After a hiatus, I’m picking up my blog again and what better way than to start with a rant? Every year at this time, I have a conniption fit over how people in the American media pronounce Wimbledon. There’s no P and no T in Wimbledon: it’s not Wimpleton. I don’t know when or how this started, but it’s pervasive and people who grew hearing it on TV also say it that way. Listen to how the tennis players and English commentators say it; they get it right.
I’ll admit that many English place names are not said they way they are spelled: Leicester, as in Leicester Square, London’s theater district, is a good case in point. It’s pronounced “Lester.” And when you talk about the popular Worcestershire sauce it should be said “Wooster.” I can fully appreciate how Americans would come to believe that all English place names have spellings and pronunciations that don’t synch but there’s no need to over think it. There are plenty of straightforward ones, and Wimbledon is one of them. Say it with me, Wim.ble.don. Thank you.
Wimbledon station: see how it's spelled? That's how it's pronouced.
I no longer follow Wimbledon tennis like I used to but there was a time when I lived in England that I’d be riveted to the black-and-white TV, watching Billy Jean Kingor Rod Laver tear up the court. Only once did I actually go to Wimbledon. I believe it was 1969, when these two stars were in their heyday.
I’d been living in London for a year when my dad made his first trip back to England from Africa since he’d moved there in 1952. He was a fan of all sports, especially any he could bet on, and decided he’d like to go to Wimbledon. I have no recollection of who we saw play that day, but I do have two enduring memories.
My dad and I took the tube, the easiest and quickest way to get to Wimbledon on the outskirts of London. We were not alone, the trains were packed. At one junction where we had to change to a different line, we stood on an escalator behind a gentleman dressed up in full regalia of tail coat, top hat, and cane. Clearly he was a toff headed for the Royal Box. I nudged my dad and pointed to the man’s feet. He had huge holes in the heels of his black socks clearly visible between his shiny black shoes and the hem of his striped pants. My dad roared, and enjoyed telling this story many times throughout the rest of his life.
Me and my dad that summer we went to Wimbledon
The second thing I remember was the woman fainting. It was a particularly hot day for England and as we stood in the mob at one of the off-center-courts watching an early heat, a young woman standing near us passed out. The crowd parted then in typical English fashion pretended not to notice. My dad was the only person to squat down, put her cardigan that she’d dropped under her head, and hold her hand until the ambulance men (as paramedics were called then) came. I never said anything at the time, and now I’m sorry that it’s way too late to tell him that I was proud of him.
I could have gone to Wimbledon again as I had an “in.” In the early 1970s, my flat mate in Notting Hill, Liza, answered an ad in the paper for drivers for the fleet of cars that ferried the tennis players to and from their London hotels to Wimbledon and around town to play and site see. She did the job for years and, being a beautiful young woman, invariably got invited to the parties and balls and quite often had romances with players. (It was the 70s!) Eventually, she graduated from driving to working in the transportation office and ended up running the whole operation.
Liza and I gradually lost touch after I moved to the US in 1979. It was easy to do in the pre-internet days. But a few years ago I was feeling nostalgic and decided to try and look her up. I had no response from writing to her last known address, so decided to take a long shot and see if she still was connected with Wimbledon. I emailed the transportation office and asked if anyone there remembered her and had contact info.
It turned out that Liza had retired a couple of years before. But her daughter, who was born the year I left for the states, had taken over her job and my email reached her! Liza and I were thrilled to be back in touch and caught up with our lives via email. The next time I went to England, I got to see her. As chance would have it, she’d married a man who had a farm not far from where my mother lives in the North of England. To my eyes she looked exactly the same and we spent one afternoon in her glorious farmhouse kitchen reminiscing. But our next meeting was cancelled because she had to rush down to London as her dad had taken seriously ill, and in fact he died within days. So we didn’t see each other again on that trip.
Not long after I got back to California, Liza emailed and told me she had been diagnosed with a melanoma that had metastasized to her liver. A few months later, I heard from her daughter that she was gone.
On one hand, I’m so glad we had that brief time together. On the other, I almost wish I hadn’t found her so I could imagine she was still out there somewhere, preserved as I’d known her: long legs in a mini-skirt being scandalous at Wim.ble.don every year.