Cycling · Orientation · Sport

Week 30: Real Tennis

Aside from Easter Monday, this was a pretty ordinary and uneventful week. Each day would involve riding into the department, working, having lunch, working some more, going home for dinner and relaxing through the evening. That isn’t to say nothing interesting happened. On Tuesday, I went with Jacqueline to see another potential house for next year. This one had been arranged by Emma, who had a temporary hold on the place and was looking for tenants for the remaining three bedrooms. It was relatively close to the centre of town, yet still in a quiet enough area. Being a terraced house it was long and narrow, but still managed to fit all of the features required and some more. The bedrooms were relatively spacious, and the common areas were mostly well-fitted out. We decided to let Emma know that we would go for it; even though we still have one room spare to fill.

It wasn’t the weekend when things broke from their relative norm. On Saturday, still thinking about the upcoming sportive in Yorkshire, I took the train to Hitchin in Hertfordshire for a 55 km bike ride getting in as many hills as I could. For a half-hour train ride from flat Cambridge, there was some relatively impressive slopes around, and so I managed to get in five relatively decent climbs en route. Most of them were exceptionally narrow roads and hence were extremely beautiful. I did, however, crash at one point; turning a sharp right I rode over some loose gravel and my bike fell from underneath me. Somehow, I managed to stay on my feet and get back on, but my rear derailleur was knocked out of alignment; something that would need fixing later.

Sunday, on the other hand, was a big day for socialising. In the morning, I met with Krittika, Paul and Jacqueline for Sunday Brunch at Darwin, as several other colleges were closed due to the term break. Later, I met Harum for Sunday Roast, again at Darwin, after which we sat down to work out our committee for this year’s Gates Orientation. We had put a call out for nominations and had received too many for the places available, and had to go through and select the candidates based on a short (200 word) paragraph they had each written. By the end, we had a list of names, which we had to go and contact and let them know of the news.

That afternoon, Joanna and Danny came to Darwin (plus Jacqueline, who stayed around) as I had arranged for us to go punting. Joanna and Danny had just come back from a period in the US, and so this was an opportunity to catch up with them again. I took the chance to wear my punting hat and gown, much to their amusement. We went down the river, past all of the old colleges and delighted in watching the tourists subtly (or otherwise) try to take photos of me dressed up. After, we had a small picnic in the college gardens where we tried to eat through a watermelon I had left over, among other snacks.

The following Monday evening, I met with Krittika after dinner, as she had picked up a flyer from somewhere offering a Real Tennis tryout. For context, Real Tennis is an old racquet and ball game that was very popular amongst the English and French nobility during the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. It is considered a precursor to modern day Lawn Tennis insofar as opposing players try to hit a ball over the net to each other. Real Tennis racquets are smaller, asymmetrical and more tightly strung, and the balls are heavier and handmade with cork. On a Real Tennis court, like a squash court, players can play the ball off any of the side walls, though three of the four sides of the court feature raised penthouses, were the ball can roll (or bounce) around an angled slope. There are also several galleries on the sides where the point is won automatically if the ball ends up there, and on one side of the court there is an angled tambour in the wall where the ball may bounce away at an unexpected oblique angle if hit. There are also complicated rules about what happens if the ball bounces twice on the floor, relating to how the next few points are supposed to be played, the so-called ‘chase’.

Krittika and I were two in two dozen or so newcomers there. The courts in Cambridge are special in the 43 or so remaining in the world in that there are in fact two courts at the one venue. For the first little while, we watched a game through one of the netted galleries of one of the courts, and then in a kitchen/lounge room overlooking the other. Through this time, the members of the Real Tennis club who were there were trying to explain the complicated chase rules, which really have to be observed to be understood. After being served some pizza and drinks, we were taken out onto the court to have a few hits of the balls. One of the coaches at the club, Kees, took us all through a few drills. At first, the instinct is to play the ball like a regular tennis shot, with a large backlift, an angled-down racquet to provide topspin, and a flashy follow-through. In short, this technique didn’t work. Instead, one has to play it more like a table-tennis shot; more of a push through, but with the racquet angled up. We tried serving and returning with mixed but improving success. At the end, Kees suggested that we play some short doubles games. This really put our limited skills to the test, as we had to be able to play the ball of the penthouses as they rolled around to us, often landing at the rear of the court by the back wall. We tried a couple of times, then moved to the second court with a couple of other newcomers to keep going. On the whole, it was thoroughly unique and enjoyable, something I would hardly ever get to do anywhere else.

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