Posted by: J M | June 29, 2011

C is for crush

Non-Londoners must excuse for me for being a little capital-centric here, but, as most of the world is aware, it is the second week of Wimbledon fortnight. Among the usual press coverage of the Wimbledon matches, the nation is also lucky enough to have endless commentaries on how many strawberries are eaten and glasses of champagne quaffed  – usually with twee diagrams or pictorials showing an upper-middle class person glugging from a gleaming flute. We may also be treated to a snap or two of one of the male tennis players’ girlfriends and, year in year out, an article on the Williams sisters’ hair/match outfit/bad attitude. This year, however, I’ve noticed a growing number of articles about another Wimbledon feature – Judy Murray.

“Who’s Judy Murray?” the three people who read this may well ask. Well, let me tell you. She’s mother to that sulky, hulky volley machine that is the British number one Andy Murray. I’d never heard of her before, but this year coverage of 50-year-old Mrs Murray has ramped up – possibly because she’s quite vocal and enthusiastic about her son’s ability. She’s been known up until now as a ‘Tiger Mother’, a description which isn’t exactly endearing but makes her sound more like a protective, encouraging kind of ma rather than the type of woman who’d rip your head off for pushing in front of her in a bus queue. Mrs Murray, then, was off my radar until yesterday, when I saw a short piece about her in the Evening Standard, London’s newspaper which dropped its cover price a couple of years ago to absolutely zero, and saws a huge rise in circulation. All I can say is that I’m glad I didn’t pay for it.

The piece on Judy Murray was penned by Melanie McDonagh, a woman whose work I was blissfully unaware of until now. Having had a quick look into her previous output for the Standard, she seems to be merely an occasional contributor to the paper, her oeuvre ranging from Christmas cookbooks to Serbian war crimes. A Jill-of-all-trades, perhaps, but she’s certainly revealed herself as a master of cattiness when it comes to Judy Murray. The main thrust of the article relates to Mrs Murray’s supposed ‘crush’ on another tennis player – the frankly hot Feliciano Lopez. Mrs Murray has apparently nicknamed Lopez ‘Deliciano’, much to the embarrassment of her racquet-toting sons Andy and Jamie. Lopez is 29, Judy is 50. McDonagh has no problem with Murray when she’s cheering on Andy from the sidelines, displaying an unusual amount of testerone-charged energy for a lady in her fifties, but, as she puts it: “Judy Murray as a sexual being is another matter altogether”. Andy Murray has referred to his mother’s ‘pash’ on his mate Lopez a few times, joking that it makes him want to throw up, and of course it probably kind of does, but McDonagh has taken this offhand comment and run with it, all the way to the top of Tena Lady Mountain, where women who are past their mid-thirties may as well sew shut their vagina and settle down with the knitting, or, in Judy Murray’s case, keep cheering on the sidelines. McDonagh goes on to explain that Judy has said “unconvincingly” that her crush is a family joke, but McDonagh thinks that there’s more to this than meets the eye, and that Mrs Murray shouldn’t feel a little harmless embarrassment, but a whole heap of dirty shame – and she owes it to Britain to feel that way.

“[Mrs Murray’s crush on Lopez] confuses Britain. If you’ve made your son the pivot of your very existence, as Mrs Murray has, well, it’s hard to square that image with a cougar-style crush on his rival. The nation is used to Mrs Murray as the quintessence of the shouty, pushy mother, and many people rather admire her for it. But if you add to that narrative, to use the fashionable term, Mrs Murray’s schoolgirl infatuation on a man rather more handsome than her boy, where does that leave us?”

It doesn’t actually leave us anywhere, Melanie. Before you started your mean-spirited rant about a 50-year-old woman having a light-hearted schoolgirl crush on a man 21 years her junior, I doubt anyone actually cared. ‘We’ probably still don’t. The quote segues into an utterly irrelevant point that Mrs Murray left the ‘family home’ in 1996, following her divorce, and that tennis was likely an outlet for Andy Murray’s anger at the separation. This is puzzling. Should we now thank the flighty Judy for ditching her marriage and thus helping to provide the UK with a world-class tennis player? Or should we blame her for her son’s sulky demeanour on the court? Judy Murray may be 50, but her son is 24. He’s a grown man, and unlikely to be seriously troubled by his mother having her own personality and desires – desires which she is unlikely to act upon. According to McDonagh, this “new development adds an amusing, if slightly alarming twist to the image of the Murrays as a joint mother-and-son act” but in fact it does nothing of the sort. Mothers embarrass their sons all the time, be it by wiping down their cheek with a hanky or being over-familiar with their friends. To suggest that Murray might be a bit of a misery because of his mother, who has been nothing but an encouraging and supportive influence in his life, is really a criticism of mothers everywhere who dare not to check their own needs and humour into the cloakroom and slavishly live for their children. Perhaps if it does bother him so, he should grow up and be a man about it, and let his mum be a woman, although I doubt this is a conundrum Murray will be facing right now. I rather think his tennis performance hugely outweighs any worries that his mum blushes a shade of crimson whenever she hears Lopez’s name mentioned.

Women bashing other women in newspaper columns is nothing new, but if McDonagh has something to say about other women who divorce their partners and pursue their own happiness, all the while still being a rock to their offspring, she should perhaps be more direct, rather than quietly allowing the bile to rise to the top of her writing. She isn’t fooling anyone. Regardless of Judy Murray’s “infatuation” and her son’s success at Wimbledon, she’s pretty much won already. Perhaps Melanie McDonagh should take her axe to another tall poppy; there’s nothing to see here.

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