Archive for the ‘sports’ Category

Single in Cowtown…

March 30, 2009

Of recent weeks I have been a shut-in, and not for reasons of my own choosing. The stomach flu has felled me and kept me captive of the ‘salle de bain’ as one might politely put it. This naturally has zero amusement quotient. Friends have kept me at phone-call length, in between bouts of delivering broths of various sorts. Rumpole, too, keeps a necessary distance, going so far as to make food and libations for mainly himself so that I cannot contaminate foodstuffs he plans to ingest.

A couple of days ago Our Lady of Perpetual Crisis phoned again to check on my progress or lack thereof. Having her for a friend is like having a personal stand-up comic in attendance and on call to lift the spirits when occasion demands. She regaled me with anecdotes about a particular co-worker at the hospital rehab unit where she works. Apparently this particular chap keeps recovering stroke victims in stitches. Naturally, OLPC is also such a caregiver and provides much levity in a situation that is often fraught with frustration for patients.

So, this time I innocently enquired about any good stories and gossip which might amuse me presently and in times to follow.

“How goes Daphne’s life in Cowtown? Has she sold her house yet? Has she found herself a new man upon whom to lavish her attentions and affections?”

“You know, G,” said OLPC, “Daph hasn’t been able to get a bite on her house yet, and it’s been a year since she’s had her place up for sale. She absolutely hates Cowtown and says it has not much to recommend living there.”

“Is she still boarding the Uni’s water polo boys?”

“Oh, yeah. It keeps her out of trouble. Besides which you know what a controlling den-mother she can be.”

“This must mean she has not found a suitable man her age to hang out with,” I suggested. “I’m surprised she hasn’t given up the quest.”

“On no!” chortled OLPC. “Daphne never gives up the quest, as long as she is breathing. After all… you realize… she is Cougar Extraordinaire. You’ve got to hear a bout the toe-sucking farmers from Canmore!!!”

“The what? The who?…. yuck, blech!”

OLPC proceeded to fill me in on Daphne immersing herself in the famous Cowtown Briar Curling Bonspiel – a mad whirl of watching teams skid flattened bowling balls down the length of ice whilst madly sweeping their brooms ahead of the coasting objects. Apparently this is a well lubricated event, with non-playing teams retiring to the on site watering hole called the Briar Patch, in between their turns on the ice.

Naturally, to a Cougar Extraordinaire, this is prime stalking grounds. Maybe easy stalking grounds. The game tends to be variously inebriated, which makes the hunting unfairly weighted in favour of the hunters, not the hunted. It so happened that Daphne bagged a whole passel of drunken farmers from Canmore, who proceeded, each in turn, to demonstrate that long-lost art of toe-sucking in public spaces. As OLPC was telling me this, I had a mad vision of Daphne, lounging at a bar table with her leg elevated onto the edge of the table, while each Canmore farmer took turns in nibbling at her stockinged toes. Hand kissing, in the French Manner, is something of which I am rather fond, but toe-sucking in the Canmore Fashion defies even my imagination.

We were laughing, helpless with mirth. Naturally, to be fair, there is something in the atmosphere of Cowtown which compels even the most decorous lass and lad to let down their hair and behave in an unthinkable manner in public. I admitted to OLPC that back thirty some years ago, while attending a three-day International Ceramics Symposium in Cowtown, I succumbed to the wild lure of the place and danced on tabletops in a number of bars on the blow-out evening after the symposium.

I never knew I had the capacity for such wanton wildness. Must have been because I was still single then. Got to spot Daphne some leeway, now, since she is once again single, although a middle aged matron with two grown children.

I do wonder how she feels whenever recounting vague memories of this toe-sampling incident. I think I might feel compelled to sign up for a body transplant so no one could ever recognize me as the scandalous recipient of such public and serial attention.

As for the farmers from Canmore, let’s hope they used plenty of mouthwash when they returned to bunk in at their hotel suite.

Still madly chortling in Suburbia…. a shocked Stepford Wife.

Tennis Bat?

June 17, 2008

The month of June in the Central Interior of British Columbia is always a beautiful month. It comes on, tender green and warm, after a period of many months of snow and a month or so of muddy snow-melt. The wild-flowers – Indian paintbrush, orange hawk-weed, wild columbine, blue lupin and daisy – bloom in profusion in the woods and fields. In the lambent light of summery dusk, the bats flit about gorging themselves on the burgeoning flying insect populations.

June was also a month when young Renaissance Man, teenaged, back 20 or so years ago, pestered me daily to take him and his friends on tennis-playing excursions in the late afternoons and early evenings. These young bush-apes didn’t have proper tennis vocabulary nor comportment. They called tennis racquets ‘tennis bats’ and hit the courts in a weird assortment of ragged cut-off jeans and hideous patterned tee-shirts. They loped and goofed about while rallying. They also spent considerable time outside the tennis court fencing, beating about the bushes for balls they carelssly lofted over the fence in their enthusiastic abandon. They were exuberant, loud and completely entertaining to spend teaching the finer points of the game.

One lovely summer evening, we returned to the homestead after an energetic couple of hours on the courts. Mike, Renaissance Man’s buddy and sidekick came with us for after game snacks and juice. They hauled the tennis equipment from the Landcruiser into the house while I made for the kitchen to prepare their victuals. They slumped down on the living room couches, exhausted, waiting for their treats to be delivered to them. The French doors to the back of the property were wide open. We could hear Rumpole making yard-work noises outside. The dogs were nowhere to be seen, obviously keeping a watch on Rumpole’s doings out in the yard.

I delivered drinks and snacks to the boys in the living room. While I was bending over, depositing the tray on the coffee table, something flew by the region of my head. Turning to take a look, I noted a flappping black thing, mid-air, heading from the living room into the kitchen. Started making incoherent shrieks, much to the boys’ amusement.

“Look, a bat,” commented a laconic Mike.

Renaissance Man ran out to the front entry, brought back two tennis racquets, one of which he tossed to Mike and chortled, “Tennis bat. lets play.”

The boys ran around the main floor swinging with the racquets at the poor bat. It managed to not get hit in mid-air, but was labouring with panicked flits to avoid getting pasted. Finally, the poor beastie landed on the mullion of one of the French doors and clung on there, hyperventilating and trembling.

“Don’t you guys dare to hit it!  Don’t touch it! Leave it alone!” I screamed while trying to wrap my long hair in a kitchen towel. The idea of a bat flying into my flying long hair was frightening. Eeeeek!

The commotion caused Rumpole to come into the house. “What are you guys all so exercised about? Calm down, everyone.” We were milling around the living room, boys brandishing tennis racquets, all excited, me moaning and wringing my hands.

“A bat flew into the house,” announced RM. “Mike and I were using our “tennis bats” to get it to leave.”

“Yeah! That’s a good one – get it? Tennis bat?” chortled goofy Mike.

“Poor bat,” commented Rumpole as he inspected the terrified bat on the door. ” All this screaming and mad flailing with the racquets has him completely panicked.” He went off to the bathroom, came back with a large bath towel, wrapped the bat inside and took the bundle out to the back deck. There he loosely arranged the towel to allow the bat ease of escape. I slammed shut the French doors. Through the glass we watched as the bat made his awkward climb from inside the towel, righted itself and flew off toward the sfety of the big pine behind the house. Rumpole came back inside and chided us for giving the bat a scare.

Ever since then, whenever Renaissance Man and I play tennis together, all I have to do is waggle my eyebrows meaningfully, and say “tennis bat”. We both break down in instant and helpless laughter. Somehow, Rumpole finds it difficult to share in this form of humour. He loves bats; hates tennis.

The gift from afar….

December 10, 2007

Ildiko, me and Anna

 This photo arrived in the mail a month ago.  This is an unexpected gift from afar; a gift of memories. A picture of Ildiko, me and Anna, taken a year before we left Hungary, forever. Anna sent it to me a month ago, with a letter she had a cousin, now living in Scotland, translate into English for her to send to me. It has been over fifty years we had last seen each other.  We had run across the street to the park, to hang out and play. Ildiko had her “Kutya”, her stuffed dog, which had been the previous year’s Christmas present. She was really missing the family dog, Rex, a German Shepherd dog for whom  Apu had to find a new  home the previous fall. Rex had been overly friendly and ruined many lady patients’ stockings in the waiting room. Apu found it hard to keep up with expenses, at a time when stockings were greatly expensive, and women had to know how to mend them by themselves. Ildiko loved Rex, and was devastated when he no longer was in our house. Anyu gave her “Kutya” as a non-destructive stand-in she might cuddle and pet.

I am the one in the middle; the one ready to jump up and run off. I am holding “Elefant”, the gift Anyu and Apu had given me for the previous Christmas. I was wild about things African. I had asked Uncle Imre, who was in the French Foreign Legion serving in Africa (Algiers) to send me a live monkey for my previous birthday. Imagine my shock of opening the brown-paper wrapped birthday present, to find an inanimate stuffed toy monkey. I was heart-broken. How was I to be so ignorant as to not know there were no monkeys ranging wild in Algeria, wasn’t it in Africa after all? “Elefant” was Anyu and Apu’s nod to my obsession with Africa. It was unfortunate that he was a plush toy, and nothing like elephants I had seen in the zoo in Budapest – they had wrinkly parchment-like grey skin that shifted and looked like saggy leather clothing when they moved.

Anna is the relaxed girl with the soft smile, sans animal companion. She was close to Ildiko in age and they were close, to the point of excluding me from their play. Ildiko thought me a pest, and her tolerance for me only went so far as to allow me to tag along with whatever they were doing. Usually I went off by myself to find things to be nosy about and when I thought about what they might find fascinating, they would come along to see what was what.

The park across the street from our apartment building had wonderful paths and shrub and tree areas. Whenever I came across young couples kissing in the bushes, I would alert the rest of the gang, Ildiko and whoever else was hanging around with us, and we would hide in the shrubbery and throw pebbles at the canoodling couples, much to their dismay. Usually we drove them off, but not very quickly.

One day, Ildiko and Anna were lurking in the bushes. They came upon a vantage point from where we could watch the young men’s handball team playing on the court adjoining the park. “Come and see the beautiful young men,” called Ildiko. So, I took up my post in the shrubbery and watched the handsome young men playing. It was as good as seeing a performance of ballet, I thought. There was one young man who caught my eye. He was graceful and athletic, and moved with economic grace. He had blonde hair, tan skin and played forward on the hand-ball team. The other players called him “Kigyo”(snake), and sure enough he moved with the suppleness of a snake. He was beautiful.

These were summer evenings that we mucked around in the park, until it got so late that Anyu’s voice could be heard summoning us indoors at twilight. We were playing hide and go seek in the shrubbery, using a handkerchief to thoroughly blind the designated seeker. I was hiding, feeling very secure I would be hard to find. Some boy’s voices were raised in jovial banter behind me somewhere. I decided to investigate and crept around to find the source of these voices. The sounds seemed to be coming from a building next to the handball/soccer courts. I crept closer. Sure enough, soon I caught sight of boys naked and showering through a window. There was “Kigyo” in all his naked glory, gorgeous and trailing rivulets of water. I forgot I was hiding, and ran out of the shrubs, calling to Ildiko and Anna, “Quick, come see…. naked boys.” They found me right away, all curious. I led them a merry chase through the shrubbery, prolonging the first sight of these bathing boys. We lay on our stomachs, peering and looking. Anna was shocked. She had never seen boys naked before. Ildiko and I were not terribly surprised. We had gone to naturist beaches with Anyu and Apu many times before. No big deal on this particular sighting, except these boys did look a lot better than middle aged men with paunches.

“Say nothing of this to Anyu,” said Ildiko to Anna. “we will get into trouble. You don’t want to get us into trouble!” We made a pact to mention nothing of this to our parents.

As we walked home down the twilight path, Ildiko agonized over having to mention having looked at naked boys at the upcoming Friday night session in the confessional. Anna did not go to confession, coming from a good Communist family, as she did. She didn’t seem bothered by Ildiko’s ruminations about her desire and reluctance to confess. I was quite a pragmatist, I think, for I decided that nakedness was not a sin, nor was seeing other people naked. After all we ran around naked at the naturist camps; women moved about naked, dressing at the local outdoor swimming pool; and there were plenty of indulgences handed out after confessions which showed the baby Jesus totally naked. We also had that picture of Io, completely nude, being embraced by the cloud-formed Jupiter, on the wall above the dining room table at home. So, what was the big deal in looking at a bunch of naked youths? Ildiko kept insisting we had to tell mother.

So here we are in this picture, complete innocents, and remaining innocents. but what stories do pictures hide – those snapshots one receives after fifty odd years? Who could ever guess?

“Mens sana in corpore sano…”

August 16, 2007

“A healthy mind in a healthy body…”   The saying is derived from Latin poet Juvenal’s ‘Satire X’.

“It is to be prayed that the mind be sound in a sound body.

Ask for a brave soul that lacks the fear of death, which places the length of life last among nature’s blessings

which is able to bear whatever kind of sufferings, does not know anger, lusts for nothing and believes the hardships and savage labours of Hercules better


the satisfactions, feasts and feather bed of an Eastern king.

I will reveal what you are able to give yourself;

For certain, the one footpath of a tranquil life lies through virtue.”

The concept of “a healthy mind in a healthy body” was a leitmotiv that ran like a strong thread through much of my parents’ philosophy of child rearing. It influenced  very strongly my own beliefs regarding parenting.

This morning’s newspaper had a big headline – $22M PLAN AIMS TO MAKE ONE MILLION HEALTHIER IN B.C. and the subheading states – Victoria, health groups want to ‘create a new social norm’.  “Right now in British Columbia, only about half the population is considered at a healthy body weight, 20 per cent are smokers, 40 per cent are physically inactive and most – 60 per cent – don’t eat the recommended daily serving of fruit and vegetables.” Darah Hansen, Vancouver Sun.

My parents are both deceased, but I wondered today, how they each may have reacted to this news. They were strong believers in the fact that healthy ways of living were to be learned in the bosom of the family, and that these were best established by modelling desirable behaviors.  Sport was something they each enjoyed; our family’s sport was tennis and we spent many years on the courts. It was not government initiative that had us all spend many pleasurable hours hitting and chasing the fuzzy white balls.

At the nearby high school, there are two brand new ashphalt courts.  I drive by these often and very rarely see people playing there. So there these courts sit, largely unused. No groups of teenagers hang about there, socializing as they wait to take turns for their chance to play.

Tennis is the sport that never failed to make me feel good. It didn’t require expensive equipment and clothing, nor the payment for the privilege of playing, nor the need to travel long distances in order to take part in. It is an easily accessible sport which is as much fun to watch as it is to play. And it is an activity which can be done to a fairly advanced age.

This is my tennis story:

I don’t remember far enough into the past as to what age I was when Anyu and Apu first took Ildiko and me to the tennis courts in Gyor, our home town. As far as my memory ranges, it seems that we spent most Sundays afternoons, until daylight faded, en famille at the courts from May until October.

Our tennis outings began with a brisk half hour walk through town, Anyu and Apu setting the pace up ahead, and Ildiko and I trying to keep up with them while at the same time bouncing tennis balls. She and I didn’t have tennis raquets of our own, and the balls we were allowed to play with were a couple of worn hairless brick-coloured ones.

When we arrived, slightly out of breath, at the cinder fields which were surrounded by metal mesh fencing enclosed by a perimeter of tall shivering poplars,  I always thought of the place as an huge outdoor room, open to the blue sky with a red floor and flickering dark and light green walls.

Once we entered the cinder ground, Apu would place his racquet by an available court and begin to freshen up the white chalk lines which divided the playing area. Anyu always busied herself with setting the net to the correct height, while Ildiko and I fooled around well behind the base-line, dribbling our ratty balls, competeing with each other to see who could make the highest number of consequent dribbles. Once the court was ready for occupation Anyu took up her spot facing away from the sun, and opposite her Apu faced into the sun.  Ildiko squatted outside the side-line near the net.  It was her job to retrieve balls caught up there.  My place as ball-girl was behind the base-line, near the fencing, and here I scrambled around to pick up balls missed by Anyu and to return them to her when she needed them.

We never got a chance to take the racquets and play until well after Anyu and Apu were ready for a breather – and they were tough and played for extended periods. Then, as they sat on side benches, Ildiko and I took up their racquets and attempted to play against each other. We held the racquets incorrectly, grasping them near the head because they were too heavy for us if we held them properly. We chased around on the loose cinder surface and tried not to slip and fall down.  To slip and fall down meant skinned legs with bits of red cinders embedded in the scrapes, entirely unpleasant.

When Anyu and Apu decided to resume playing, we returned to our appointed spots, and carried on our roles. As we began to understand the rules of the game and proper scoring, Ildiko helped call accuracy of serves, and I delighted in yelling when balls overshot the baseline. Sometimes Anyu couldn’t see the accuracy of a shot, as she was engrossed and concentrated on returning the balls to Apu, so when I called the shot inside the line and she had missed it she would shoot me an irritated glance. If Ildiko called fault on a serve, she risked annoying Apu. Sometimes, they got fed up with our presence on the court and dismissed us to go and play with our balls anywhere but near them.  Of course this meant that we had to stay well clear of other adults playing on nearby courts.

At times like this we practiced bouncing the balls under our lifted legs and held competitions as to who could dribble their ball the longest time. When we got bored of this we went back and sat on the sidelines watching various pairs or foursomes playing. We didn’t know where the word “Lov” came from, and only knew that it was a word we recognized as a scoring word.  We learned that “Falt” meant the ball fell outside correct bounds. This was a secret tennis language to me; these words were only used on the tennis courts.  Very odd!

We were always so eager to play for just a few minutes allowed us with the racquets on the court.  This was a privilege granted us for good behavior while there.  I constantly badgered Anyu about when I might be old enough to have my own tennis racquet. She indicated that when Ildiko was ten, she would have her own one, and since I was nearly two years younger I would have a little longer to wait for my own. This wait seemed awfully far away in the future, but it was definitely something to look forward to.  I could hardly wait! Ildiko was eagerly anticipating turning ten.

It was not until I was fourteen and Ildiko was sixteen that Anyu and Apu were able to afford to buy used tennis racquets, in Canada. For a few years they shared theirs with us and took turns playing against each of us in turn. We did drills in forehands, backhands, lobs, volleys and serves; they were patient and devoted teachers. The buying of a new can of tennis ballls was a big deal; we played with balls until they became freyed messes and bounced in a soggy manner. Whenever Apu could afford it, he bought a new can of Spaldings.  I loved opening it by inserting the little pull-off key into the tab around the crimped rim and peel back a strip of the metal to open the lid; the first hiss of the breaking vacuum seal never failed to thrill; the  pickle smell of brand new tennis balls was a welcome familiar and the untouched fresh nap of white fuzz bounded by the smooth rubber seams promised some good sets to come.

When Ildiko was in grade 11, Apu bought her a wooden Dunlop racquet with gut strings and a tensioning clamp. She was a very good player and was the girls singles player on our high school tennnis team.  Anyu handed me down her own good wood racquet when she bought her new one.  I liked Anyu’s racquet as the grip was comfortable, I was used to it and the balance and weight of it seemed perfect for me.  I played girls doubles and mixed doubles on the school team. Ildiko and I played against each other several times a week for practice, and walked a fair distance to the courts nearest our house, each time.  We both loved the sport. I never  really liked playing on asphalt, but there were only asphalt courts in Canada, however one didn’t as easily slip on them as on the Hungarian cinder courts.

Since those early years, I have played on grass and clay courts as well.  Each type of court surface has its peculiarities, advantages, drawbacks and difficulties.  But it is the crumbly, red cinder court of my Hungarian home town which was the first playing field where my love and pleasure of tennis was planted. I may never again play tennis on a cinder court  but every sight of that particular red – stone, gravel or clay of a matte surface quality – prods memories of family tennis outings more than fifty years ago.

Casting off… Lesson 1

July 15, 2007

My friend Carol laughed when she heard we had decided to take up sailing.  She said that we could probably duplicate the whole experience without paying out large sums of money or expending much time and effort. “Just put on your warmest clothes, your rubber boots and stand under a cold shower in the bathtub. While there, rip up a number of $100 dollar bills”, she directed in a sarcastic tone. There was some wisdom in her suggestion.

On a bitter March morning, rain poured. I assembled my foul-weather gear, loaded up the Datsun and drove to Granville Island for the first on-board lesson.  On the way there I kept my hopes up for a minor change in the weather, but the rain didn’t let up.  This was not exactly an auspicious start to sailing lessons.

On the island, it was unusually easy to find parking near the Market, a short walk to the docks. The weather kept shoppers at home. On the grey wooden walkways to the docks seagulls huddled, miserable, balanced on one webbed foot, their necks hunched down into their bodies.  They couldn’t be bothered to move as I squeaked by in my loud yellow slicker, bibbed overalls and flashy gumboots, trailing rivulets of water in my wake. Up ahead, my fellow students – the lady pathologist, turned out in a fashionable red outfit, and the gay couple, natty in blue one piece rain gear – were gathered, dripping, near a white fiberglass sailboat moored at the dock.  Somehow it was appropriate that the four of us were clothed in the Primary colours –  red, blue and yellow, for our lessons in mastering the basics of sailing.  We introduced ourselves and chatted in a low-key fashion , and getting even wetter while waiting for our instructor to show up.

Shortly, a young chap bounded down the dock toward us.  He seemed totally at home in the rain. ” Hi! I’m Bob!” he called out. “Let’s get going.”  He unshackled the lifeline near the cockpit and ushered us aboard the boat. (Good! I thought. He is going to take us down into the cabin and get us out of the rain.) He took a seat at the tiller and invited us to sit on the lazarettes. (What? He’s got to be kidding!) So he began to quiz us about the various parts of the boat, pointing here and there and asking how the designated part functioned.  (My glasses kept getting fogged up; rain was making steady inroads through my slicker and down my neck. I knew exactly how those wet seagulls felt – discouraged, miserable, soggy!)

After quiz time Bob unlocked the cabin, reached inside and hauled out four white fenders.  Handing one to each of us, he instructed us to check out how the fenders had been attached to the side of the boat next to the edge of the dock.  He then had us attach our fenders using the correct knot and obtaining the right height to keep the edge of the boat from chafing the dock. We squelched our way to our positions trying not to slip on the wet deck, grasping onto the lifeline. Bob was not satisfied that we could do this little chore adequately until we had repeated the task over and over numerous times.  The rain didn’t let up.  We might as well have jumped into the water because we were as wet abovedecks as we would have been were we fullly immersed in the ocean.  The fenders sure looked clean and glossy white, being as they were slick with rain! (My sweater under the slicker was getting wet near the armpit area – yuk! The lady pathologist looked quite comfortable and she didn’t squeak every time she moved, unlike me.  The gay couple looked quite snug.  They also didn’t squeak.  I wondered if their armpits were getting soggy yet.  Nah! But I didn’t dare complain!)

Next, we climbed back into the cockpit. Bob showed us how to start up the inboard motor and explained the mechanism of the tiller. ” Now go and pull in the fenders and we’ll practice leaving the dock,”  he announced as he stepped off the boat to unmoor.  We each had to take turns undoing the mooring lines on the dock and handing them in to boatmates, then step back onto the boat.  This looks easy, but to someone with balance issues this can be slightly problematic.  I absolutely hated to get on and off the boat, while my boat-mates seemed not at all tentative in doing so.  When it came to my turn to cast off and hop aboard, I did so very awkwardly and caught the red and blue sailors rolling their eyes.

Then Bob steered the boat out of the dock area and took us into False Creek where he had us practice turning the boat, steering, slowing down, stopping, backing up.  There were not many boats out on the water so we had ample room to manoeuvre and even got our chance to bring the boat into a dock on the other side of the inlet.  We practiced coming into dock at the correct angle and speed, took turns reattaching the fenders, stepping off and tying the mooring lines correctly.  I really liked to bring the boat in, using the tiller and feathering the engine, but the stepping off part continued to be problematic.  (In fact, standing up in the boat was a problem for me as I couldn’t manage to stay upright and would bash into the winches whenever not creeping about on deck like an octogenerian – a wet one!)

Our lesson for the day was soon over and we headed back to our berth.  Here we got opportunity to practice, yet again, proper docking procedure.  Bob bid us goodbye and bounded away from us into the misty reaches of the dock. My fellow students expessed a desire to repair to the Granville Island Pub to decompress, dry off and bond with each other.  My sweater, by this time had become wet right down to the waist at front and back, and the prospect of being sociable while sitting in soaked clothes was not particularly attractive, so, expressing my regrets and need to go home and dry off thoroughly I bid my companions in fun and misery goodbye. 

On the drive home it was difficult to keep the truck windows from misting up in spite of the heater going full blast.  My glasses also kept fogging up, but at least the rain was outside where it belonged. It occurred to me that learning sailing on a day like this dreary, unrelentingly wet one was a special form of Hell. But at least I didn’t rip up any $100 bills.

Neophyte sailors 1…

July 14, 2007

Back in 199o, Renaissance Man returned to live at home with us after a year up north at college. Rumpole and I had already moved to the Lower mainland that early spring, and we spent much of our leisure time wandering the many docks, looking at boats and ships of all types.  Rumpole loves the things of the sea, most particularly the conveyances that ply the waters moving goods and people about.  I love the character of the waters, their luminosity, reflectiveness and many moods.

In 1991 in anticipation of his birthday, Rumpole requested that we all take sailing lessons as his birthday gift. RM was delighted, but I was not too thrilled. Water is  an essential and marvellous material, but I do not necessarily like to be on it!

We signed up for sailing lessons comprised of two months of classroom theory and three months of actual sailing practice.  Off we went to buy the textbooks and sailing gear – yellow plasticized weather gear and gumboots.  We took out many books from the library on sailing, read and discussed them after dinners, whenever RM took time out from his studies to relax with us. These two men christened me “Landlubber” for my known love of solid footing on land, I called Rumpole “Ahab” and Renaissance Man as “Boy”.

Sailing classroom studies in theory and sailing nomenclature were once a week in the dark of winter evenings.  Along with a group of other eager learners we listened, made notes, tried to ask not terribly stupid questions. In amongst the motley group of classmates there was much competition to learn in theory what we would soon have to put into practice in a couple of months.  There were only two women in our class, myself and a pathologist form the local big hospital; the male students tended to curl their lips at us, as if we just would never, ever, cut the mustard as sailors.

“You’r hopeless,” Rumpole would remind me. “You’d better study hard to pass the exam, Landlubber.” I read my notes carefully, constructing elaborate scenarios of sailing down a channel and trying to remember the sailing “rules of road”, what various channel markers indicated.  Mentally I hoisted sails, read the tell-tales, tacked and jibed without getting swept overboard, being beheaded by the boom or ever being caught in that dreaded situation of “inadvertent jibe”.  I studied the problems of lee-shores and how to stay well clear of them, how to read charts to avoid shoals and hidden by the tide rock outcrops that would sink the unwary sailor.

Rumpole and Renaissance Man, snug in their conviction of male superiority in matters pertaining to conveyances, largely ingnored me and went about their learning after their own fashion.  They bet that of the three of us I would have the lowest score on the final exam.  That was sure like waving a red flag under a bull’s nose – I redoubled my study efforts!

Came exam time.  We travelled in the dark of a February night down to the classroom near the marina downtown.  On the way there, Rumpole and Renaissance Man quizzed each other and would lob the occasional tough question to me.  I felt serene and sure of what I had managed to learn.  Nothing they could throw at me would phase me.  After all I had played competitive tennis during my teens and knew full well the psychological games played prior to matches. And, this was no match among the three of us, I was just trying to pass the damned exam so I could get out  on the water on a sailboat!

The exam was a long one, very thorough, taken very seriously by all the examinees.  Rumpole sat next to me and kept his non-writing arm protectively around his exam papers, much like a dog-in-the-manger would protect his food bowl.  As if I’d stoop to cheating?! Renaissance Man had his cute smug look while tackling the various questions. We wrote for well over two hours and then handed in our exam papers.

The following week we were to attend class once more to receive our marks and our practical lesson schedules.  I was merely hoping to pass!

We attended the final class eager to hear how we did on the exam.  We were also curious as to how we would be grouped for the practical lessons on boats.

I got the highest theory marks of the three of us, second from the top of the whole class.  The lady pathologist got the highest marks of the group.  She and I and a gay couple were slated to be boat mates for the sailing lessons on actual sail boats.  Rumpole and Renaissance Man were really irritated by my test results.

“Good thing the four of you are together for the actual sailing,” grumbled Rumpole.  “There is a lot more to sailing a boat than theory, Landlubber!”

This fact I was soon to find out, for myself.

Tennis Whites

March 3, 2007

At fifteen I wanted so much

to swan onto the court

in pristine whites – a top with

tasteful scalloping around the chest,

a flirty razor-pleated skirt

from under which would peek-a-boo

frilled white lace panties, shoes

proper shock-absorbing leather

and socks that didn’t reach

above the neck of the shoe,  except for

a bouncy little pom-pom.

In this get-up an illusion of competence

would be complete and predict

the surgical precision with which a player

might deploy that instrument of competition,

the professional-grade tennis racket.

At fifteen, however, I was

very much the ugly duckling

waddling onto courts in my

drab adolescent plumage

of badly-fitted black and white checkered shorts,

an electric lime-green Banlon top,

thickly folded ankle socks and

cheap canvas sneakers from the local Woolworth’s.

I did have a top-of-the-line tennis racket

with expensive gut strings, and always

the best new Spalding balls that reminded me

of freshly formed snow-balls.  And yet,

in this outfit I looked like what I really was,

an awkward, poorly accessorized Eastside girl.

I lacked that certain polish which would put

an opponent on notice that here was

a player who might prevail,

until I made my first service.

GM,  April 4, 2005

Mrs. Mufleh = Soccer = Hope

January 21, 2007

Too often, we hear and read primarily bad news.  Our fears are kindled. This make us percieve our lot like a cup that is less than half full, its contents rapidly dwindling.

But, if you read about Mrs Mufleh, her soccer team – the Fugees, in this terrific article, for certain you will find your capacity for HOPE to be revitalized.

Google – The New York Times, January 21, 2007, article – “Refugees find Hostility and Hope on Soccer Field”