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Tennis Update From London • To The Bins and Back • Part Five In An Occasional Series On Life In Lockdown

On June 1st England begins to open back after months of lockdown due to the coronavirus.

By Alix Ramsay

Monday is going to be a big day. On Monday, people in England will be allowed to see their friends and family for the first time since this crisis began. The tonsorially challenged and the stir crazy will be allowed out to visit “other people”. Remember them?

As life in Blighty is slowly unlocked, from June 1, people in England (not the rest of the UK, mind you – all four countries have their own rules about this) can have up to five of these “other people” in their back gardens for drinks, barbecues and family rows. Let the joy be unconfined. Socially distanced but unconfined.

In England families and friends can meet in back gardens for drinks and barbecues.

The rules are still fairly strict, though. No “other people” are allowed inside the house other than to walk through it to get to the garden. And during the walk through, there is to be no touching of stuff. No chance for Auntie Edna to prod the sofa and mutter darkly to Uncle George that the Dralon is looking a bit threadbare.

Once in the garden, everyone must maintain a two-metre distance between themselves and the next “other person”. No hugging, no kissing and, presumably, no punch ups. If, heaven forbid, a guest needs to use the bathroom, everything in said bathroom must be wiped down after use. Any usual resident, however, can wee to their heart’s content with no need for extra housework. Call it home owner’s perks.

New Rules – The Do’s and Dont’s.

The five guests do not all have to come from the same household and, in theory, once you have got rid of the first five, you can wheel in the next five straight after. This, though, is frowned upon. And should it rain, the government advice is clear and simple: do not take shelter inside the house. Either use an umbrella or go home.

Rain has not been much of a feature of late. We have had the driest and sunniest spring since 1929 and two bank holiday weekends have been and gone with record temperatures and blue skies.

The English bank holiday is a unique event. Normally, it is a grey, cold, damp affair involving interminable traffic jams on the way to the seaside and, on arrival, spending several hours in the car drinking tepid tea from elderly Thermos flasks, eating limp sandwiches and watching the rain fly sideways in front of the windscreen. After we have had enough of this, we turn the car around and join the traffic jam to go home. We call this a holiday. We are a strange race.

This year, though, the weather has been fabulous – and we haven’t been allowed out to enjoy it. Some might say it is Mother Nature’s way of getting revenge: “For years you have been polluting the atmosphere with exhaust fumes, dropping litter wherever you have gone and generally making the place look untidy. Now that you are locked up and can do no further damage, I shall give you sunshine. And lots of it. Nah-nah-ne-nah-nah!”

Anyway, our new freedoms do not come without problems. Being Brits, we can turn any situation into a hell of social etiquette. For example, who do you invite first? If each couple has two sets of parents and a fragrant nosegay of grandparents to pick from – and remember, only five guests are allowed at any one time – who gets left behind? If you invite your parents and granny first, his parents will not let you forget it. But if you invite his parents first, your mother will never speak to you again. And then, as the planning process moves towards a critical stage, the old family frictions come into focus. “All right, all right: we’ll have your lot over first. But no one is to mention Brexit and I want you mother socially distanced from the Prosecco at all times. Remember what happened at Christmas….”

Then, of course, there is threat of refusal. You plan your barbecue; you buy in the bangers and the burgers, you have the keg of Old Speckled Hen for Jim, the sweet sherry for Gert and you are ready to party. Except that Jim and Gert are three steps ahead of you – they are busy that night and will be at a socially distanced strip poker evening with girls from Gert’s knitting circle.

Bangers on the barbecue.

But we are not the only country to struggle as we come out of lockdown. In Switzerland, one of the neatest, tidiest and most organised countries in the world, the restrictions are being relaxed at some pace. True, ballroom dancing, judo, boxing and wrestling are still not allowed (you may train for these activities but, for some reason, you may not compete) but the sex trade is to start up again.

Prostitution is legal in Switzerland and provided the workers involved obey the government’s new hygiene rules, they will be allowed to open for business. These rules include showering before and after the fact, ample ventilation of the accommodations during it and, bizarrely, the maintaining of social distance throughout. Which begs the question: why bother? You might as well be on your own (which is, presumably, how most of the customers have been coping for the past 10 weeks or more). For some reason, when I think of Switzerland and these new guidelines, the image of a cuckoo clock keeps popping into my head… I don’t know why. (Oh, do try and keep up at the back….)

Still, Jamie Murray has been making the most of his 10 weeks at home. Not only has he been trying to get the nation in tip-top shape with a series of fitness videos, he has organised a tournament for Britain’s best blokes. Called “Schroders Battle of the Brits”, it will be held behind closed doors at the National Training Centre on June 23-28.  Jamie’s brother, Andy, will be the star attraction in the singles and the hope is that by pitting Andy, Kyle Edmund, Dan Evans, Cam Norrie and the rest against each other, they will raise £100,000 for the NHS charities. The event will be shown on Amazon Prime Video.

Schroders Battle of the Brits will be held June 23-28.

The tournament format will follow that of the ATP finals with two groups of four singles players playing round robin to establish the semi-finalists. Jamie will lead the field of six doubles teams.

It will be the first time Andy has been seen on court competitively since the Davis Cup finals in November. Back then, a pelvic problem related to his hip resurfacing surgery limited him to just one match. Now, with domestic bragging rights up for grabs, he will have a chance to see just how well his hip is doing.

Jamie Murray and Andy Murray at the Davis Cup Madrid Finals 2019 in Madrid.

“He had aspirations to go play in Miami before the lockdown happened,” Jamie said, “and then obviously he’s in the same situation as everyone else for the past couple of months: of being at home, not practising.

“I think, for him, this event is a great opportunity to put his hip through its paces and see where he’s at, and give him a good idea of where he’s going to be at when the season starts up again.”

June, then, promises to be an important month over here in Blighty and Monday will be a huge day. And it all starts with the early morning arrival of the bin men. I’d best get my rubbish and recycling sorted in good time. So, then: to the bins and back!

To the bins and back!