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It Gets Betterish


[The title is stolen from a wonderfully acerbic YouTube site.  Pregnancy: It get’s betterish.  Karaoke: It gets betterish.  Drag Queen: It gets betterish.]
Friday another day of sunny breaks, cloudy periods, London
overcast and chilly, but never wet.
James Bond drove one.
Into St. James, Regent St, Liberty, Soho.  One shoppe was selling the (overpriced)
bathing suits Daniel Craig wears in Skyfall; is it a conversation piece or do
people actually think they’ll pass?  The
spectacular new Whole Foods off Piccadilly Circus (the old one in Soho was a
bit of a rabbit warren) has not transformed British food halls in general but
was a welcome opp to get something decent for lunch at tennis where the food options are myriad and limited if you get my drift.
The doubles, Bhupathi Bopanna (quite a mouthful for the
Portuguese ref) versus Mirnyi Nestor, was surprisingly engaging.  It seemed the veterans had the edge, mentally
if not physically.  Nestor, after all, is
40, and I guess until Raonic can rack up the stats, remains the most
accomplished Canadian tennis player to date.
It was, after all, his eighth ATP Tour Final appearance (even Djokovic has
only done six).  I remember Mirnyi as a
singles player, with flashes of John Isner talent, mixed in with Pat Cash-like faltering.  No, Aaron Krickstein unevenness, for those that have been watching tennis long enough to remember.  Max’s erve held up well, I
think both teams were in the 78 per cent range on first serves, but neither Max
or Daniel could eke out the winners.  It
was theirs to lose and they did.
Doubles here, and whether this is standard practice outside
the grand slams I don’t know, but doubles here are final point on deuce,
“receiver’s choice,” and in the case of split sets, like this match, which went
both ways, a final 10 point tiebreak.  It
seemed, given the volume of deuce points, and especially with Mirnyi’s strong serving,
that had the Russian/Canadian been able to play out the Indians they could have
won.  They didn’t.  10-5 in the tiebreaker.
The 320 m covered walkway from the tube to the entrance


Where are they stored?  What happens to them when retired? How can I buy one?  Where will Stephen let me put it?
The feature singles was a battle of the itches: Tomas and
Novak.  Truthfully, Djokovic’s reception
rivalled Roger’s the day before, which caught me off guard.  While they were warming up and while the
lights were flashing statistics and the Compere as they call an MC here blasted win loss info, boxing match style, I thought of the poor Brazilian sponsor RJ.  Lacoste got the ref chairs.  Corona got logos on the net.  Fedex got the players seats.  Ricoh got the ump’s chair.  But there was nothing left for RJ (the
national sports logo of Brazil), so they gave them a box.  Just a plain white painted box plunked centre
court left side.
The first set Djocco as many called him played spot on
focussed tennis.  He is slighter in person than you would imagine, lithe, and although Berdych is no giant he did look hulking comparatively.  His ability,
consistently, to play the lines, within an inch, and his seeming fearlessness
at running down balls, was much better appreciated live than televised.  I begrudgingly have to admit, he played like an actual number one player, ego or not.
Berdych, alternately burr-ditch and beer-dick
by the umpire, was sluggish.  It looked a
little disappointing to the crowd but he came alive second set.  It was one of those moments when commentators
speak of a change in on court energy, something hard to sense on a screen.  Tomas simply began hitting every ball back with finesse, he played cross court to
cross court and set up well-constructed points which left Novak helpless.  Still, he couldn’t sustain it and Novak moved
up.  Tomas came back strong and evened it
to a tiebreak.  He went up two breaks in
the tiebreak.  The crowd was shockingly
rapt, peace to a pin drop, as he attempted to serve it out for a third.  But ultimately he was playing against the
number one.  And, just like that, in
seconds, the breaks disappeared and Novak served it out.  We were on the edge of our seats and then we were out of our seats.  It was two sets in under two hours but
exhilarating.  I don’t think anyone left
feeling as cheated as I did with Janko yesterday.
Fan zone.  The 02 is a bit of a matryoshka doll, brilliant in its execution.
Back to the hotel then to meet Manuel at six.  Of course Spanish six p.m. isn’t necessarily
GMT, so after a bit of waiting I called his mobile only to find out he was
still at his parents.  His suggestion was
that instead of him coming to my hotel and us going to the bar in Knightsbridge
that we previously agreed to, instead we both walk halfway between his place and mine and meet.
Well that is a recipe for disaster in London.  I could have been waiting on Pont Street half
the night.  Instead we agreed to meet at
Joe’s Caffe.
It’s a lovely walk down Basil St, behind Harrods, along Walton
St, through the mews, and into South Ken from the Sheraton.
There were many curiosities to behold, all over the top eccentrically
displayed and price prohibitive.
Well protected artifact
 I was the first bartender to work at Joe’s Caffe, when it
opened, in 1986.  The late clothing designer/owner, Joseph,
was in daily, we entertained many big wigs, Paul Smith and wife were in several
times a week, indeed staff wore Paul Smith clothing (I may still have the blue
polk-a-dot tie), the Saatchis were regulars, etc.  The design was austere and modern and I will
never forget the short, succinct wine list that was the epitome of
French-ness.  Nor, during fashion week,
when David Bowie came by for dinner.
General store: Stuffed rabbits and Serge Mouille lamps.  Also, porcelain terriers.  Go figure.
But that was then.
Joseph is dead, the restaurant has long past its glamorous heyday, and
is now a friendly local haunt for locals and wannabes to sip Aperol spritz’s
and peruse their Brompton Rd shopping.  I
had a nice chat with the bartender and manager because, naturally, Manuel had
been detained.  But he did show.  And we had a nice chat too, coffee klatsch style, no focussed Martin Amis Christopher Hitchens debate here.  First at Joe’s, then around the corner at part
of a mini-South Ken empire, Zefi’s, where over an hour and a half Manuel attempted to eat dinner while
regaling me with stories of fashion, family politics, colonialism, neurotic
Canary Island divas, property values, the friendliness of Albanians, shopping,
VAT, the attitudes of Catalans, the virtues of the Galicians, the peculiarities
of the English, the ups and downs of Italian relationships, the authenticity
French can bring to a pub, the unpredictability of Romanians and Bulgarians,
the intelligence but distance of Canadians, the methods and means to ingratiate
yourself with restaurant owners, debt, parental issues, fraternal tension,
three euro shirts from Benneton and fine Saville Row tailoring, use of the term salve as opposed to ciao.  Among many other topics.  I did mention at one point that the tennis was good.
Manuel Cortes Mesa aka Tom


Antony Sebastian Ashley
We eventually got through dinner, then returned to his place
so he could change, we tried to get into “Tom’s” party, whomever Tom was,
although throughout the evening Manuel did pretend to be him, he spoke to me at length about world history with a BBC series on the subject playing simultaneously on the iPad, self-medicated, tidied and untidied, opened shopping then put it away, applied eye drops, then we up and returned to
Zefi which in an hour or so had transformed from a Sloane Ranger-ish hotspot
restaurant to a full on club with DJ, packed, noisy, and not a UK born national
in the lot.  To say that I can enjoy this
sort of thing anymore is like saying Sarah Palin had the stuff of the
presidency.  I did have to call it a
night, but there was a certain pleasure in the walk home in the cool quiet
night, especially when I ran across both an Airedale and a wire-haired Fox
(although the walker was staff, and didn’t actually know the breeds; it was,
after all, South Ken.  Studio apartment
for 1.75 million quid anyone?).
Early storyboard for The Shining

The author of Here Hare has traveled to over 45 countries on six continents, and has lived in Canada, the UK and Australia.

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