Wimbledon fortnight: the time to heave a concrete block through the television set and stay in bed, especially as there appears to be, yet again, a British "hopeful". Let us be frank here. Britain produces tennis players rather as the moon produces seagulls. There is as much chance of a British tennis player winning at Wimbledon as there is of Mary O'Rourke appearing in the centrefold of 'Playboy', or David Norris displacing Brian O'Driscoll at centre for Ireland. It can not happen. CAN NOT. Do you understand those two words? Let me repeat them. CAN NOT.
Yet every year the British media get their routine dose of hysteria at the imminent triumph of a British contender, and the BBC trots out poor John McEnroe to comment on the likelihood of this happening. I personally think that McEnroe was beaten to death by an enraged umpire in Colombia some years ago, and he is doomed to spend the rest of eternity in some BBC studio agreeing with the panting, patriotic basset hound who passes for a sports journalist, that yes, the latest British contender has a real chance this year, Roger.
Of course he has, which he'll win around the same time as Malawi's space probe lands on Mars with a cargo of giraffes, some hippos and Madonna's menagerie of adopted little Africans. Poor John is being punished for being unpleasant to tennis officials with this cyclical hell, in perpetuity. But we've done nothing wrong, have we? Yet we still have to endure it. Why? I don't mind the 800 years of oppression, not a bit. But by God, I resent this cheery know-nothing, remember-zero, gibberish from the BBC about the next British contender -- and not just now, but right throughout my entire life.
I recall, with all the agony of an ingrowing toenail colliding with a haemorrhoid, the year that Ena Sharples from 'Coronation Street' entered Wimbledon. She was aged 78, and wore surgical stockings for her varicose veins. It was the only time that a tennis court had two nets: the other was on her head. She managed to get her first service in, at which point the BBC commentator carolled: "Oh wizard shot! Absolutely fantastic! Well, Roger, who do you think that Ena will beat in the finals?"
Not even the Malawian witchcraft whose skills are central to that country's space programme would ever make as rashly optimistic a prediction, using his most accurate chicken-entrails, as the BBC commentators regularly do on the favoured British tennis players "in contention".
Needless to say, Ena Sharples was knocked out by the little contestant from Indonesia, an orang-utang that had been wrongly delivered to Wimbledon rather than Whipsnade. Which didn't prevent the BBC entering a week of mourning, and the London tabloids behaving as indignantly as if the Queen Mother had been abducted by Moroccan pirates, and put behind the oars of a slave-galley.
"Over at the centre court on day number one of this year's Wimbledon, and hopes are high for the British contender Terry Thomas, who is celebrating his 52nd birthday today," yodelled the BBC commentator the following year.
"He has never actually played tennis before, but we British are not put off by that little handicap, or that he appears to be dressed as a frogman, are we Roger?"
"No Roger, we're not. Oh I say! He's just harpooned the umpire! And look! He's been disqualified! Rather harsh, that, rather harsh."
Yes, I know we are supposed to admire this Plucky British Amateurishness, but I don't: I once bought a Triumph 2000 that was the embodiment of PBA -- the only British car that I ever owned. It wouldn't start if any rain had fallen during the previous week, and it drank petrol like a fire hose inhaling water from a hydrant. It was to automotive engineering what North Korea is to Amnesty International: and yes, a very triumph of PBA.
So I hate all PBA, but I particularly hate the Wimbledon version of PBA, not least because it is so predictable. Year after year, decade after decade, the same grinning face, like a ventriloquist's dummy, indefatigably babbling the same witless mantra over the great hopes for this year's British entries.
In the men's singles, the Unknown Warrior comes limping in from the Mall, and for the Ladies Singles, it's Helen Keller, who qualifies for Union Jack status through her English grandmother: which makes her thoroughly British, doesn't it, Roger? Dreadful pity she drowned on the Lusitania coming over: but no matter -- she's still got lots of British Pluck to see her through! Oh I say! She's using a chainsaw to serve! Oops: there goes her arm. Never mind, Helen! Better luck next year!
PBA is not, contrary to what the people in the BBC apparently believe, an endearing characteristic. It is Perfectly Bloody Awful. And here we are, 12 more days to go. I don't think I can bear it.
Steady Simon. For remember poor old John McEnroe is doing this for all eternity. So at least Wimbledon offers you a cautionary tale to warn your teenage offspring of what will certainly happen if they ever again holler at you, "OH C'MON, YOU CAN NOT BE SERIOUS!"