“I don’t like your attitude!” snapped the club captain to me as we squared up to each other over the debatable state of the club’s grass courts.
“And I don’t like yours!” I volleyed back at her before she swanned imperiously back off to the club house, no doubt to complete some kind of complaint form about stroppy club members who don’t know a good court when they play on one.
The reason for this members’ tiff has been the cause of many members’ anguish – not to say damaged knee ligaments – in recent years.
The club’s grass courts although serene to look at from over half a mile away, are actually treacherous minefields when you actually play on them. They are potholed; some have moles residing under the service lines, and, as I suggested earlier, court five has its own species of hazard under its surface – continuously moving snooker balls which shift during a point so that on one occasion a ball can bounce perfectly logically and the next it will either stop dead in its tracks; not bounce at all and roll along the ground; or rear up at you at double the pace you thought it was travelling and strike you on the temple with all the force of a supercharged cricket ball.
The undulating surface that is the Centre Court has led to many a concussed ageing tennis player. Like the British Empire, you never know what you’re going to get, what it’ll do when it gets there and what damage it will wreak later on.
This is a problem, however, that will not only not go away, it is one that is unfixable. The grass tennis court is a source of national identity and pride that is lodged so strongly in the English psyche that no amount of damaged knees, black eyes or litigation claims will ever persuade the club committee to bite the bullet and say “Yes, grass has had its time, but no more of this antiquated surface. The way forward is Astroturf! And god bless all who play on her.”
Our devotion to grass is admirable in the way it conjures up memories of Pimms, cucumber sandwiches, and serfs who know their place and maintain the right attitude to those in authority.
Nevertheless, in the 21st century, these memories of empire enshrined on our grass courts continue to cause lasting damage not just to the political terrain, but, more importantly, to our knees as well.
It’s about time we concreted over the lot of them. The courts that is, not our knees.