Sunday, August 26, 2007

Long Week-end

Unaffordable boats and flats

This rubbish summer has tried to redeem itself this week-end with a couple of long hot still days. I've been missing a couple of very good friends, K is with family while M is working abroad.

Since neither have been to Ipswich, here's some pics of the redeveloped dock where I went for a walk this afternoon. Funny how nautical this blog seems to get...

Edwardian yachting survives in Ipswich

A brand new retro-beauty from local boatyard Spirit Yachts. One of theirs (a lot smaller) was featured in Casino Royale.

Nothing like teak decks and polished mahogany and rainforests be damned

Harmony II awaits its first voyage for several years

This is "George's folly." D and myself followed it's fitful progress over several years from rusty gutted hull to pristine mini-liner all set for the Med. You had to be there; I'm sorry I haven't got a picture of the Athena (as it was called then) when it looked fit for nothing but raw material for razor blades.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

End Game

Tim Henman’s career is all but over, and I’m sad as a result.

I only saw Henman play once, on a miserable grey Monday afternoon at Flushing Meadows in August 2001. It was the first day of the US Open, the place seemed half empty, the lack of people exposing the harsh echoing concrete of the ugliest tennis complex in the world. From nearby there was a foul smell of fried onions and hotdogs, the crowd itself seemed listless and bored, with the real tennis fans outnumbered by loud obnoxious jerks who preferred to discuss baseball and finance on their mobile phones. Their tennis ignorance was carried like some badge of ‘regular Joe’ authenticity.

Henman, then ranked number nine in the world was on a non-ticket show court playing doubles specialist Daniel Vacek. I remember little of the match (a five setter too!), but I do remember being shocked at how fit and tall and capable Henman looked. The thin, gangly, deeply unfashionable looking square on the telly bore no resemblance to the broad shouldered, strong, tough athlete in front of me. The consensus back home was he was fragile and lacked the killer touch. No way. There was plenty of killer instinct in his eyes, as he chipped and charged, sliced and volleyed, and exchanged topspin ground strokes with Vacek.

The speed and power of live professional tennis somehow eludes television, but it was there in spades that afternoon – there were plenty of gasps and sweat, and sheer physical hard work going on. I was pleased to have seen our number one in action, far from home, looking every inch a world top tenner, and as the match wore on the seats filled and there was plenty of appreciation as the crowd gradually got into the match. Henman eventually won, and was later eliminated in the third round, in another five setter.

At times I’ve got a frustrating conceit that I seem to be one of the few people left with a memory. People seem to forget that before Henman, British men’s tennis was a wasteland. I loved the elegance of John Lloyd in the late 70s but his talent and temperament was always fragile, and he never got beyond the edge of the top 30.

Henman was altogether a more complete player – he shared Lloyd’s balance and touch and technical correctness, but was much sharper and solid, especially close to the net. In 12 years of watching him, I can only recall him missing two or three backhand volleys – one of the most difficult shots in the game. He also had a great return of serve, and a rather pretty sliced backhand that disrupted many a baseliner’s rhythm. He even had a reasonable serve; much better than that of say, Rafael Nadal. At the highest levels, deep into the second week of grandslams his talent was frustratingly inconsistent, but even in the past couple of years there have been games, even sets where he outplayed anyone opposite him.

Fate has been especially cruel to us and to Henman, as he occupies a very small niche indeed – that of a very good player who never wins a slam. There have always been professionals like that, but they are rare. In recent years the excellent Todd Martin comes to mind, who like Henman peaked at No 4 in the world. It was both their misfortune to be playing during an era dominated by two of the finest players to ever pick up a racket; Pete Sampras and Roger Federer. A pity. A great pity.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Balloon Festival

Nothing like the Bristol Balloon Festival (I preferred the Spitfire fly past - mummmmmm the sound of that 27 liter supercharged V12 "RRRRRRRRRRAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHH").

Working Boats at Tenby

I remember four of these boats from the early 1970s. Like Mr Punch, they seem to be immortal.


Back from my family holiday - I always forget how pretty pretty Tenby is, especially when the sun shines...