Class conscious - Andrew Martin spurns Glyndebourne
Yes, the Season is upon us, but I won't be attending Glyndebourne this year
It's about that time of year when smart magazines start listing the events of "The Season". I don't know why they bother, because I can't imagine anyone reading in Country Life that the Henley Royal Regatta starts on 29 June and thinking: "Oh, that sounds fun - boat racing and Pimm's. Let's go along." Everyone who goes to the Henley Regatta has been going to it for years; they will have been introduced to it by their parents, and the date will be flagged up in their Smythson diary along with the dates of all those other events - such as "Stag stalking season begins", "Start of the grouse shooting season", "Salmon fishing season ends" or, come to that, "Bank Holiday, Northern Ireland" - which I sometimes think exist solely so that they can be mentioned on expensively produced stationery.
I myself will not be attending the regatta this year. I once hired a motor boat at Henley and, realising it was quite nippy, handed the wheel over to my eight-year-old son, who proceeded to overtake a lot of G&T-drinking types piloting large cruisers. It was interesting to watch their faces. They were initially amazed that anything so small could be so fast, and then annoyed that they couldn't keep up. I later returned to the helm (as one might say at Henley) and grounded the boat while attempting to sail through the branches of an overhanging willow tree, and had to be rescued by an employee of the boathouse. It was particularly embarrassing given that my son had specifically advised me not to try this manoeuvre. I have not been back to Henley since.
Wimbledon, I assume, is part of the Season. I've given that a miss this year as I do, come to think of it, every year. I associate Wimbledon with the county of Surrey, Cliff Richard, hay fever, the somehow torpid sound of thwacked balls on TV in the afternoon, and strawberries. I once nearly died of heatstroke while working as a strawberry-picker near York. Every time I returned to the scales with my (as I saw it) fully laden cartons, the farmer would send me back to pick more before handing over payment. My hands were stained red for weeks afterwards, and I have boycotted strawberries ever since.
What else is in the Season? Glyndebourne. I do not intend to go to Glyndebourne this summer, unless it has in fact already taken place, in which case the question of my intention is nugatory. Glyndebourne, as I understand it, is about listening to classical music out of doors. This is about as satisfying as smoking out of doors. Just as you want the smoke to come directly from your mouth, so you want the music to come straight at you, not bent on the wind. Every summer there are outdoor concerts on Hampstead Heath which tend to conclude with fireworks and the 1812 Overture, and every year the actor Warren Mitchell, who lives close by, tries to get them stopped, employing something akin to the indignation of Alf Garnett, the character he played for so many years, only on a more sophisticated level.
According to Country Life, the World Bog Snorkelling Championships, which take place at Waen Rhydd peat bog, Llanwrtyd Wells, Powys on 29 August (call 01591 610 666 for further details) can be considered part of the Season, if only tangentially. I can't imagine jugs of Pimm's being passed around at this event, but I did find the location of it immediately reassuring. If the World Bog Snorkelling Championships had been billed as happening in Birmingham I would have been suspicious.
Competitors have to complete two lengths of a sixty-yard trench cut through the peat bog in snorkels and flippers, but without using any conventional swimming strokes. It sounds like a nightmare to invigilate, but all proceeds go towards cystic fibrosis charities. I have a horrible feeling that I am not going to be able to make it none the less.