Time to Take Up the Modern British Season? 

Forget Glyndebourne & Ascot, Try Glastonbury & Aintree Instead! 

For years the English 'Season' (don't shout, I'm British too, but since most of it takes place in England – in reality within a few miles of London – that's what it's called) has been lauded as the ultimate social calendar. Originally the 'Season' extended from Easter to mid-August when it culminated with the Glorious Twelfth (although whether you'd call it 'glorious' were you a red grouse is another matter) but now it extends beyond that. Royal Ascot, the Chelsea Flower Show, the Cartier International Polo event and Cowes Week were just part of a well-established, very formal, much-anticipated list of events that everyone who was everyone (for that read rich or posh & probably both) longed to attend. More specifically, they yearned to be seen to attend. And while the traditional 'Season' lives on with events still attracting huge crowds, there's now a whole new and modern British 'Season' that's regularly enjoyed by everyone, not just the wealthy and high-born and, thanks to extended television coverage that can now be enjoyed without even leaving your sitting room! So sit back, relax, uncork a bottle of wine, mix up the Pimm's and bring out the cucumber sandwiches and strawberries and cream. It's time to enjoy the 'Modern British Season'!  

In truth, I was in my teens before I realised that the FA Cup Final was not part of the traditional 'Season'. For me it was the highlight of the year. As much a part of the yearly ritual of sporting viewing as the Lord's Test ever was. Every year, no matter who the finalists were, my Dad and I would settle down for a 'Cup Final Buffet' before the big match. Weirdly, when you consider the mass coverage almost any newsworthy event now gets, there are few themed Cup Final programmes. But when I was little you'd settle down around 9 am (6 hours before kick-off) for a raft of special programming. Shows like A Question of Sport, It's A Knock-out, even Top of the Pops would have an extra episode devoted to the Cup Final. All of this would be interspersed with reports from the hotels in which the two teams were staying, and cameras would show the teams climbing aboard their bus, and track their journey to Wembley Stadium.You didn't want to move from the screen, for fear of missing some vital piece of trivia. But now it all seems so much more sophisticated and, for all that, considerably less exciting.  

The Formula 1 British Grand Prix, on the other hand, is as glamorous as ever and very much a part of the modern 'Season'. I've been lucky enough to attend the event three years back. It was lashing it down with rain, cars were sliding all over the place and Britain's Lewis Hamilton won on his way to the World Championship. It was a marvellous day and no amount of reading up can possibly prepare you for the all-around assault on the senses of F1. The noise is stupendous (you really do have to wear earplugs during the race to avoid pain), but even before that, with the helicopters swooping in low over the carparks, the music and the bustle, too, it's almost deafening the moment you step outside.But it's perhaps the smell that is most striking. The stench of fuel is quite overpowering and yet I found it rather alluring. And nothing can beat the lump in your throat and the tears in your eyes when the Red Arrows fly overhead before the race begins. Utterly awesome! 

The F1 Grand Prix at Silverstone - very much a part of the modern 'Season'. 

The Boat Race (between Oxford and Cambridge University on the Thames, in case you're unitiated) is the most famous rowing event in the country. And it's also probably the only one any large number of people watch. Never mind the classic Henley Regatta, it's the Boat Race that draws the crowds and gets people leaping up and down in front of the television supporting one of the universities which only a few people ever attend. It's a funny thing, but I've yet to meet anyone who didn't have a natural preference. Since childhood, I've always 'been' Oxford. I don't know why. Perhaps it was the dark blue? Anyway the quirkiness of the occasion doesn't stop there because it's a rare day when the Oxford or Cambridge crews are the top two in the country.  And yet, for that day at least, the result seems to matter to everyone.

Exhibitors at the BBC Gardeners' World Live are judged to RHS standards

Not every event in the 'Season', whether traditional or modern is sporting, of course. The Chelsea Flower Show has long been part of  the classic summer experience. But for many of us, it's a long and expensive trip to London, and there are other flower shows up and down the country. We like to go to the BBC Gardeners' World Live event at the NEC. And it's endorsed by the Royal Horticultural Society, with the medals awarded to show gardens and floral exhibitors according to the same standard of other RHS shows. It's also quite laid-back and fun too, and with the BBC's Summer Good Food show taking place right next door, if the weather's good, you can pick up a tasty picnic! And while the traditional 'Season' boasts the Glyndebourne opera festival, there are countless music festivals catering for all tastes. Now I have to say I've never ventured to Glastonbury, Wychwood or the Bestival. Largely this is because I 

 I abhor the idea of camping out. Sleeping on the floor, posh sleeping bag or not, is just not my bag. Neither is going three days without makeup and shower gel, getting covered in mud or queueing for six hours to go to the loo. Now if they erected some little huts with proper beds and dressing table mirrors, could guarantee intermittent sunshine and cloud and allowed everyone their own toilet, then I might reconsider. But people who do go tell me that any of these festivals are totally fabulous and unmatched in terms of entertainment and comradeship.

As it happens I do prefer my modern 'Season' to be sports based. I love watching Royal Ascot - as much for the fashions as for the horse racing, and even that wonderful, if slightly snobby, chap they have on from one of the broadsheets to comment on the fashion is delightfully entertaining, especially when he spies someone with just a touch too much flesh on show to meet with etiquette (or at least his personal version of it). It's a good job they don't call upon him to comment on the fashions at the Grand National, which is surely the modern 'Season' equivalent. It's probably the one horse race most people watch and the one day a year many of us place a bet. But those ladies from Liverpool don't half like to dress up and, from recent observations, their etiquette states the more flesh (faux-tanned, of course) and feather (perched ostentatiously on their heads) they can show off, the better.


One of the great sporting occasions, although technically out of the summer season is rugby union at Twickenham. Or the Millennium Stadium if you're Welsh or Murryfield if you're a Scot. I know there are Six Nations involved, and I'm not saying Irish, French and Italian home games aren't as sweet to their compatriots, but we are talking about the British 'Season' here! Anyway there seems to be no national crowd more passionate than a rugby one. From the anthems to the sanitised sing-a-long version of Swing Low, Sweet Chariot (no hand gestures, please) to the National Anthem and the applause given to the opposition, there are few more nationalistic sporting occasions. But you might argue that the British are only really at their best when they're up against it.

With the massive, redeveloped Twickenham stadium behind, it's easy to soak up the atmosphere of a Six Nations match! 

You certainly need a glass or four of bubbly, and an iron will, to get through a Brit's Wimbledon's adventures!

But you might argue that the British are only really at their best when they're up against it. And nowhere, does it seem in recent years at least, are we more up against it than at Wimbledon. Now, The Championships, Wimbledon to give the event it's Sunday name is, of course, part of the classic 'Season'. But thanks to the adventures and mishaps of Tim Henman, Greg Rusedski and Andy Murrary and the almost obsessive and desperate will for a Brit to win something at Wimbledon, it's become just as big a part of the modern 'Season'.  I'm pleased to say that I've been a few times and on the last occasion witnessed one of the classic Tiger Tim epics, in what we later learned would be his last championships. Let me tell you, if you think it looks tough on telly, you should have tried it in person. It was towards the end of a long day. Rain had forced frequent evacuations to the so-called rain refuges (Centre 

Court had no roof, in preparation for the completion of a permanent and closable lid). We'd seen Roger Federer efficiently and dispassionately despatch his First Round foe but the promise of Henman to come kept everyone coming back in after each rain break. In truth, by the time he did step on to court, it was freezing cold and, had it been anyone else playing, only the die-hards would have remained. But we were treated to five sets of roller-coaster, frantic, desperate, extraordinary tennis. Henman had four match points and lost them all. At 9.19 pm, and in near darkness, the umpire called a halt to proceedings. It was no excuse, even just past the longest day, and with a cloudy, starless sky, there was no chance of continuing. And I'm sure Henman and his opponent were dog-tired because the crowd were utterly exhausted. Henman won, by the way, the next afternoon, but went out in the following round.

It was a classic British sporting occasion, and a thoroughly modern one too. And that's what the contemporary 'Season' is all about. It's something we can all enjoy, and it's something uniquely British.