When conversation slows or someone asks what I’ve done during the week I like to drop in a little phrase about real tennis.
I sometimes think I only play the game in order to drop it into conversations.
Most people have never heard of it.
Why did you need to go all the way to Hatfield House to play?
What do you mean real tennis?
It leads to conversations about old houses, travel, historical figures.
I love visiting Hardwick House in Oxfordshire because it is apparently Toad Hall from Wind in the Willows.
The author, Kenneth Grahame, used to live in the nearest town of Pangbourne and the owner of Hardwick House was Charles Day Rose.
Rose (or Mr Toad as he should be forever called) loved aviation, cars, boats, horses. You go there and can almost see him zooming down the lanes, scaring all the locals in a motorcar when they had only just been introduced to the UK.*
I love the weird and wonderful people you meet while playing, the travelling to different courts all over the world.
It’s not the most practical sport to play, but it is a pretty good conversation starter.
Swing dancing has been my latest thing, although I’m considering only going fortnightly so that I can make it to some life drawing classes.
But (by social conventions) when someone asks me “What do I do?” I should technically said “I work in a pub.”
But I don’t associate the pub work with “What I do”.
I see it as something that pays my rent and gives me a lot of time to talk to strangers.
But a regular at the pub commented last night that I looked remarkably comfortable with myself.
He asked whether maybe I just worked at the pub for amusement, rather than actually needing to.
I have to admit to desperately needing to work in the pub in order to volunteer my day hours to classes and research, but I am extremely comfortable with that.
I know it’s not permanent. I know I could return to Australia and make a lot more money if that interested me. I have an extremely supportive family who trust my direction and potential.
I also know a lot about what I don’t want to do.
I feel sometimes I’ve had a bit of a strange life.
I began as a child unable to express how I felt or what I wanted.
I turned into a teen with inexplicably low self esteem.
I changed schools. I started studying lots of different things. I worked in lots of different jobs. I travelled a lot by myself. I’ve had so many opportunities and met so many different people. I’ve friends who are millionaires, I have friends who are homeless.
But my only explanation of my comfort is that it is a result of experience mixed with freedom of choice.
I don’t want to be a mechanic, a chef, a pilot, a sports coach, a horse trainer, an artist, an event manager, an English teacher, a musician, a scientist, a conventional fashion designer, a paramedic…
How do I know know?
I’ve studied or worked in all those areas for at least a year.
I don’t think I can help it.
I get it from my parents who are insanely busy people.
But, until you try something, you always wonder.
And even if it’s not your thing, even if you try a whole lot of random activities and they all end in disaster…
…it leads to far better conversations in the pub.
*Francis Cecil Ricardo and Kenneth’s son Alastair Grahame (Mouse) have also been credited as being the inspiration behind Mr Toad.
This court (pictured) is not a real real tennis court. It is in the Basque country, is five hundred years old and is smaller than the usual real tennis courts. They usually play trinquete (a version of Basque pelota) on this court.