The primordial ball of energetic, elemental excitement that is Tim Henman popped up on the radio again this morning. And that can only mean one thing. Tennis approaches. Now, I’d hate you to think that I’d got anything against tennis per se. I can enjoy watching the rain fall at Wimbledon with the best of them, although there is always the risk that Cliff Richard might ruin its trance like purity. I can thrill to the news that not a single British player has advanced beyond the hemi-semi-finals or whatever, save the obligatory one upon whom the wildly unrealistic expectations of that unfortunate’s compatriots will immediately descend. I will squirm with everyone else as all the predictable consequences inevitably transpire, just like the ones that would flow from the descent of any other similarly crushing object.
No, it’s not the masochistic festival ushered in by July that worries me. After all, wondering why we can’t produce a sporting hero like those that just about every other country seems to be able to do is a sporting event in itself, and one at which we can excel. It’s not that. It’s the insistence that women tennis players must always be referred to as “girls”. Apart from some scarily precocious Americans and East Europeans, none of the tennis players thus described are girls at all. They are grown women. Why this infantilising nonsense?
It’s not only women tennis players, it’s women athletes generally. I hate it. I know that footballers are usually referred to as “lads”, but that doesn’t seem to have quite the same patronising, sexist ring to it. I know I’m a grumpy old git. But I think there’s something more going on here than just my personal ageing crisis.
This is the first in a new series of not especially serious rants against those stupidities and infelicities of contemporary life that piss me off so much more than they could conceivably warrant. Small things that punch above their weight in the pantheon of irritants and annoyances. I think I’ve lived long enough to deserve not having to suffer in silence any longer. So here goes… (And I may return to the suddenly ubiquitous ellipsis on another occasion.)
Whilst travelling along the M62 yesterday on my way to Lincolnshire, I passed a massive sign telling me that I could, if I wished, deviate into Bronte Country. Not, you will note, Brontë Country, but I suppose that would have been too much to ask. But it’s not the absence of umlaut that irritates me. It’s the very idea of This, That or The Other Country that now seems to infest the place. There’s the White Cliffs Country that pollutes one’s arrival at Dover. Robin Hood Country lurks menacingly anywhere within 50 miles of Nottingham. There’s White Horse Country, and Oast House Country, and probably Closed Down Mines Country should you venture into County Durham.
There’s something so archly contrived about all these suddenly sprouting countries. They are so obviously the evil excrescence from some tourist consultant’s warped imagination. They have absolutely no connection with how we think of our one real country. They stand in no naming tradition, and have no basis in how we use the language. Apart from the countries that are really countries, we only use the word in expressions such as “going down to the country”. This is not France. In France the expression pays de whatever is an entirely natural part of the French language. There are vins de pays, there are the gens du pays, there are melons de pays. But “country”, whilst it may be a perfectly good translation for pays, does not perform the same function in English. So no, we do not talk about country melons, even if we had any melons to be country ones. And, if you don’t want to see me reduced to spluttering apoplexy, you do not talk about Shakespeare Country within my earshot. Clear?