Arts & Giving | Diary of a Somebody

Stephen Bayley

Tennis – a game of almost erotic compulsion

Stephen Bayley

Image: Brijesh Patel

May 15 2011
Stephen Bayley

Day: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6

Tennis this morning with Abel Hadden, an old friend not seen for a year or so. Abel is an associate of Tim Bell and is in the “reputation management” business. This means, love him and his twinkly eyes as I do, that you can never be absolutely certain what he means. After all, “reputation management” is the high end of public relations, a craft that Harold Wilson – in his only recorded witticism – called “organised lying”. Anyway, Abel tells me business is booming: with so much other stuff turning to dust, people who have them are ever more aware that their reputation is their most valuable asset.

When we were not gassing over the net, we hit balls at each other. Tennis is the only sport that interests me, both as viewer and participant. To watch, I find it mesmerising: it exerts a power over me of nearly erotic compulsion. Last night at dinner, I felt very guilty because I was furtively looking at the BBC Sport download of the Murray-Djokovic match on my knee under the table, anxious to know minute by minute exactly where between crisis and catastrophe Andy was located. My guilt was a little relieved when I noticed, across the table, Andrew Roberts, the amiable communications boss of Mercedes-Benz, doing exactly the same thing. Halfway through the delicious Jody Scheckter mozarella our host had generously provided, we both looked up and winked “tie break!”

The only television programme I have been watching recently is Two Greedy Italians, but I only do this on iPlayer when I am cooking. Gennaro Contaldo I do not know, but he seems amiable enough. Antonio Carluccio I have known for years and like very much. A pity then to report that their Boswell-Johnson double act is one of the most wince-makingly, bathetic, patronising, brainless and awful things I have ever seen. How was Carluccio persuaded to play a mug who does not know how to make ragu? Why were the two of them in Amalfi talking about the essential freshness of Italian food in front of a bowl of rubbish apples with those annoying supermarket stickers? They don’t grow apples in southern Italy. Surprising, really, no one noticed this sort of thing.

Just in to scribble this blog from Battersea Park where it is our habit to collect firewood. I am pitching a Thoreau revival and you’d be amazed what survivalist treats there are in central London. Sometimes we collect rocket from the central reservation of Grosvenor Road. Do you know? I have never seen our Two Greedy Italians here. They are probably in Sainsbury's. Guarding their reputations.

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