“Playing tennis last August. I don’t play often.”
The bright light of that summer morning in St Andrew’s reappeared. No.1 son and I hitting balls back and forth. I was careful to direct the ball back to him, to keep the rally going. But soon, he was dinking little drop shots that, however hard I dashed and far I stretched, I just couldn’t reach. I was goaded, you see. My response was to up the tempo with some booming serves. That put an end to the cheeky drop shots and, three months on, had me seeking the attention of a physio.
“Just tennis? You did nothing else to it?” The physio began digging her thumb in amongst the tendons and joints of my upper back.
“Eh, yeah. No. Oww.”
“It won’t hurt for long,” she reassured me, with talon poised for another incision.
Rising to the challenge of a contest with a child is a common fault of adult men – and one that keeps the physiotherapy profession busy. I like to think we are infected by the carefree spirit of the child, and forget the limitation of our bodies. Less generously, we’re showing off. Dave, the ‘funny falling down man,’ as my kids know him, was guilty of this.
Dave visits us from the States while on business. He comes equipped and attired for meetings and strategizing: pure wool suit, Italian shoes and man bag.
On a wet day five years ago, he joined us on a trip out to burn off the kids’ surplus energy. While I kicked balls and played chase with the kids, Dave watched, apologising for the unsuitability of his clothing. Eventually, I declared there was time for just one more race. As we lined up, Dave appeared amongst the racers. On the G of ‘Go’ he hurtled forward. Closing in on the finishing line, he tried to ease up, but his leather soled shoes found no traction on the wet ground. He skidded, tripped and flipped head over heels, landing four or five meters past the finishing line on his shoulder. The kids howled with laughter. Dave struggled to his feet, clasping his shoulder.
At home, we sponged the mud and grass stains from Dave’s suit and dosed him up on pain-killers. Over night his shoulder seized up and I had to help dress him before he left for work. He struggled through his week of meetings. It took a course of intensive physiotherapy in the States for mobility to be restored. Even now, he claims there is a lump on his shoulder – a reminder of the dangers of competing with kids.
My physio had asked me: “Just tennis? You did nothing else to it?”
“Eh, yeah. No. Oww.”
And another image of that week in St Andrews flashed into my mind. Not the tennis court on a bright morning, but a patch of grass by the East Sands. The 1&onlyD and I waiting for Mother in the Middle. The 1&onlyD performing handstands and then turning cartwheels. I was asked to award marks for precision and flourish.
“Nine… Nine… Ten!”
“Go on, Daddy. Your go.”
“Five… Six… Six. Now try a round-off [cartwheel with a two-footed landing].”
Just the tennis, then. Not showing-off or being over-competitive – that would be dangerous for a man of my age.
2 March 2015 – edited and revised.