Sunday, April 24, 2011

Slipping Away (3-6, 2-6)

I love tennis, but it's that clichéd love hate thing and today was a perfect example.

We did our standard one hour of instruction, getting warmed up, rallies in the service boxes, rallies at the baseline, some basket drills and warming up our serve. That was the aperitif, nice enough, and I was having an OK sort of day, helped by the glorious weather. For once we had hazy sunshine, a light breeze and it was neither too hot or too cold. Perfect conditions for tennis.

Now comes the match.

The instructor divides us into teams, and I'm happy to be paired with the best player in our group - 20 years old, she's got a really nice serve and some deadly powerful ground strokes. With my strength at the net, we should be just fine.

We win the toss, and ask our opponents to serve with sun (slightly hazy though it may be) in their eyes. We win the first game. My turn to serve. I'm serving well, particularly on the deuce side, and go 40-0 up. Then my serve disappears and I serve three double faults in a row. There are a couple of deuces, and then I lose, 1-1. The first doubts start to cloud my mind.

Our opponents serve again, and we break them to win that one. My partner serves, she's got the sun at her back and a beautiful technically correct service action that the rest of us players can only dream about. She holds and we go 3-1 up. If we can just win this next game we'll be 4-1 up and barring a huge catastrophe, we'll win the set. It's a close game but our opponents win to stay in contact, 2-3.

My turn to serve. It's hopeless. My 1st serve has just gone. Double faults, weak second serves and some good returning pulls our opponents level at 3-3. My partner is cross, I'm furious, and we manage to lose the next game too. We're now on serve, trailing 3-4. My partner's serve deserts her too, and our opponents are really playing very well, especially the weaker one, who is playing as well as I've ever seen her. The thought crosses my mind that's it's not our day out here today...

It's 3-5, and our opponents are serving for the set. It's a close game but some outrageous shot making and some terrible errors on our part give them the first set 6-3. Oh dear.

We still have 20 minutes left, and propose a second set. Me to serve. I decide to take something off my serves, and try and get some consistency into my game. It doesn't work. We do all play tennis to a certain standard, low as it may be, and our opponents eat up my weak puffy serves with spoon. My partner is really down now.

Our opponents win their service game, but my partner holds, although we're having to produce our best tennis to get any kind of point at this stage, as our opponents are inspired. We're trailing 1-2, and soon it's 1-3 as they hold again. I consider faking an injury or smashing my racket or something - it's just horrible, playing as badly as I am now. I hate this bloody game. My turn to serve. I lose my serve, again. It's just gone. I can't place the ball at all, and even getting it over the net and into a service box is happening rarely. This is horrible. We're down 1-4.

They hold again, to basically seal the win with a 5-1 lead. Then my partner serves, and suddenly she's on, and I'm finally on and we have an easy hold for 2-5. Winning a game at this point seems unbelievable, given the way our opponents have been volleying and lobbing and net cording and generally playing with the tennis gods on their shoulders. Their best player is ready to serve it out.

The final game goes to four deuces, and I manage to save three match points with some inspired returning, as good as I'm capable of. We both know we've lost, and that knowledge enables us to play as well as we can, finally, and some of my bad mood disappears. The fourth match point is too much for us, and that's that for another week... I feel happy its over, sad we've lost, embarrassed at my miserable performance, and guilty at having let my partner down.

Tennis is hard.


Thursday, April 21, 2011

Book Cull

I've been trying to gradually get rid of my books (well most of them) for the past couple of years.

This will be a long process, as over the years my collection (calling it a library seems pretentious) numbers several hundred dusty tomes, most of which have been read at one time or another.

Every fortnight, I grab a pile of ten or so more at random and go through each one.
The critical question is 'will I ever read this book again?' and if the answer is no, then the book goes in the culling pile. The next step is to go onto E-Bay and make sure I'm not chucking away some obscure collector's item. The answer so far is NEVER, although I was pleasantly surprised to make some money flogging Fiat X1/9 manuals a few years ago.

It's good to know that someone, somewhere still cares about that car, and doubtless struggles with the electrics by the wonderfully named, but low quality Magneti Marelli.
Sadly that windfall has been the exception. The vast majority of my books are essentially worthless - dusty grotty paperbacks, unsigned, fourth or fifth editions and flogged by numerous semi-professional outfits for a penny, with any profit coming from the suspiciously high postage and packing.

Today's cull revealed a slim volume by Ian McEwen, whose Atonement was filmed a few years ago and shown on ITV a couple of weeks ago. This one is more obscure entitled
A Move Abroad and it contains the screen play for a TV play called The Ploughman's Lunch which was a sideways look at Thatcherism and the Falklands War, and the lyrics for a oratorio called Or Shall We Die?

At some point roughly around 1983, radical feminism reached a high point in Britain, at least in academia, and I was caught right in the middle of it, doing a psychology degree in Manchester from 1983 to 1986. Shortly afterwards I moved abroad, and was surprised on my return to Britain ten years later by the backlash that produced new laddism and popularised feminists such as Camille Paglia.

Flipping through Or Shall We Die, it's impossible not to laugh at the earnest solemnity of a piece that combines extreme 80s feminism with that other obsession of the decade - nuclear war. Here are some choice excerpts:

Shall there be womanly times, or shall we die?

Our God is manly! In war he refuses us nothing!

And even now, as I sit upon the grass, across the world, in buried places, sleepless men wait at consoles and watch the patient sweep of scanners for a sign of penetration, male virgins, deathmasks in the greenish light.

Heh heh heh!

Anyone who wants to satirise the 1980s can simply go to Or Shall We Die? and lift chunks of text straight out of it with no amendment or commentary necessary.
The great irony was of course that McEwan was writing all this during the premiership of Margaret Thatcher, Britain's first and so far only female Prime Minister, and so far with no female successor even remotely plausible at the moment.

The other great irony was that radical feminism's greatest achievement may have been to get more women into the military of all developed nations. In the oratorio war is exclusively masculine, peace belongs to the character called WOMAN. Today, the crews of her majesty's ships, the pilots of her majesty's planes, and numerous other military jobs are filled by women, in a way that was hard to imagine back in early 1980s.

I suppose the last lesson is the commonplace observation that nothing dates as fast as high fashion, and that includes intellectual fashion as much as clothes or anything else.

Despite all this, I can't bring myself to put A Move Abroad in the culling pile just yet...


Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Free at Last!

I was 46 on Tuesday, but was far too busy struggling to finish a contract to really enjoy myself.

Now that's all changed, as for the first time in three years and 7 months, I'm between contracts - what actors call 'resting' and what most people call unemployed.

It's a great relief - for at least 9 months now I've been feeling utterly burned out and increasingly resentful of the early morning starts and late evening finishes. National Express Rail have benefited too, to the tune of an incredible £18,000 in travel expenses during that time!

It looks like the next job will be closer to home, and in the meantime I'm going to enjoy my time sleeping with M, mucking about with Panne, and hopefully posting a few more thoughts and memories on this blog.