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Recounting Blessings

Chapter 6


1944-1949
Banknock Village – ‘Anyone for Tennis?’

The school summer holidays in July 1946 took in a planned fortnight’s stay in St. Andrews. I say ‘planned’ because it was foreshortened by a ‘clothing focused’ burglary of Schoolhouse, Banknock while we were away. The detectives later told us that, due to previous war-time rationing restrictions on clothes, the Glasgow criminal fraternity were busy supplying the black-market at the ‘Barrows’ on Glasgow Green with all apparel they could lay their hands on. In the event, we were left with only the clothes we had taken with us on holiday. Dad was worst hit because all his good suits ‘went west’ except for the ancient ‘plus-fours’ which he often wore but others would only have deemed wearable on a golf course a la Henry Cotton! Apart from being so out-of-fashion, we were told that these baggy anachronisms would have been too easily identified as stolen goods by police on the look-out in the areas where the burglars’ fences operated in the city.

However, all these traumas apart, we had a great holiday, albeit shorter than expected, in the city home of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club. Playing the Old Course did not interest my dad, but the same could not be said for our frequenting the lovely enclosed ‘Step-Rock salt water swimming pool arena with its nice wee beach and paddling for us wee folks. Mornings tended to be spent shopping and site-seeing, before we all played a daily game of putting on the magnificently smooth, yet delightfully undulating putting-greens near the West Sands prior to taking lunch in our very comfortable guest-house opposite the West Port. Afternoons were happily passed, swimming then shivering, paddling and sand-castle building, picnicking and ice-creaming, at the sheltered Step-Rock sun-trap.

Then one evening my mum said that she wanted to go for a walk along to Kinburn Park to see the tennis. The lure for my sister Elizabeth and I to go along with this was the presence there of swings and a shute. As it happenned, however, I was entranced by the game called tennis that all these folks in beautiful ‘whites’ were playing, and, as was my wont, I mentally decided that this would be a game that I would love to try to play when I got back to the village. I also knew that A.J. Mee’s Encyclopedia would no doubt supply me with its rules and many other relevant facts as well!

Our good friend, a local contractor, John McLean, duly came east in his big car to pick us up and whisk us home in the wake of the ‘break-in’ at the schoolhouse – incidentally, I first learned about ‘double-declutching’ the car gear-box on that return journey – but, apart from all the mess in the house left by the burglars, an almost unbelievable co-incidence occurred when I poked my head round the door of the cloak-room cum ‘glory hole’ walk-in cupboard under the schoolhouse stairs. There – before my very eyes – as if saying, ‘pick us up and play with us’ - were my parents’ two ancient tennis racquets, and from my Kinburn Park experience, I immediately had a fair idea of to what use I could put them!

So, as soon as things got back to normal – with mutilated doors and broken windows etc. repaired or replaced – I studied the encyclopedia, found as many tennis or rubber balls as I could, and headed off to the school playground with mum’s racquet to practise hitting balls against any wall that seemed reasonably clear of windows. The school had been built on a fair slope, so the gable walls in the rear playground, rose about four feet higher off the ground than those at the front street end. This meant that, unless I was very rash, the two windows on the sand-stone wall where I had chosen to experiment, might be relatively safe from harm. Wishful thinking, yes, but they indeed survived many a near miss in the rest of that summer, as well as in other years’ many, many summer hours spent on forehand and backhand (less controllable!) driving, lobbing and chipping against that wall.

As chalking the stone walls of the school was totally forbidden, I was only allowed to stone-scratch a few marks at the correct height to indicate where a tennis net would reach – although this target became more identifiable because of the building’s construction comprising huge well pointed and indented stone blocks. This chiselled indenting of the stone blocks of course made the directions taken by rebounding balls less predictable, which, while leading to a certain degree of frustration, also, as I became more skilful, provided excellent preparation for dealing with even the most inscrutable opponent’s returns in future playing of the real game.

In addition the playground was ‘multi-purpose’, as it housed two large shelters for pupils to use in wet weather! Thus I could also practise against their supporting walls in inclement weather, albeit in a more limited fashion … until … because the balls would become sodden from my quite often sclaffing them out sideways into the wet playground, the gut strings of my mum’s old racquet would burst and thus cause temporary deprivation until repaired in Palmer’s sports shop in Port Street, Stirling. Luckily we made the long journey to Stirling quite often by bus to visit my Grandma Henderson, so the sports’ shop became an attainable (essential in my eyes) port of call! 

Meanwhile, the idea of competitive tennis matches over a net became another priority objective, especially when, I, as a very normal selfish ‘infant terrible’, knew that I would win, mainly because neither my sister nor Robin, as prospective opponents, had practised as hard as I had. However, first things first – ‘Bumpy Ibrox’ had to be converted into a tennis court, and consequently some form of barrier had to be manufactured as a tennis ‘net’. In the event, strategically placed ‘bean-bags’ indicated where the court ‘lines’ were – a first cause of many ‘out/in’ arguments in later games. The second cause for umpteen debates came from the improvised barrier in the middle of the court. What we  invented for this ‘net’ was merely a bit of mum’s spare clothes’ rope stretched over and between two up-ended ‘orange-boxes’ weighted down with bricks. (c.f. The boxes were obtained from the garden as shown behind me in the photograph with the ‘cuv’ at my feet in Chapter One). This time the disputes were of the, ‘yes it’s over, no it’s under’ variety. Sad to say, in due course, for more reasons than just mere squabbling about decisions, competitive tennis was reluctantly abandoned. Why? Well, actual tennis courts have high protective net fencing around their peripheries. Unfortunately we had no such fencing. Indeed, worse still, as additional hazards, we not only had a hay or corn field at one end into which many a ball regularly disappeared never to be seen again, but also there was an impenetrable hawthorn hedge at the other end whose owners on its far side soon proved to be extremely unwelcoming people to approach with the request, ‘Can we please go down into your garden and get our ball back’!

Although this exciting competitive experiment was deemed another  relative failure, appetites for the game had been whetted, as witnessed by the fact that both Elizabeth and I not only continued to practise tennis against school walls in Banknock, and later in Cambusbarron and Bannockburn, but also became club champions in our teens at the Municipal LTC within the King’s Park, Stirling.


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