Thursday, 1 July 2010

Confessions of a half-hearted freeloader - or Arsenal, Lucian Freud, clean toilets and me

Watching some of Andy Murray’s progress into the Wimbledon semi-finals on television yesterday, I was reminded of the many times I turned down corporate hospitality invitations to visit the home of tennis in the fortnight.
I was very picky about whose VIP treatment I accepted or - more often than not – rejected when I was a financial journalist.
I know there’s no such thing as a free lunch but hand-on-heart none of the modest largesse I did accept ever influenced my opinion one way or another when later it came to writing about my host.
I turned down Wimbledon because however much I’d enjoy the champagne and strawberries, the price would be sunburn and the tedium of hours of watching the over-paid probably with unpronounceable names hitting a small ball back and forward across a net.
Similarly invites to watch motor racing were a no-no. Noisy, no doubt smelly, and difficult to follow, it’s no surprise that the sexual predilections of some of the sport’s top brass are of a sado-masochistic turn.
I’d go horse racing perhaps once a year and I’m sorry I never got to Cheltenham the easy way. Rugby? I saw one Calcutta Cup game at Twickenham and never went back. I enjoyed the singing and not much else.
Football was my spectator sport of choice. It was nice to be regularly molly-coddled at Wembley and Arsenal and once – a very long time again – I got to see England play in Rome.
I accepted invitations to a good number of private shows at art galleries. My biggest kick was once finding Lucian Freud was a fellow-guest. Dear Reader, he had paint-splattered shoes.
Some theatre and ballet too over the years. I walked a few red carpets but generally film premieres kicked off too early for me to make it from the office.
My children were impressed to be taken to Party in the Park when it was run by Capital Radio. Likewise a couple of V Festivals in Chelmsford – by the way it looks particularly good this year with Kings of Leon and Kasabian headlining.
Of course free booze at every freebie was a boon but in exchange I’d have to stand for hours making polite conversation while all the time trying to snatch a passing canapĂ©.
The one towering advantage they all had in common were decent toilets – a benefit not to be sniffed at, so to speak, now that I have been stripped of such privileges and pay my own way.

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