Adventures in Obscurity
This is a challenging writing assignment. Starting with the 100th edition of the Chase the First newsletter, I am going to write a monthly story about court tennis. The challenge results from there being two audiences.
The first will find the stories in a newsletter aimed squarely at players and fans of a game that is unknown to most but deeply loved by those who do know it. The second will find them on pundificator.com, my third (and current) website, which is aimed at a far more general audience.
We are going to have to compromise. The court tennis fans will have to put up with a little more explanation than they would like and those new to this theme will have to be a bit open minded about something quite different and — sadly — somewhat obscure.
Let’s hope we all get along with each other better than Democrats and Republicans.
My real tennis adventure began six decades ago. Sadly, it was not consistent as there were long periods when I lived in places that lacked courts. On balance, the easier course would have been to move to a place they did have a court, but the easier course seems rarely have been the one I chose.
Hence, one of my six decades was spent with a group of stalwarts mostly failing but finally succeeding at building Prince’s Court near Washington, DC. This series will include a story on that saga.
For those new to this game, we need to spend a moment on its name. For about 700 years, it was called tennis, but nearly 150 years ago, the name was pinched by its far better-known successor. Since then, the game has been called real tennis in England, court tennis in the United States, royal tennis in Australia and Jeu de Paume in France. (Jeu de Paume means game of the palm because, for many centuries, it was not played with a racket.) Thanks to a virulent case of Anglophilia, my personal preference is real tennis, but forgive me in advance for interspersing the name court tennis as well.
The idea for this series came from the recently published, “A Tennis Passport to the Tennis Courts of the World.” The idea for the book was conceived by Edward J. Hughes and it was published by Ronaldson Publications in Oxford, England.
The book is designed to encourage players to pack their bags and travel to other courts where they will meet enthusiasts like themselves. Fortunately for us, travel to and from Australia, England, France, and the United States, the four countries in which the game is played, is far easier and cheaper than it once was.
Here are pictures of the operative passport pages to give you an idea of the theme of the book.
As in all passports, there is supposed to be a picture, and this one seems about as good as any. Yes, Henry VIII did play real tennis and he built a lovely court at Hampton Court Palace.
“[The] book is dedicated to those tennis travelers who have been willing to pack a little kit, a racquet or two, and head off to visit the other courts and clubs, and to discover and make new friends of their fellow players in this rarest of games; and for those new players willing to follow in those footsteps. It is also in grateful appreciation for those hosts who welcome these tennis rovers and ambassadors to their countries, their courts, their clubs, and their homes.”
Here is the Introduction written by Ed Hughes.
There follow two facing pages on each court in the world. On the left is a narrative about the court and on the right is a picture under which, the visitor is invited to write the date of his visit, the scores of his game, and any comments that might occur to him.
Another note on words. This is a game that was once only played by a “him,” but that is no longer the case. Some of our best players are “hers” as are some of my closest friends in the game, but that does not mean I am going to put a “him or her” speed bump into every sentence, where political correctness has triumphed over writing style.
The idea of traveling from place is not as daunting as it sounds. Though the game has been played for 700 to 1000 years, less than 50 courts remain in the world.
I have played in all but two, one of which is under construction. This summer I expect to add both to my life list. The framework for this series will be the experience of playing a game that is played by less than 10,000 people in the world but is loved by those players more than any other game I have ever played (or heard of). It is also a story of the wonderful people I have come to know thanks to doing so.
Maybe, when the monthly journey is done, we will have some idea why such a small game can be so loved or, for that matter why we love any game. Or, maybe we will just have had a good time as I have as I have had for the last 60 years.