Big Match Weekend At Lord’s Part One: MCC v HAC Real Tennis Match, 21 July 2017

Them and Us, Thanks To Sidney Yankson For The Pictures

Not content with the idea of attending one heck of a big match at Lord’s on Sunday, I found myself selected to represent the MCC at real tennis there on the preceding Friday evening,

I arrived early for my rubber, keen to see a bit of the earlier action. In fact I arrived at the same time as our non-playing captain, Brian. As soon as we arrived, Sidney exclaimed, “oh great, we’re all here; let’s have a team photo right now”. Hence my appearance on court sporting weekend casuals rather than whites.

In fact we weren’t all here; Tony Friend (my team mate from battles gone by) was between his singles and double rubber, while neither his partner, Oliver, nor my partner to be, “Dangerous Deane”, nor indeed our opponents to be had arrived yet.

Early and late arrivals at the MCC real tennis ball

Sidney was captaining the Honourable Artillery Company team and had organised the whole fixture. He (mercifully) had some flexibility in deciding who should play whom, as several of the players are eligible to play for either or both organisations, as is often the case with real tennis matches and there had been a few late changes to the dramatis personae, as is equally often the case.

“We’ve been around since 15:37″, said Sidney, which didn’t seem unreasonable to me for a match that was scheduled to start at 4:00 pm…”the HAC is probably the oldest active real tennis team in the world.”

Ah, he meant, 1537. Back in Henry VIII’s time. Some of us suggested that one or two of our more senior but still active MCC players might precede the date of HAC’s foundation.

When it was my turn to play, Sidney risked life and limb to take photos of our warm up, shouting, “please don’t hit me” as he scurried around the court in search of the perfect shot of a perfect shot:

A perfect shot of a slightly imperfect shot, bravely snapped by Sidney Yankson

Once the game was in progress, Sidney took more pictures from the relative safety of the dedans:

I was strategically stationed to guard the side galleries, while “Dangerous Deane” soaked up most of the pressure; Deane had one opponent so well covered you cannot even see him in this picture, which was safely snapped by Sidney Yankson

“So what was the result of the match?”, I hear readers cry.

MCC won the fixture 4-1.

“May we have more specific details about what happened in the match, such as the individual scores of the rubbers therein and tales of derring-do that led to those scores?”, the readers’ cries continue.

Now, now; what happens on the MCC tennis court stays on the MCC tennis court.

Suffice it to say that, as usual, the match was highly convivial, enabling me to meet several more realists and get to know some others a bit better than before.

A few dedicated souls retired to a local hostelry (The Lord’s Tavern) for dinner and libations after the match, but I retreated to Noddyland, where preparations for Sunday’s other big match at Lord’s were in full sway. That big fillet of dry-aged beef was not going to carve and partially eat itself, now was it?




An Exploratory Mission Into Deepest, Darkest Essex, Prested Hall and Chelmsford, 27 & 28 June 2017

It seemed like a brilliant idea when I/we arranged the trip.

Middlesex were playing Essex in the first ever round of day/night county championship cricket matches.  I’d drive out to Prested Hall on the Tuesday morning, drop my bags, have a real tennis lesson, join Charley “The Gent” at Chelmsford for cricket on the Tuesday afternoon, return to Prested after stumps at night, check out/play real tennis the next morning, drive back to Chelmsford for at least a couple of sessions play Wednesday, then head back to London in reasonable time towards the end of that day.

Indeed, it was a pretty brilliant idea, confounded in part only by the weather “turning Charley on us” (as it were) and Middlesex’s dismal performance. Of course the latter was no disappointment to Charley “The Gent” Malloy, who is enjoying watching his team ride high in the county championship this season.

The weather forecast for Tuesday was changing on an almost hourly basis. Charley at one point Monday messaged me to see if I still wanted to give it a go, but when I explained that I was coming out to deepest Essex anyway, we agreed to meet at the ground Tuesday come what may.

In the morning, at Prested, I had the honour (and pleasant surprise) of getting my real tennis lesson from Rob Fahey, the former and longest-reigning world champion. I doubt if I was utilising even a tiny fraction of his skills and knowledge, but I learnt a great deal and he was a thoroughly delightful coach for that hour. He filled my head with all sorts of stuff that will probably come in handy down stream but which I have so far been utterly unable to put into practice. A few simple tips on placement of shots and serves are already coming in handy.

Then to my apartment room in the health centre area. Comfortable-looking and very large – there would even be room for Janie, Benjy the Baritone Uke and all of our attendant paraphernalia in one of those, I noted for future reference.

Then a very dingy drive to Chelmsford, but it wasn’t raining and the forecast suggested that we might get a few hours of play before the rain set in for the evening. But five minutes before play was due to start, an unscheduled, sharp shower put paid to the prospects of play for a while.

Chas and I braved the pavilion while all that was going on, which gave us a chance to catch up on news and gossip over coffee (not bad stuff and just one nicker per shot) plus some headway into Mrs Malloy’s splendid bap sandwiches.

The weather looked reasonably promising again for a while; they even announced a 16:25 start and the Middlesex players came out to warm up. But almost inevitably it started to rain again at 16:20. Looking at the forecast and the rain radar, Chas and I agreed that the prospects of play now were close to zero and that we had cunningly focused most of our attention on the more perishable elements of the picnic, allowing the less perishable elements to return the next day.

I returned in the driving rain to Prested Hall, where I was able to catch up on my reading and blogging (as well as sleep) in that comfortable appartment/room during the evening and into the next morning. I had a very tasty light bistro meal in the evening there, again noting that this would more than do the job for me and Daisy on a future visit.

In the morning, after checking out of my room, I played real tennis against a very charming gentleman who managed to capitalise well on all the new ideas drifting around my head (but not onto my racket) from yesterday’s lesson. Why I should suddenly start over-hitting and mistiming my shots in these circumstances is beyond me.

I tried a bit of bestial roaring when stretching for difficult gets and my opponent responded in kind, less often as I was making him stretch less. We were on the Prested Glass court – across the other side of the galleries is the Prested Far court, where a far finer exponent of bestial roaring than either of us was playing that hour.

The upshot was, I just couldn’t get any sort of rhythm going and my opponent played really well for his handicap. Still, I couldn’t have lost to a nicer chap, who celebrated his win by buying me a coffee in the bistro afterwards. This was good timing, as once he had gone and I had done some warm-down stretches and showered, I was ready to say goodbye to the friendly, helpful Prested team and head back to Chelmsford.

Chelmsford was once again well gloomy; I even drove through some drizzle as I approached town. But the cricket ground itself was dry and the forecast was far more promising than Tuesday’s.

Indeed, although we got the occasional tiny bit of drizzle (perhaps merely mizzle) during the day, it mostly stayed dry; just seriously dark and gloomy throughout the day. Just as well this was a floodlit match, as I doubt if there would have been much if any play with a conventional red ball and no floodlights.

Even though we had spent some time together the previous day, Charley The Gent and I had no difficulty filling several more hours with chat. Tales of derring do from playing and watching matches in years gone by. A bit more news and gossip. Bants, although it is hard to bant too much when the match is so one -sided – click here for scorecard. The locals who were sitting around us seemed to enjoy some of our chirp, so it can’t have been too bad.

We were in Charley’s favourite position at the front of the Tom Pearce stand. At times we both felt a bit chilly and took turns taking a brisk stroll to get coffees from the pavilion.

There was a reasonably sized crowd but I’m sure it would have been so much better had the weather played ball; especially as Essex were doing so well.

Dot (Mrs Malloy) did us proud with the bap/sarnies yet again; corned beef, ham and cheese for me – I think Chas had some egg; we each got personalised sandwich boxes with kind notes from Dot; Chas’s note was signed off “wifey” which seemed rather quaint to me.

I wanted to get home in reasonable time, so when Essex declared soon after 20:30, that seemed the perfect moment for me to bow out after my very first taste of pink ball cricket. We’d had a really enjoyable couple of days.

Here, There and Everywhere: Rather A Lot Of Real Tennis In Two Days and A Star-Struck Encounter, 14 & 15 June 2017

I’m not easily star struck these days; I see quite a lot of reasonably well-known people on my regular rounds.

But I did get a little star-struck on Thursday morning.

I drove to Lord’s to play real tennis, but needed to park in the North Gate side of the ground as it was an MCC match day – the Universities Match.

Once through the gate, I drove along the narrow driveway from the North Gate to the Lord’s Academy car park. There, I was held up for a few moments by a strolling couple; they stopped and the man was taking photographs of the woman for a short while. This is a common scene at Lord’s, especially on that sort of match day, with many visitors who rarely visit Lord’s treating it as a touristic day out.

The man must have realised that he was holding me up, because, once he’d taken his photographs, he turned around, gave me a thumbs up and said thank you to me for waiting…

…that man was Paul McCartney.

I waved, said “good morning” and drove on to the car park.

The event brought to mind Paul Deacon’s famous (infamous) 1990s Paul McCartney videoing incident at the BBC, immortalised a few years ago on Facebook – click here.

Indeed, I wondered afterwards whether I should have said to McCartney, “would you like to take some photographs? Would you like it if someone came round your place blocking your driveway taking photographs?”  But then, he might not have got the reference. Indeed it might have seemed rude and threatening, especially as his driveway is only a few hundred yards away from the Lord’s North Gate. Besides, you often see tourists blocking Paul McCartney’s driveway, taking photographs of his house.

In any case, Paul McCartney hadn’t exactly put me out; in fact he had given me a pleasant surprise that morning – especially as I was fresh from a lot of Beatles-oriented activity in Liverpool the weekend just gone – it was in truth a nice coincidence.

That Lord’s visit was for the third of four singles matches I ended up playing in just over 24 hours, that Wednesday and Thursday. I wasn’t supposed to play at all on Wednesday, but events, not least the Grenfell Tower tragedy, left the club short of people (staff and members) who could get in to play, while others were travelling further and getting in for their slots just fine. I was glad to be able to help.

So I played at very short notice Wednesday morning, then again that evening, then my planned Thursday morning slot (including the unexpected former Beatle sighting).

At my Thursday morning slot, I was asked if I could stick around and play again early afternoon. I did have work and reading to do, but of course in the modern era you can get a lot of those things done wherever you are…

…and sitting in the sunshine half-watching a bit of cricket at Lord’s, even if it is a universities match, is a fine place to catch up on your e-mails and read The Economist.

The Player’s Peeling Name Reads Ladd-Gibbon

The young man fielding in front of me, at one point, was named Ladd-Gibbon, which seemed ironic in the circumstances. Ged Ladd is my cricket nom de plume and I reckon that after three or four hours of real tennis in just over 24 hours, I was probably walking with a bit of a “funky gibbon” posture.

Still, as I stomped back round from the Grandstand to the real tennis court for my fourth hour, some kids, who were playing with mini bat and ball on the Warner/Grandstand concourse, stopped playing and asked me if I had just finished batting in the match. I often describe Lord’s as one of the few places on earth where I am still addressed as “young man”. I think it might be the only place on earth where I might be mistaken for a university student cricketer.

A Winning Day, Culminating At Bill’s For A BBYO Youth Club Regathering, 1 June 2017

Al-Karak and the Moabite Hills

The day started well, with Michael (my business partner) letting me know some good business news; it’ll mean some work for me over the coming days but this is the sort of work/news I want to do/hear. I had also managed to get a lot done in the morning.

So I went off to Lord’s at lunchtime, for my first ever real tennis tournament singles match, with a spring in my step and hope (more than expectation) springing eternal.

As it turned out, my opponent had not had a good morning at all and so was not at his best for the match. 6-0, 6-1 does not reflect our respective abilities, but I did think I played well for my part and stayed focused on the task. So I’m through to the round of 16.

I suggested to the professionals that I should write the score on the tournament scoreboard in blood, “pour encourager les autres”. But for some silly reason they laughed, seeming to think I was joking. I explained that I wanted my subsequent opponent…or if things go well opponents…to fear me. The professionals laughed louder.

I was able to half-follow Andy Murray and Kyle Edmund win their modern tennis matches that afternoon (although, frankly, with far more fuss and less convincing scorelines than mine). I was also able to half-follow England beating Bangladesh at cricket, so very much a winning day.

I had also been very much looking forward to the evening; a traditional (if traditions can be established after three or four years) regathering of our old Streatham BBYO youth club clan at Bill’s, Covent Garden.

We were a little depleted in numbers this year. Natalie had originally said yes to the date, but when we got closer to the date realised that the date was the second day of Shavuot.

Natalie is latterly religious, whereas the rest of us have either lost most of it or never had it much in the first place.

In truth, I had to look up Shavuot, to remind myself what it was. Having done so, I discovered that eating dairy was part of the festive deal, as was The Book of Ruth. Realising that I knew as little about The Book of Ruth as I did about Shavuot, I looked that up too. I discovered that Ruth was a Moabite who converted to Judaism and went on to become King David’s great-grandma…

…so naturally I also had to look up what a Moabite was…and from whence the Moabites hailed.

At this point I was on slightly more familiar turf, as I realised that Janie and I had visited Moab briefly, betwixt Amman and Petra in 1997 – hence the picture above and below – all of our Jordan pictures from that Middle-Eastern visit can be seen here.

Moabite Girl With Kid near Al Karak

But I digress big time.

We were further depleted, as Martin had a late call to a shoot (photographic, not weapon-based). The date also clashed with Wendy’s son’s birthday; I got an e-mail from Wendy the day before explaining this and asking me if we could avoid 1 June next year. I observed that 1 June next year is a Friday night and that even I am sufficiently familiar with the ethnic mores to avoid Friday night.

Anyway, when I got to Bill’s, Linda, Sandra and Mark were already there. Lisa soon joined us and Andrea arrived fashionably late, as expected.

Reunited with each other and reacquainted (well, frankly for most of us, belatedly acquainted) with the traditions of Shavuot, we all made sure that we chose something dairy with our meals; in several cases regardless of other aspects of dietary laws and traditions.

The wine flowed, sufficiently to lubricate the chat but not so much as to render me useless the next day.

I really enjoy these gatherings. I like this group of people a lot. We did a fair chunk of our growing up together and I feel very comfortable with the gang. We have a remarkable amount in common still, despite our lives going in various directions and despite the fact that our youth was such a long time ago.

Ivor wasn’t there this year, sadly, but three out of four ain’t bad

It’s simply a great bunch of people who are good company; I’m looking forward to the next gathering already.

A winning day and a super evening.

An Unusually Busy Day With Tennis, Middlesex/Saracens and DJ Jamming Session, 9 May 2017

Packing it all in; real tennis and ukulele jam

Following my first ever ukulele lesson last week (remarked upon in this linked concert thread), Luke the Baroq-ulele and indeed my real tennis bag are in the capable hands of Wahid for strapping/repairs respectively.

Today’s itinerary included some real tennis at lunchtime, then hot wheels from Lord’s (where Middlesex meetings would normally take place) to Saracens/Allianz Park where today’s “Middlesex in exile” meetings were taking place; then on to a jamming evening with DJ in Cricklewood.

No sense in taking Dumbo on those rounds, so I needed to get smart about my luggage. I discovered that there was but one sweet spot in Benjy’s ukulele case where both uke and racket could fit and the lid would close without difficulty.

That configuration (pictured above) raised a few smiles (and even photographs) as I did my rounds.

The day went well. I won my tennis (just), the Middlesex meeting was very productive.

The low point was the “greasy spoon” at the end of DJ’s road, where I squatted for 45 minutes before the jam. It neither looked nor was rated “greasy spoon” on-line…and since when did greasy spoons have fancy coffee machines with every conceivable variety of coffee available?

The jamming session with DJ was great fun, although DJ doesn’t think that the marriage of tennis racket and uke in one case is a good idea on a regular basis.


Three Courts In One Day, 29 April 2017

I was a slightly reluctant conscript to represent the MCC against Middlesex University Real Tennis Club (MURTC) today.

Much as I love playing real tennis, my weekend routine is to play modern tennis with Daisy in the morning and we had theatre tickets booked for the evening.

But this match was the reverse fixture of a match I played back in the autumn, mentioned en passant in this piece – click here

…and it was after all just down the road in Hendon on a long weekend…so I told the skipper that I would play only if needed.

I got the “yes, you are needed” message a couple of weeks before the match.

Still, I was selected to play the last (doubles) rubber, mid afternoon, so I thought there was no need to dispense with the traditional Boston Manor modern tennis fixture with Janie first thing.

Lawners at Boston Manor – court one of three

I played a cracking good game of lawners, though I say so myself. Janie later claimed that she let me win by a large margin to help build my confidence for the big match. I don’t think so.

Went home, showered, switched from pyjamas to whites and off to Middlesex University for lunch and the match. By the time I got there the MCC were one rubber down and while I was eating lunch we went 2-0 down with two rubbers to go.

Then we watched a very exciting game of doubles, which looked as though it would go MURTC’s way but ended up going MCC’s way.

“No pressure, but it’s all down to you two”, said one of my team mates, helpfully, as my partner and I went on court for the deciding rubber. Court two of three.

We’d never played with each other before and I have only played a handful of doubles at real tennis, so asked my partner to do the calling. He seemed reluctant to do that at first, but when I called a couple of times, reminding him that I really wasn’t sure whether to go for the ball on not, he said he’d call himself, which he started doing and I started to work out quite quickly what he wanted to play or leave.

The handicapping system did us some favours, as my limited doubles experience means that my doubles handicap lags behind that of my singles. On the other hand, the MURTC court is very different from that at Lord’s – much bouncier, it reminded me a bit of the one I tried in Manchester last autumn – click here, adding to the novelty of the situation. Yet, that extra bounce sometimes gives the player just a smidgen of extra time to adjust and hit a better shot – at my stage of real tennis, I rather like the extra bounce.

Anyway, the upshot of all that, I’m delighted to report, is that we won our rubber and thus the match was drawn. My partner and I were metaphorically carried aloft with garlands in our hair, before everyone said fond goodbyes and went their separate ways.

These real tennis matches are very enjoyable, friendly affairs. A good way of getting to know some of the MCC players better. Also a good way to meet some really interesting and pleasant people from other clubs, in this case MURTC.

No photos from our match but here is a little promo video from MURTC that they made only a few weeks ago, which gives a pretty good idea about the place, not least its friendly and welcoming atmosphere. You can even see a couple of the people I met in the still below – the professional and the male student (left of picture).

“Three courts in one day…so what about the third court?” I hear you cry. Well, that was The Ferryman at The Royal Court, which I have written up separately – click here.

Dinner at Zafferano With Jamil and Souad On Friday Evening, Followed By Little Tennis Next Morning, 14 January 2017

Ice Stops Play: The Only Safe Form Of Tennis That Saturday Morning Was The Table Variety

The headline is the diary note; the rest is delightful detail.

Jamil and Souad very kindly and generously wanted to treat us to dinner at Zafferano on the Friday evening. It would have been hard to refuse such a kind offer.

They usually like to treat us to Lebanese food, but they love Zaffs and we had never all been there together. Indeed Janie and I hadn’t been to Zaffs for yonkers, so it seemed like an excellent idea for a change; it was.

The other three were all talked into a delightful veal cheek dish. I felt a bit “vealed out”, having spent much of the midweek eating the most wonderful leftovers from last Saturday’s Daisy special – click here. So I tried a delightful roast guinea fowl dish.

Jamil and Souad are always both delightful company. Jamil likes to pick my brain and debate matters of political and economic importance; gently but shrewdly. You need to keep your wits about you when debating with Jamil; he usually sends the odd curve ball into the discussion, not least a playful tendency to do the devil’s advocate thing unexpectedly and see what happens.

Souad is much quieter but you can tell that she takes everything in. When she does chip in to the discussion, her points are always incisive, decisive or both.

Jamil is a very keen tennis player (proudly so despite advancing years), so we chatted about modern and real tennis – mostly the former. He had seen the latter (at his club, the Harbour Club) but never played it.

Both Jamil and Souad seemed mighty impressed that Janie and I intended to play tennis (modern variety) the next morning at 9:00. It wasn’t an especially late night, but we’d certainly had plenty to eat and drink by the time we left Zafferano and agreed that we should all meet again quite soon.

But of course it was too cold for tennis the next morning. I say “of course”, but Janie and I couldn’t resist going down to the courts just in case; it was borderline temperature-wise but definitely just below freezing and therefore still like an ice rink on the courts.

Only one thing for it; emergency rations on the outdoor table tennis table. We always carry the equipment in our tennis bag for just such an emergency.

Janie usually wins at table tennis, having mis-spent more of her youth on that game than I did, But on this occasion, I was victorious three games to one. Perhaps the extra speed of reactions and cocked wrist needed for real tennis has had unintended benefits on the table variety for me.

Janie doesn’t look angry, even though this photo opportunity came post-defeat.


Twixtmas and New Year’s Eve In Noddyland, 1 January 2017

Janie demonstrates the use of an infeasibly large tennis racket to defend an infeasibly small court

Where does a week like that go?

We had planned to go to the flickers on Boxing Day, but due to my self-inflicted bloating from the previous day in Paradise we decided to defer that visit until New Year’s Day – the next Ogblog piece will cover that visit – this one’s about Twixtmas.

Ah yes, Twixtmas. Everything has to have a name these days, or more accurately in this case, a marketing term.

Janie and I have long enjoyed Twixtmas, without knowing that the week between Christmas and New Year even had a name.

As long as the weather isn’t too cold/icy, we normally play tennis during that whole period; Christmas Day itself and Twixtmas, as indeed we did this year. Even my feeling of indisposition did not stop me from turning out (and competing) at the appointed hour on Boxing Day.

Bank Holiday Tuesday was a lot colder and too frosty to play; just as well, really, because Janie had got her dates a bit muddled and booked some work that day. I decided I might as well go back to the flat, exercise at the gym and do some work that day too. Janie hadn’t booked work for the Friday, so we decided simply to swap the Tuesday for the Friday.

We had a brace of titanic tennis battles Friday and Saturday; on both occasions we played for well over an hour and called it a draw at 6-6. But on Sunday Janie was unstoppable, making me fight and fight (often as not in vain) to hold my serve. Still, I kept the set going a full hour, we had fun and we got good exercise, which is mostly what it is about. Mostly.

What else did we do?

We both worked a bit.

We watched A Taste of Honey, the movie, which somehow Janie had never seen, then discussed teenage pregnancy for a while.

We had the next door neighbours, Joy and Barry (one side) plus Marcie (the other), in for drinks and “nibbles” (no-one wants dinner after Janie’s nibbles) on the Friday evening.

We watched a few episodes of the Attenborough Planet Earth II  over the week. We recorded the series when it was broadcast, but we normally make very little time for TV. These Planet Earth II programmes really are the bees knees. Indeed, if the programme makers wanted to show us close ups of bees knees, I’m sure they would.

We had a quiet evening in for New Year’s Eve, just as we like it. I think we watched one of those Attenboroughs and then both went to sleep an hour or so before midnight. Needless to say, we didn’t notice the leap second which added fractionally to the very end of 2016.

I Ogblogged a lot during Twixtmas, mostly working on my 2008 retrobogging. I did at one time consider writing Ogblog pieces describing the Ogblogging that I am doing, but came to the conclusion that even my loyalist readers (I include myself in that category) might draw the line at that degree of post-modern, geeky detail.

Janie can even hit the ball infeasibly well off the wrong foot, although only occasionally does so in the heat of battle.

One In A Million: Reflections On Real Tennis At The End Of My First Calendar Year, 25 December 2016

With thanks to Toni Friend for the picture, taken during the famous match between MCC and the visiting Australians in September 2016

I took some real tennis lessons in January 2016 and started playing tentatively in March, perhaps in earnest since April when I started playing twice a week.

I wrote a reflective piece with links on my first six months or so of real tennis in July – click here for that piece. For a cursory explanation of the game and links to sites that explain it well, I commend that July piece as a useful starting point.

This end of year piece builds on that July piece and reflects on my whole first calendar year playing this intriguing game, including some astonishing statistics.


August to December 2016 News Update And Ogblog Links

Strangely, just a week after writing my July 2016 reflective piece, I was selected to play my first competitive match for the MCC, against a party of visiting Australians in September.

I had in any case decided to have a few more lessons in August, once I had played about 50 competitive hours on court.

I also spent some time in Manchester in September, getting a chance to play a couple of times and have a lesson at the Manchester Real Tennis Club in Salford, which I enjoyed enormously.

Here are some links to pieces I wrote August through October – please note that the pieces might not be exclusively about real tennis:

You might observe that I was having a great time playing real tennis during those months, but there was one small problem. Between early July and late October my handicap signally failed to come down; it simply hovered around the rather inauspicious mark of 67.3 – better than my early mark in the mid-seventies, but certainly not the steady improvement towards 60 and beyond that I had been hoping for.

Apparently, this tendency to plateau at times is quite normal, although I think my first plateau was a little lowly and lengthy for someone of my age and stage.

Anyway, I got a good win the afternoon after the House of Lords (27 October – see the last link in the above list of links) and since then the progress has been relentless for a couple of months, ending the year at a more impressive 64.1 – still a long way to go but definitely back on the improvement curve.

Winning team: David, Tony Friend and me.

My progress was assisted (psychologically only, there’s no direct impact on the handicap) by an unexpected win in a skills tournament in early November – click here for a link to a write up of that one.

I did also play one more tournament this year, against Middlesex University Real Tennis Club, mentioned en passant in an Ogblog piece – click here.


Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics

Real tennis is quite a good game for a stats geek – not least because the real tennis on-line system is full of stats and tools through which you can measure yourself and weigh up your opponents. Not that I am even faintly at the stage (if indeed I ever shall be) that such tools would do much for me personally.

Still, for those who might be interested, here is an extract from the system (I have suitably redacted my opponents’ names) showing all of the handicap-contributing matches I have played so far in my so-called career – click here.

Digging deeper into the system, I can see how I have got on against each opponent and how those opponents have got on against other opponents – hours of fun to be had if/when I can be bothered.

However, one set of general stats has caught my eye, as this real tennis on-line system, including the handicapping, is used by every real tennis club in the world. I can see my handicap against pools of other players on various measures.

For example, if I look at my handicap compared with the current handicap of everyone who has ever had their handicap recorded on the system (about 15 years worth of data), I am ranked around 6,300 out of the 10,300 or so people who have ever been ranked.  That puts me somewhere around the 62nd percentile. Not bad for a beginner.

To be more accurate for playing purposes, it is probably better to restrict my search to active players – i.e. everyone who has played in the last year. On that basis, I am around the 3,000 mark out of 4,100 or so people who have played in 2016. That is around the 74th percentile or “bottom of the third quartile” mark. Still not too bad for a beginner.

But returning to the larger data set, I am intrigued by this 6,300 figure. Because that really is close to the sum total of people on the planet who could possibly stand a chance of beating me at this game. The game is so unlike other racket sports, it would be virtually impossible for anyone, even an elite sportsperson, to simply pick up a real tennis racket and beat someone who knows how to play, without having a lesson or two and a few goes first.

Given that there are somewhere between 7.4 and 7.5 billion people on the planet right now, that means, approximately speaking, that fewer than one in a million people are better at real tennis than I am.

Think about that statistic for just a moment. If an alien being from another planet were to come to planet earth and select a human being at random to play me at real tennis, there is only a one in a million chance that the other person would win.

I admit that this one-in-a-million stat is not a very useful statistic in practice, of course, but it is a rather awe-inspiring one in theory.

Just look at my technique again in the light of my impressive stats

Unexpected Victory Against The Odds, Mercifully Only A Real Tennis Skills Tournament At Lord’s, 8 November 2016

Victorious team: David, Tony Friend and Me

I didn’t have high hopes for the real tennis skills tournament at Lord’s. As the rookiest, lowest ranked player in the tournament, my hopes and expectations before the day were based around the avoidance of embarrassment rather than realistic hopes of outright victory.

I have written about real tennis and my “baby steps at the game before – not least in this article – click here.  

The skills required for this skills challenge tournament are stuff that I do very rarely in the heat of battle: hitting the fiendish “winning targets”, setting unfeasibly good chases and getting serves into the right area – the latter determined by a small “Its A Knockout”-style gayly-coloured plastic padding pool – not very Lord’s, that last prop.

To add to the slightly unnerving nature of the event, I discovered that I had been teamed with friend Tony Friend, who probably also expected little once he knew he’d been teamed with me. I e-mailed him a few weeks ago, getting my excuses in early:

I haven’t done skills night before and am not entirely sure what to expect.  Rest assured, at my current level of experience, I am not expecting to find any of the exercises even faintly easy.  But I shall certainly try my best.

He responded with a list of the challenges. I replied:

Excellent, excellent.  I normally do at least one of those things once during my hour…perhaps that wasn’t what you wanted to read.

The coaches at Lord’s tried to reassure me – “sometimes the novice players on the team do as well or better than the experienced players.”  I suspected that they were being kind and/or trying to prevent a drop out.

To add to my sense of foreboding, the third man in our team, David, announced that he hadn’t played for about a year, which I thought probably put the kibosh on any residual hopes I had of being carried by two really good players.

But my negative thoughts were wrong on all of those counts.

Truth is, the skills challenge is wicked hard for all concerned. Not least because many of the skills tested do not often come into the game naturally, so all players, experts and rookies alike, are having to adapt and adjust to the challenges.

One thing our team did right was to agree a rota and relentlessly move around quickly during each challenge to maximise the number of shots we got in each two-minute time-trial round. That practice alone must have upped our chances.

The other thing that went well for us was complementary skills; at least one of us did OK or well on each of the seven challenges. On two of the challenges – lay an excellent chase and force the dedans, all three of us got into a rhythm for a minute or so and clocked up a lot of points in a hurry. I didn’t score as many points as the other two, but I don’t think I scored that far shy of them and certainly pulled my weight as the team rookie.

In short, against the odds, we won by a short head. (Aptronymically, our team had been named “Three-Thirty at Haydock Park”).

But far more than the sweet taste of unexpected success, as usual with real tennis at Lord’s, the whole evening, in particular the company was excellent; a really friendly, pleasant crowd. Naturally, the food and beverage was excellent too – it was at Lord’s after all – a curry night, done very well.

Writing as the presidential polls close in the USA, I’m hoping against hope that our real tennis tournament result is the only major against the odds surprise of the night.

Did I mention that David, Tony Friend and I were the winning team? I probably should mention that somewhere, just for the sake of completeness.