Anyone for tennis?

Last Sunday Sandy Chadwin participated in a literary cricket match in Cullercoats. It was The Cullercoats Test, part of the IRON in the Soul Festival…..

Sandy in colourThis time last week, for reasons that remain complicated and mysterious to me, I found myself playing cricket in front of a small crowd. This has made me consider my relationship to sport in books.

                Now I am not a sporty person. I have only ever been to two football matches, one cricket match and at school I was always the last boy chosen to be on the team. I rarely watch sporting events, though I do have a soft spot for the ball-by-ball commentary the radio does for the Test Matches. So, it is not altogether surprising that my library has little sport related material in it.

Amongst the many sports that I do not play is golf. So it is slightly odd that after the Jeeves tales, my favourite PG Wodehouse stories are his Oldest Member ones which are all about that particular sport. Wodehouse himself was a mildly obsessive player and was known to complain that if he hadn’t had to make a living doing all that writing and so on, he might have ended up with a half-decent handicap. Even if you’ve never played or watched a game and don’t know your mashie from your driver, do give them a go. They’re the literary equivalent of exquisite dainties to be relished and lingered over. And the Jeeves & Wooster stories are even better. Then there’s the golf match between James Bond and Goldfinger in the novel of the latter’s name which is surprisingly tense and entertaining to read. That has more to do with Ian Fleming’s underestimated writing skills than any putative interest I might have in the game. And the Magic Roundabout tie-in book, Dougal’s Scottish Holiday (written by Eric Thompson, Emma’s dad, who improvised the TV show’s narration) has the immortal line: ‘”Niblick?” said Angus. “At your age? ‘Tis a mashie-niblick at least.”’*thompsons

                Now, those of a certain age may remember a humour writer called Michael Green. He wrote an endless series of comic books with the running title of The Art of Coarse [insert subject matter here]. They were everywhere, along with those silver-spined Executioner thrillers and Alastair MacLean novels. Anyway, the first of this epic series was The Art of Coarse Rugby. Now, I had to play rugby at two the educational establishments I ended up attending and have been left with a deep and profound loathing of the game and all who have any doings with it. I do, however, have a soft spot for this comic guide to it. Possibly because it’s mainly about cheating and one-upmanship and has a happy disregard for the rules that would have reduced certain masters and enthusiastic pupil-players to apoplexy.

                And that does seem to be pretty much it. Terry Pratchett’s Unseen Academicals (football) has its moments but they never entirely gel for me. And there was that children’s book The Goal Keeper’s Revenge & Other Stories which every boy had presented to him during the ‘70s but which I never read. Actually, if anyone reading this did read it, give me a shout. Remembering it, I’m now mildly interested in what it was about/like. Anyway, Dick Francis’ horse racing thrillers are nearly always fun. They were co-written by his wife, by the way, who was never given any credit as the publishers thought acknowledging the input of a woman (!) would damage sales. Hey ho.

                But to end on a happier note, I cannot speak for the rest of the mixed gender team that I played with, but it was fun and you never know, I might have a go at playing again.  Or at least writing about it.

*Dougal’s Scottish Holiday is worth reading for many reasons, not least being that it’s the funniest portrayal of ‘professional’ Scotsmen that I’ve read, and I’m an enthusiastic ‘amateur’.