In the UK I used to play tennis at least once a week with a group of fantastic friends. (When I say ‘play tennis’ we didn’t really let the game get in the way of a good conversation and spent longer having coffees afterwards than we did on the actual match). Since moving here I am regularly to be seen with a tennis racket in hand but that is only to lob the ball as far down the garden as possible for the dog to retrieve, but I really missed playing properly. Recently I met a lovely ‘old’ (in his 70s I guess) man at an apero evening in the village and he said that he and his friends often had to play as a threesome so would I like to join them. I now find myself an honorary member of a men’s tennis 4 and it is the highlight of my week.
The first time I played I was extremely rusty but they were very patient and recognised occasional flashes of brilliance (!) so invited me to continue with them every week. Personally I think it is because they are so thrilled to find a woman who doesn’t speak much – I am pretty fluent in french and the words for ‘yours’ ‘mine’ and ‘out’ were easy but I have never before needed to know the words for ‘tramlines’ and the first time one of them shouted ‘recule’ at me I thought he was being rude, but now I know it means ‘run back’!
I have just played again this afternoon and have learned a lot of new french words - none of them to do with tennis, but I am also giving them a crash course in swearing in English! As none of them speak a word of the language so will never read this, I can introduce you to l’equipe:
Here is Francis who always reminds me of Alec Guinness in The Ladykillers. He is tall and skinny and is always accompanied by his very old dog who limps around the outside of the court. I dread the day he decides to wear shorts!
This is Janou, who I always think of as Benny Hill when he dressed as the boy-scout (with the fetching socks and shorts outfit). He looks like a typically grizzly french farmer but is very kind and can run much faster than you can imagine!
Jean-Jacques wears more jewellery than I do and spends much of the game announcing the score, wrongly and always in his favour. He is quite short so when you lob him he just stands there and calls for a ladder.
And finally Joel, who has the perfect outfit for every occasion and brings several changes of caps and sunglasses, selecting just the right accessory depending on which side of the court he is playing!
So, all very different from the group of attractive female friends I used to play with, and the setting is world’s apart too. Playing on a hard-court under a bright blue sky, with the Pyrénées in the background and the Mediterranean just visible on the horizon, and hearing the clanks and thuds of a vicious game of petanque being played on the dusty car park, makes my years of playing on an indoor carpeted court at David Lloyd just a distant memory (but a very good one!).
It seems strange to me that even the scruffiest looking villages have such excellent sports facilities, but I am very much enjoying taking advantage of it and have just paid my annual membership fee to the club – 40 euros!