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Monday, April 12, 2021

The Unbelievable Lightness of Being … a Squash Player

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Young and old caught up in life at the courts
Young and old caught up in life at the courts

The beauty of squash, distilled in a day of life on court
By ALAN STAPLETON – Squash Mad South Africa Correspondent

 

I wrote this article, because I knew not what to write. Battered by financial year-end business bashings, bent by budgets and tangled into new targets, I stared, frustrated, at a blank, Writer’s Blocked Wall.

This article and year-end business reports called me. Deadlines dead-lined themselves at me. The seemingly unbearable heaviness of corporate being weighed down on me.

Then came a phone call. “You got a court? What time? Yip, I’ll be there. Maybe a bit late, but I’ll be there…”

I snuck out, muddled my way through the mid-afternoon Port Elizabeth traffic, and in 20 minutes, we were stretching on to the courts. They echoed in silence as we warmed up.

Some 45 minutes later, having driven, dropped, lobbed, schemed, screamed and sweated, we emerged. Yes, I had won, and that is always good but it was the cut-and-thrust of the contest that counted. That battle of minds and muscles had taken us away from the world and lightened our load.

Salty sweat dribbled from my nose into a frosty-glassed beer. I sat back, closed my eyes …That was good. But this Sport Elizabeth article bugged me. What can I write about? Deadline is tomorrow.

A light flickered in my mind. I had been reading Milan Kundera’s “The Unbearable Lightness of Being “ … and my thoughts drifted. That light shone brighter.

Kundera’s novel is physically light, but heavy in philosophical thought. He explores the lightness of being, questions the lack of ultimate meaning in life, in searching for momentary beauty. While that 45 minutes could be interpreted as “momentary beauty”, the whole package of squash offers far more than that.

As we muzzled over our beers, a dribble of players started oozing into the courts. We were about to witness something special.

Young and old, some creaking, others screeching. Some bore new equipment – glistening racquets, squeaky new shoes, gym vests. Others, laboured under the weight of their dusty, wooden-framed antiques, patched bags, bandaged knees, rugby shorts and baggy tee shirts. Vintage stuff.

With them came wives, husbands, children, friends, and colleagues. As rules were read, boxes of brightly coloured corporate shirts were unpacked, sized and fitted. Under the WEE policy, all teams have to include a woman.

Arriving Late is a heinous offence, and Early Departures, frowned upon.

The wearing of new squash shoes could also see some veritable punishment. The matches are short – 25 minutes. But non-stop stuff. And if you have not played for eight years, or are a virtual beginner, 25 minutes can feel like a lifetime. This, Mr Kundera, is no momentary beauty.

No, this was not a high-powered inter-provincial tournament. This was the Crusaders Corporate League where 10 Corporates, annually come together. From their squashed air-conditioned luxurious offices, they had carefully selected and called upon players to represent them over the next six weeks. Some are regular players, others, squash virgins, and then there are those, who, at some time in their misty pasts, have dabbled in the game.

And so, they gathered at the moat of The Crusaders Squash Castle. Teams of five players from Investec, Old Mutual, MDA Architects, PLU, San Miguel, Mazars, Kerrygold, ECM, Rhino Plastics, and trotting behind, The Castle Lite Striders from SA Breweries. For them, this was all about the unbeerable Liteness of Being!

Bolstered by some top players, and some promising juniors, there was some quality stuff to imbibe and imitate. There was also some squiggly, squonky stuff, and lots of huffing, puffing and panting.

Freshies, hot shots (Ramy Ashour – you could pick up some ideas here) and frantic fetching were all part of a sheer unadulterated joy de vivre, kiddies-playground stuff filled with competitive fun. No markers, no queries, no arguments, no fights. Classic encounters there were, a-plenty.

Leanne, a virgin from a previous year, who had improved enormously, had one against 10 year old Marco. And this year’s virgin, Anele, known to all, as Ace, resplendent in green, swished, swayed, and dived into a puddled dribble of sweat.

The support was even more impressive. From far and yonder they came – Nigeria, Spain, London, even East London – colleagues, family and kids. The kids, they had a ball. Coked-up and fully-Simba’d, they cheered and clapped, sitting on dad’s shoulders or Mom’s laps, giggling at the tangled contortions into which their daddies and mommies twisted themselves. And, when there was an opening, they squirrelled onto the courts, to bash their own little league.

By 8pm, the matches were done, early enough for some bed-time reading, but also early enough for some fun time where the fearsome Fines-master, Neale Emslie, politely punished those who had wandered from the straight and narrow. Popular PE minstrel, Claire Venn and squash-playing rocker, Justin Horn entertained, and players then feasted in mirth and merriment.

But behind all the iron-curtained Branding, through the Corporate network, secrets and shares were shared, friends found, and doors and ideas opened… for future business.

Nightly they left, sometimes early, sometimes late. The morning-after produced heavy heads and stiffened bodies and they waited … in anticipation for mention in The Corporate Chronicles that were published, early, or late the next day, depending on the scribe’s departure time.

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Scores were logged, but nobody really looked. The winners will take away their miniature trophied courts for office bragging rights. Some will have been converted and will return for their weekly squash communion. Others will pack away their weapons, and continue with their daily grinds.

But they will all leave, filled with at least, some lighthearted memories that will give a little more meaning to life.

The clearing of the mind, the calories lost and seeming lightness of the body, the light-hearted laughter.

Now, I know why I wrote this article. Milan Kundera – you should have played squash.

Your novel, The Unbelievable Lightness of Being … a Squash Player, would have been a winner.

 

 

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