Six weeks after moving to this South-Western corner of London (well, it’s practically Surrey), I still had not explored its better-heeled district: the Village. It was a warm day, so I decided to take my painful, recently acquired – and oddly appropriately named – tennis elbow, to bathe in the sunshine, at an pavement table of a French pâtisserie on the High Street, and just watch passers by. Watch and scribble in my A4 spiral notebook. And sip dense, luscious chocolat chaud, of course.
At the table next to mine, the fathers of two families are comparing the prices of their properties, and express surprise in what sounds like a competition of whose million-and-something place has increased in value faster. I am told Village residents arrange highly-advantageous home swaps or rent out their properties for astronomical sums during the last week of June and the first week of July. Unless, I imagine, they are tennis fanatics, themselves. That’s right, I’m sitting and watching Wimbledon Village.
Something about the atmosphere reminds me of how Fulham used to be when I first moved there, thirteen years ago. The stripy shirts, Rupert Brooke haircuts, velvet alice bands and strings of pearls have gone, but you can still imagine the passers by being called Miranda, Dorcas, Crispin, Sebastian – and have double-barrelled surnames. The vowels are still glissando and the consonants brushed past. I even catch a few elongated “Yeaaah”s that bring back fond memories of my College days, at Durham, where the term “‘Rah” was the mot du jour. The air is imbued with that unmistakable scent of freshly-printed banknotes. Crisp, perky, not quite worn enough to acquire self-deprecation or soft enough yet to slide into your wallet without sticking out. Fulham, however, had always felt like London, to me, whereas this High Street could run through any picturesque town of the Home Counties.
The High Street is lined with shops displaying designer weekend wear in cornflower blue, aqua green, brilliant white and nail varnish red; boutiques selling printed scarves, silver jewellery and some politically-correct-to-purchase knick-knacks. True to that unexplainable English belief that the first sign of chic is to have a taste for things Gallic, there is a line of French restaurants, bistrots and pâtisseries. I wonder if this is the reason Wimbledon supermarkets have – much to my frustration – such a limited range of Italian wines (pardonnez-moi but I have always preferred Italian and Spanish wines). You can feast your eyes on food shops abounding with French and Italian cheeses, herb and garlic marinated olives, colourful vegetables, crusty-looking bread loaves with purposefully-irregular edges and, I suspect, softer, doughy insides (we don’t want to be too Continental, after all), and fruit cakes with labels proudly stating that they are either home made or farm made. Everything is laid out in that so-called Continental style (which never includes Germany or the Netherlands) which praises that looks-like-it-doesn’t-care rusticity, and which most self-respecting “Continental” hostesses would never bring out for respected Sunday guests.
A man is pushing a baby in a Cath Kidson pram. I wonder how the infant feels about the pattern. There is a striking number of dachshunds trotting from leather leads clipped to elegant collars. In spite of the insidiously chilly breeze, most men are wearing shorts. Shorts and flip-flops. And sunglasses. It seems like some kind of uniform. Some enter the pâtisserie accompanied by their sons, who are striking, four-foot reproductions of their fathers. Same style of shorts, of flip-flops, of sunglasses. Oozing the self-confidence of someone born with a parachute on his or her back. Cars drive down the narrow hill, that are a little too tall and a little too wide for a city, and which I imagine to be ideal when driving through a jungle or a desert.
There are flower baskets swaying from lamp posts, pretty buildings in pastel colours, and everything looks neat and its right place. There is a Hemingways Bar, which I hope to explore as soon as I have a few more banknotes – crisp or limp – in my wallet (meanwhile, invitations welcome).
I love this place. I think I’ll adopt one of cafés, and use it as a regular scribbling haunt. I’ll wear my bright blue Mulberry man’s shirt with narrow red and yellow stripes. Over chinos.
Yes. I can see myself really enjoying this.