Something Fresh: Sports in London

When one considers how keenly London, like all large cities, resents physical exercise, unless taken with some practical and immediate utilitarian object in view, this young man’s calm, as he did this peculiar thing, was amazing. The rules governing exercise in London are clearly defined. You may run, if you are running after a hat, or an omnibus; you may jump, if you do so with the idea of avoiding a taxi-cab or because you have stepped on a banana-skin. But, if you run because you wish to develop your lungs or jump because jumping is good for the liver, London punishes you with its mockery. It rallies round and points the finger of scorn.

The first time he appeared in Aurndell Street in his sweater and flannels, he had barely whirled his Indian clubs round his head before he had attracted the following audience:

(a) two cabmen (one intoxicated);
(b) four waiters from the Hotel Mathis;
(c) six waiters from the Hotel Previtali;
(d) six chambermaids from the Hotel Mathis;
(e) five chambermaids from the Hotel Previtali;
(f) the proprietor of the Hotel Mathis;
(g) the proprietor of the Hotel Previtali;
(h) a street-cleaner;
(i) eleven nondescript loafers;
(j) twenty-seven children;
(k) a cat.

They all laughed, even the cat, and kept on laughing. The intoxicated cabman called Ashe ‘Bill Bailey!’ And Ashe kept on swinging his clubs.

A month later, such is the magic of perseverance, his audience had narrowed down to the twenty-seven children. They still laughed, but without that ringing conviction which the sympathetic support of their elders had lent them.

And now, after three months, the neighbourhood, having accepted Ashe and his morning exercises as a natural phenomenon, paid him no further attention.

—P.G. Wodehouse, Something Fresh

I hope this year’s Olympians will not get a similar reception!

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