmingway I shrunk’.

Finally the romantic works of Jane Austen. Her wonderful novel of manners, ‘Pride and Prejudice’ opens with these lines, ‘It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.’ Would the estimable JaneAusten not have been horrified to read the final auto-corrected version? ‘Its tooth university accidents, that mingles a posse of good farting, must go get a life’.

The smartphone, along with the dreaded auto-correct, is here to stay. Let us learn to live with it, and understand its strange mental processes. That way lies more peace of mind and less tearing your hair out. Enough said, methinks. Or in the words of my trigger happy smartphone, ‘Enema strikes methane’.

(First appeared in the Deccan Chronicle, I greatly enjoyed writing this)

About myself

I am a greenhorn to this blogging business, but I am diving headlong and the devil take the hindmost. I have been an advertising and brand marketing professional all my life. Retired now and avidly taken up writing columns for leading publications. I write, by and large, in a humorous and satirical vein, even when I am being serious. P.G. Wodehouse is my all time favourite author, which should not surprise you. Generally, I favour the British style of understated humour, and many of my other favoured writers and entertainers are mostly British. This will become quite apparent to you, dear reader, when you read my posts. And that is what I intend to do to start with. Will keep posting many of my already published columns which most of you may not have read, and also some fresh material. I am based in Bangalore and welcome people to read my posts and send in their comments. That’s about it. As they say, here goes nothing!

Introduce Yourself (Example Post)

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