Life is too short to stuff a ciabatta
WITH 78-year-old Clarry still recovering from a knee replacement, I am at present the oldest member of our tennis group. It started as a regular friendly Wednesday morning foursome but quickly grew to a group varying in number from 12 to 20. I’d put the average age somewhere in the middle 60s. Hardly anyone arrives on court without some sort of anatomical support. Hips, knees, elbows, wrists, shoulders and, in some cases, even hearts and arteries have required surgical attention. Some of us resemble armoured gridiron football players. All that’s missing are the helmets.
We’re a random assortment from a wide range of backgrounds. A dairy farmer, an airline pilot, a property developer, an estate agent, a screenwriter (that’s me), an oil tanker driver, a baker, a one-time jazz musician and a former Spanish naval officer. All but three of us are retired. One is a multi-millionaire. The rest are part-pensioners or self-funded retirees.
Everyone hopes and strives for improvement but the restraints of advancing age tend to nullify any signs of progress. The tennis is intensely competitive but since it’s constantly mix and match no one’s overly concerned about winning. Meanwhile, ultimate excellence always lies just beyond our grasp.
The hardest part is keeping track of the points. A game can have been in process for ages before someone wonders: ‘‘What have we got?’’ Or if it’s Carlos: ‘‘Weech eez the score?’’ Estimates can vary from 40-love to love-40. When all else fails we settle for deuce and carry on. There may be a technical debate over a marginal line call but never an argument. Everybody’s so kind and considerate and honest it’s almost embarrassing.
After winning a hard-fought service game that went to several deuces I announced excitedly, ‘‘I might be on a roll.’’ ‘‘Make the most if it,’’ said Jeff. ‘‘It could be your last.’’ Consolation came when, in delicate deference to my age, my partner gave me a pat on the back for pulling off a shot you wouldn’t normally associate with a 76-year-old.
There are moments of huge excitement when desperately defended rallies continue until the winners settle the contest with a roar of exultation that rattles the neighbourhood.
The unspoken code is that only low-level coarse language is acceptable. Once a stranger turned up uninvited and determined to dominate the group with endless wisecracks and foul language. It took a while but eventually he got the message and quietly departed.
More recently, Lou suddenly announced that a hot-shot player called Penny had asked if she could join the group. ‘‘Any comments?’’ Thunderous silence. ‘‘No? OK, I’ll take that as a yes then.’’ The suspense lasted all week. What will she look like? How old? What if she beats the pants off us! Came Wednesday — no Penny. ‘‘She changed her mind,’’ Lou explained. ‘‘Afraid she might be an imposition.’’ Phew! Solidarity prevails.
Everybody acknowledges there’s something more than tennis going on here. A spirit of fellowship and exuberant camaraderie that transcends the game. And in a world of declining virtues and values it’s nice to feel you’re preserving some of the old-fashioned courtesies. In modesty, I like to think of us as a league of gentlemen who can’t wait for Wednesday morning. And to rejoice in our little bubble of sanity and chivalry.