SO another Wimbledon fortnight nears its end with the usual upsets, sensations, triumphs and despairs. Who would ever have thought of such fever gripping millions of people round the world when. little more than 100 years ago, a certain Major Wingfield improvised a highly primitive version of "lawn tennis" which was looked upon with amused disdain.
Wingfield's invention was dreamed up, seemingly on the spur of the moment, to entertain some guests at a Christmas country house party at Nantclwyd in Wales. It gained the name "Spairistike," but no one seems to know why. Men declined even to take part in what they considered to be a frivolous pastime suitable only for ladies with nothing better to do.
"Real" or royal tennis, had, of course, had a long and honoured history. It was first played in England in the eleventh century. And who does not remember the Shakespearean scene in which Henry V is sent a set of tennis balls by way of a contemptuous message from the French King Charles VI?
Henry VIII, girth and all, was an avid player and his indoor court at Hampton Court is still in use.
Wingfield's experiment was in 1873. Very soon the derision gave way to enthusiasm and four years later the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club came into being. But it did not find its present home in Wimbledon until 1922.
There have been, since then, countless moments of high drama, emotion, tears and jubilation. Since being televised (as of 1969) the annual event has been looked forward to longingly by thousands of, sometimes lonely, folks at home.
One of the most popular of all Wimbledon champions, since the war, was Maureen ("Little Mo") Connolly whose faith was as strong as her mighty backhand. She won all hearts as a teenage champion and was universally mourned when she died of cancer, still a young woman, a few years later.
Ad Multos Annos
TALKING of popularity, our recently departed editor, Terry Sheehy, was as popular an editor, with staff and readers, as I can ever remember in the paper's history.
His unruffled expertise and never-failing good humour and courtesy were qualities that will long be a continuing inspiration in the hallowed halls of Herald House. To preserve one's equanimity despite emergencies, and in the face of critical (sometimes childishly abusive) letters and telephone calls, as well as many other disconcerting circumstances, is no mean achievement.
There is nothing like the wrath and lack of charity of the many cranks and fanatics with which an editor of such a paper as this has to contend. But religion, though it can bring out the worst in some, brings out the best in many, and high was the praise on all sides for Terry Sheehy among those who knew what was what.
Many is the laugh we would have at those "Catholics" whose views were barely Christian. Terry always kept beside his desk an outsize wastepaper basket which he affectionately called his "filing system."
It has been a happy privilege to have worked so closely with him for five years or so and I know he will enjoy many more years of richly deserved pleasure and success from his talent for writing and, indeed, for life. Ad multos annos!
LONDON'S newly opened Accademia Italiana was due, this week, to stage an exhibition of baroque sculpture, church ornaments and precious textiles
orginating from the chapel of San Gennaro in the Cathedral of Naples. Much to the disappointment of the Academy's gifted and charming chief director, Dr Rosa Maria Letts, the exhibition had to be cancelled at the eleventh hour owing to a bureaucratic muddle in Naples.
It seems disgraceful that the latter could have caused such a muddle to take place at the very last moment. It is to be hoped that they are aware of the chaos and inconvenience they have caused and will soon remedy the situation by allowing the exhibition to be staged as soon as possible.
You probably know the wellnigh incredible story behind the gradual collection of all the artifacts in question. They have been commissioned by Neapolitans over the years and donated to their patron saint (known to us as St Januarius) since the Church was built in 1664 to house the relics of his blood. (A bit of a miracle in itself considering the saint died in the fourth century. But if you doubt, in the presence of a devout Neapolitan, that it really is Januarius' blood, (you might get thrown to wild beasts like he was.) These alleged relics are the centre of at least two religious ceremonies each year, in May and September, when the blood of the saint, contained in an urn, is said to liquify around the same date. If it does not, the Neapolitan onlookers shout and scream until the miracle happens. They swear that it almost always does in the end. In fact, if it does not, they also swear that, as in the past, some terrible evil will befall their city.
The church itself is a sumptuous baroque building into which the locals crowd to keep vigil when the miracle is due to happen. There they pray under the magnificent frescoed dome by Domenichino and Giovanni Lanfranco that the miracle will duly take place. If it doesn't they storm out in rage and despondency.
What cannot be denied is the beauty of some of the statues in the church particularly, perhaps, that of St Irene, a unique figure, entirely cast and chiselled by the sculptor and silversmith Carlo Schisano. Irene was killed by arrows for refusing to abjure her faith while chained naked in a brothel during the Diocletian persecution. She died at about the same time as St Januarius and her intercession is said to help if and when the blood of the patron saint fails to liquify.
Few events, even now, attract such huge crowds, but the church authorities soberly comment that "there is not enough evidence to term it a miraculous event."
PAUL (Crocodile Dundee) Hogan not only admits to being the lover of his co-star Linda Koslowski, but adds, without any apparent shame, "I've had one wife in 30 years and one lover. I'm a bit dull that way." He has also had five children, now abandoned by their father, along with his wife.
Is Hogan a chauvinist (asks the Daily Mail). "I guess so," he replies. "I guess I'm just a normal Australian." How normal is "normal?"
Meanwhile, a couple of weeks ago in the Sunday Express, John Junor ("Sir John Junor if you please,") attacked the tabloids for publicising the sexual acrobatics of such pseudo-royal clowns as Major Ronald Ferguson because their antics were revealed to the "gutter press" by prostitutes. Junor then added that "the awful day might soon be coming" when it won't be safe for a public figure to sleep with anyone but his own wife.
How's all that for setting high standards for the young and impressionable? non-marine claims discussion group, Mr Cohn Gilbert.
The recipient of the cheque was Sister Elizabeth standing, in the photograph, on the right of Mr Colin Gilbert. The latter is a relative of the Mgr Gilbert who founded the refuge over a century ago.
The presentation took place a couple of months ago but a picture of the occasion has only just reached me so I thought it worth a mention, better late than never, as this is the month when all the external "names" at Lloyd's are receiving, hopefully, cheques for their latest share of profits if any . .
THE prominent artist Ernst Gtinter Hansing has designed a medallion of John Henry Newman to promote Newman's cause for canonisation. The artist is best known for his portraits of such figures as Adenauer and de Gaulle, Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II. Some of his works hang in the Vatican Museum of Modern Art.
The medallion of Newman is done in high relief. It is two inches wide and weighs 250 grams.On the back is the Cardinal's coat of arms.
Since the medallion cannot be sold, it will be distributed to benefactors who make substantial contributions to the expenses of the cause.
Ernst Gunter Hansing was born in Kiel in 1929 and studied under Fernand Leger in Paris where he met Marc Chagall and Pablo Picasso. He later painted the former two.