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The British summer gets a tough ride, all drizzly days and undercooked barbecues, but when people get it right the results are beautiful. When the sun is out, the lawn is mown and the games begun, it can turn into a glorious time. A cup of Earl Grey and a slice of Victoria sponge to round it off? Utterly splendid.
Although a game played year-round, July brings tennis’ UK highlight – Wimbledon. This year celebrating its 140th birthday, the iconic tournament rolls around every summer with traditions in tow. Competitors must wear white, Pimm’s and strawberries and cream are borderline obligatory, and special guests are invited into the Royal Box at Centre Court to take their seats, or – ‘dark green Lloyd Loom wicker chairs’, to be specific. As it’s held at the height of the British summer there will undoubtedly be rain delays.
First played in Tudor England, the school game has become a staple of British summer. The slightest hint of a warm weekend brings with it the invitation to a hurried barbecue in the local park, with at least one attendee asked to bring a rounders bat and ball to accompany the quickly-bought sausages and drinks. Said game requires around 20 people to be worthwhile and will almost certainly frustrate those nearby who aren’t playing, but it’s Britain so they won’t complain – just mutter under their breath.
Originating in ancient Persia, the British people found polo in India and did what they love to do – presented it to the world as their own. The British military took the sport to the rest of the globe, setting up polo clubs and drawing up some formal rules. It became massively popular in Argentina, where the best polo players and horses exist today, but its association with the British aristocracy remains stronger than ever. Spectators should be smart-casual, all chinos and blazers, while players are expected to wear riding boots, white trousers and a polo shirt, obviously.
Games with balls and mallets in some form or another have existed for hundreds of years, but what people think of as croquet today swept across Britain in the mid to late 19th century. Legend has it that only ‘tobacco smoke spread faster through the British Empire’. To try to emphasise its ‘Britishness’ games have been organised on ‘the white cliffs of Dover, the River Thames and at The View from The Shard’. Because it’s made for the garden it lends itself to being played at summer parties and weddings, champagne flute in hand.
Tradition would have it that Brits would spend autumn to spring playing football, until the grass began to firm up, the goals came down and wickets were in the right condition to play cricket in the sunnier months. That may no longer be the case, what with modern sport extending its seasons in search for commercial glory, but few things say British summer like pristine cricket whites, tea, cucumber sandwiches and a creaking pavilion. No matter the standard of play, whether a local village game on the green, or an Ashes Test match against Australia at Lord’s, watching cricket in the sunshine is glorious.
There’s a rumour that in 1588 Sir Francis Drake was playing bowls in Plymouth just before he led his British fleet to victory over the Spanish Armada. True or not, it’s a lovely idea to pedal. Ticking all the aforementioned boxes – green lawns, white uniforms and a somewhat sedate tempo – it has a reputation as a game for the elderly and retired, but younger players are beginning to see the appeal.
OK, this may be pushing it a little bit. While there is horse racing for much of the year, flat season in the UK runs from the spring to the autumn. Among the highlights are Goodwood, and of course, Royal Ascot. Punters flock from around the world to dress up, drink well and hopefully win big.