The Return of the Tennis Menace

What luck!  I was mowing the back lawn, down the back near the shed, where the hydrangeas are constantly threatening to take over completely, when I found it.  It was lying in some long(ish) grass, a perfect, yellow sphere.  Picking it up, I could see that a brand-new tennis ball had found its way into the yard.  It was as if it had dropped down from heaven itself.

 I took it as a sign.  Having been gifted a brand-new tennis ball, I would now devote myself to becoming a tennis player.  All I needed now were tennis shoes, tennis socks, tennis shorts, a tennis shirt, tennis hat, a tennis racquet, a tennis court and a tennis net and I’d have all the gear you need to play tennis.  Granted, that sounds like a lot, but it all means nothing without a tennis ball, which I had.  Without a tennis ball, all those other things are for naught.

 Truth be told, I didn’t just find a brand-new tennis ball.  I also picked up two lemons and a ping-pong ball in near-pristine condition – but I don’t want to bite off more than I can chew, at least where the lemons are concerned, so I’m ignoring them for the minute to focus on my tennis career.  It’s going incredibly well.

 It’s not as though I’m starting from scratch.  For a time when I was a teenager, I took tennis lessons.  I don’t know why – it’s not as though we had a tennis court, so the opportunity to practice between lessons was essentially non-existent.  I’m not sure if my parents saw some potential in me or it was some kind of joke, but I took tennis lessons for a couple of years.

 There are several reasons why the Tyabb Tennis Court has never hosted the Australian Open.  Firstly, there’s no seating to speak of, which makes it hard to sell tickets.  There was a clubhouse of sorts, which I remember as the kind of structure you’d expect to find attached to an on-site van at a mid-range caravan park.  

Immediately behind the clubroom, there was the Frankston to Stony Point train line which was both a good and a bad thing.  If the words ‘close to public transport’ are considered a positive, the Club couldn’t have been any closer without the risk of being cleaned up by the 4:45 limited express to Frankston. 

On the downside, any overly- ambitious lob was destined to sail over the clubhouse and land smack bang in the middle of the tracks.  Which is awkward.  It’s hard to imagine Novak or Daniil slipping through the hole in the fence to retrieve a lob that’s landed in between the sleepers.

When I first started playing tennis, I was terrible.  After a couple of years of lessons and lots of effort, I remained terrible and as a reward for this extraordinary feat of consistency, I no longer had to go to lessons.  I’m not sure whether this was a decision of my parents or at the invitation of the coach, but either way I was off the hook.

I retired my racket – a heavy, lumbering object made of wood that looked as though it could have been used by Bjorn Borg sometime in 1975.  Whereas the rest of the tennis world had moved on to exciting, lightweight rackets made of graphite, my tennis racket was an old piece of timber that may once have been a chair.  It has remained in a closet at my father’s house ever since.

 I came out of retirement briefly.  My brother owned a house that had a tennis court and, naturally enough, every family function from that point on included some kind of tennis tournament.  Given that I had had lessons from someone who, if not a professional, had at least watched an entire tennis match from start to finish, I fancied my chances.  To put it mildly, I was extremely confident, especially given I was in my mid-twenties and was pitted against my twelve-year-old cousin.  It was hardly fair.

The score line told the story – six games to love.  That’s not a result so much as it is a crime scene, with dignity falling victim to a fatal attack.  Besides, all’s fair in six love and war.  Job done; I trotted up to the net to shake my cousin’s tiny hand.  ‘Good game’, I said, trying to sound as encouraging as possible.  ‘Sorry for beating you,’ my twelve-year-old cousin replied.  At that point, I told her that there was something in my eye before excusing myself for some time out in the caravan behind the shed.  I tried to compose myself but, such was my state of mind, I only ended up composing ‘Baby’ by Justin Bieber instead.  I retired immediately.

All great sport stories require a comeback.  Mostly, they involve a return from injury or a bad patch of form.  But never, in the history of sports, has there been a comeback by someone who started out rubbish, didn’t so much as lift a tennis racket for the best part of three decades and then returned to the sport in middle age, taking out a grand slam.  This, clearly, was my destiny.

Clutching my new tennis ball, I stood in front of the hydrangea bush, half expecting it to burst into flames or, better still, for an arm clutching my tennis racket to reach out to present it to me, like Arthur’s Excalibur, but nothing happened.  Using a spatula I found resting on the patio couch, I bounced the ball a couple of times before it hit an edge, rolled off the porch and under the deck, where it now resides with everything else we’ve lost and will probably never see again.  My great tennis comeback was over before it even had a chance to begin.  Anyone for ping pong?

The Maroon 5th Circle of Hell

Everyone has a limit.  A point beyond which, if pushed, they are destined to break.  For some, they stumble across their breaking point when they least expect it.  Not me.  I know all too well the thing that sends my spirit into freefall, generally eviscerating my will to live.  For some it’s the sight of a sodden kitten caught in rainstorm.  Others can’t stand the thought of an impending nuclear holocaust.  But, for me at least, it’s the music of Maroon 5.

Normally, I’d write something here about ‘not wanting to offend any fans of Maroon 5’.  But if I’m being honest, I do.  There’s something about their highly-preened soft-rock stylings that gets me completely offside.  It’s not that they rub me the wrong way; it’s that the thought of the physical contact necessary to rub me in any direction at all that gives me the heebie-jeebies. It’s music that’s custom-made for carparks and shopping malls.  Like Nickelback but with a better haircut and a higher voice.

I had rung my internet service provider for the simple reason that I had no internet.  The way I see it, they’ve only got one job and they were failing terribly.  They weren’t much better at running a call centre.  When you ring a call centre, they do everything they can to talk you out of it.  The experience begins with a recording, featuring a voice solemnly intoning that wait times are ‘longer than usual’ as a result of a ‘high volume of calls’.  If that’s not enough, they then offer you the option of a ‘call back’, so that instead of wasting time on hold, you get to suffer the indignity of them ringing you at the least convenient moment possible.  

I wasn’t going to give up that easily.  I hung on.

Then things turned nasty.  Without warning, I was put on hold.  Generally, hold music falls into two distinct categories – there’s the ‘corporate loop’ message, where a musical tidbit is played incessantly whilst someone who sounds so upbeat that they must not be on hold tells you all kinds of useless information about the company.  These information morsels generally begin with ‘did you know?’ and then tell you that instead of being stuck on hold and visibly ageing as you wait, you could submit your query online instead.  Which, of course, would be true if the reason for calling was for something other than the fact of not having any internet.

But corporate shoutouts are one thing.  What happened to me next was an entirely different level of inanity.  As the voiceover segued into music, I was suddenly and unexpectedly confronted by the sounds of ‘She Will be Loved’ by Maroon 5.  On a loop.  Which, if you’re on hold for the best (or worst) part of forty minutes, is quite the experience.  

In Dante’s Inferno, some people mistakenly think the fifth circle of hell is wrath, made up of a swamp.  Those people are wrong.  The fifth circle of hell consists exclusively of the music of Maroon 5 in all its steaming, sulphuric glory.  

Ordinarily, if exposed to the music of Maroon 5, I’d take evasive action.  If that means jumping from a moving vehicle because ‘Moves Like Jagger’ comes on the radio, so be it.  Hot asphalt at twenty miles an hour is still preferable to having to sit through ‘Moves Like Jagger’.  But this time there was nowhere to jump to that wouldn’t cost me my place in the queue.

After what seemed like and may well have been an eternity, I was put through to someone who gave me ten different versions of ‘have you tried turning it off and on again?’  After an exhaustive exchange that included everything from trying to reset the modem using a paper clip, to jumping up and down on one leg and chanting, I was no closer to having internet.

I’ll admit I was cranky.  When the very cheery person on the other end of the line asked whether I had any feedback, I took my chance.  First of all, I checked to make sure that our call was being recorded for quality and training purposes.  When he confirmed it was, I unloaded.  I told him in no uncertain terms that leaving people on hold and making them listen to the same soft rock song repeatedly was not so much ‘customer service’ as it was a calculated attempt to punish anyone foolish enough to ring for help.  There was an awkward silence, before a gentle ‘click’.  Our time together was over.

It’s an awkward age we live in.  One where corporate behemoths are so desperate for your approval that every interaction – no matter how minor – warrants a customer satisfaction survey.  Mine arrived about thirty seconds later.  If you’re the fire department, you’re unlikely to issue a satisfaction survey whilst someone’s house is still on fire. Similarly, internet companies should avoid sending surveys that beg you to tell them how awesome they are whilst you still have no internet to speak of.  Not even Maroon 5 would do something that silly.

It took some time, but I now have internet again.  That means I’m finally in a position to submit an online query to my internet provider to ask why my internet isn’t working, even though it is.  I could always say that I was asking for a friend.  

And whilst I sailed through my internet-less life easily enough, due in large part to the fact that I’ve refused to get rid of my DVDs, the soft rock stylings of Maroon 5 now haunt me in my dreams.  In fact, things are now so bad that I commonly avoid closing my eyes altogether, just to be sure that the gentle strains of ‘She Will Be Love’ doesn’t devour me as I sleep.  Consider it lesson learned – never ring a help line.  Instead, from this point on I’ll make all my complaints by telegram.