Archive | June, 2011

Anyone For Tennis?

27 Jun

It’s Wimbledon fortnight again, the time when many of us think of tennis. It’s always virtually impossible to get on the local courts at Wimbledon time as everyone is on there pretending to be Roger, Rafa or Andy, or maybe Maria, Serena or Caroline. I wonder how many are grunting or screeching, or smashing their rackets in frustration? Tennis is played all through the year, all round the world and on at least 4 different surfaces. However, because of the long- held monopoly of the BBC in the good old days of terrestial television, many people think it is still  only played on lawns in south-west London and for only 2 intensive weeks in June and July.

I love tennis. I’m glad the Tudors invented it and gave it to the world. I have played it on the parks since I was a teenager and watched Wimbledon since I was about 10 years old. I still remember Chuck McKinley and Rod “Rocket” Laver. The brilliant Laver was a leftie like me, but there the resemblence ended.  I recall being impressed that his left arm seemed to be at least twice as wide as his right!  Laver did the tennis grand-slam twice, once as an amateur and once as a professional in the new Open era of the late 60’s — Australia, French, Wimbledon and USA championships in the same year.  I vividly remember  Billie-Jean King and Margaret Court — little and large, but they had some titanic struggles. In those days ( the early 1960’s): the game was dominated by the Americans and the Aussies. It was before the long march of the East Europeans, the Swedes, the French, the Spanish and now: the Chinese. The British keep plodding on. but never seem to arrive, except for Fred Perry in the 1930’s, Ann Hadyn Jones in 1969( also a former World table tennis champion) and Virginia Wade in the Silver Jubilee year of 1977.

Why is tennis so gripping and addictive? Well I believe that the whole of human nature and life is laid bare out there on the court. There is: excitement, drama, skill, imagination, agony, ectasy, determination, hope, triumph and despair etc., etc. We see supreme human strengths and talents but also human weaknesses and failings. It is so much more intense than a team game because it is just one on one — a dual ,out there on the court where there is no hiding place. Sometimes this is not a pretty sight. Some matches, particularly on the slower clay courts, are long, drawn out wars of attrition. Sometimes though, a tennis match is a thing of beauty especially when featuring elegant sliced backhands, subtle drop shots and lobs or unexpected angles in the midst of intricate rallies. At yet other times we are excited and stunned by raw power or supreme athleticism such as an Andy Murray running forehand, an ace by Andy Roddick, a Pete Sampras slam- dunk smash or an Andre Agassi return of serve like a lightning bolt. I also associate watching tennis with my adolescent sexual awakenings. Where else could I observe attractive young women running around in short skirts? How could I ever forget Maria Bueno’s frilly knickers or the ravishing Gabriella Sabatina from Argentina. I don’t think my mum ever cottened on to this aspect of my passion for tennis. It’s funny but I seem to recall that my dad was often sitting there observing the proceedings on Centre Court right there beside me. I wonder who he fancied?

There have been so many great players and fascinating matches.  I recall being incredulous with disappointment when the uncomplicated serving and volleying of the blond, ramrod- straight Stan Smith defeated the wily, creative genius of the dark Rumanian, Ille Nastase( in the early 70’s.). Then there was Jimmy Connors , representing up and coming youth, blasting Ken Rosewell, representing the old guard, right off the centre court. Poor Rosewell, one of the game’s most elegant and skillful players had not had a chance to challenge for the Wimbledon title when at his peak , because professionals were barred from the championships until towards the end of his illustrious career. Thinking of the enormous prize money on offer today, it seems very strange that for over two thirds of the 20th Century, it was open to amateurs only. A year after destroying Rosewell, the seemingly unstoppable Conners was himself destroyed by the calm, serene,  intelligent Arthur Ashe. He out-thought, out-psyched and out-manouvred his young opponent, such that Connors was reduced to pathetically reading a sweat-stained note from his mom, which he had tucked down his sock. Later came the titanic duels between Chris Evert ( “The Ice maiden”) and Martina Navratilove, the great Czech player, and one of the first of many East Europeans to become naturalised Americans  .It still amuses me today when Maria  Sharapova shouts “Come On!” when she wins a crucial point, What’s wrong with saying something in Russian ? Evert later married John Lloyd, an English player, so the nation tried to adopt her as one of their own, even though she was American through and through.The British had tried the same trick a few years earlier when Evonne Goolagong, the delightful and richly talented Australian Aborigene player also married a lucky Englishman and we tried to turn her into an honorary English woman.  Later came the titanic struggles between the cool Swede, Borg, and the hot-headed American, McEnroe.  — the base liner versus the volleyer. Who can ever forget that never- ending and super tense tie- break in the early 1980’s?  My wife went out to furiously mow the  lawn that afternoon, because she couldn’t stand the stress! There have always been gripping battles between great rivals. The next era ( 1990s) brought us Sampras v Agassi and now of course we have the classic encounters between Federer and Nadal . The game has a long, fascinating history and many colourful, charismatic personalities, two big reasons for its enduring appeal.

I was going to make some profound points about the continued elitism of the game in Britain( partly explaining our lack of success even though we invented the game) or write technical stuff about racket development or courtside technology.( such as Hawkeye to sort out disputed calls, or a beeping machine to replace the net cord judge who used to sit touching the top of the net just asking to be clobbered by a wayward fast serve or swerving ground stroke). I could go on and on but I don’t wish to overplay the point. Suffice to say, I have got in the strawberries and cream and am looking forward to watching the second week of Wimbledon, 2011. Will the Williams sisters, sweep all before them? ( I think so.) Will Andy Murray put an end to “decades of hurt? “, at least in the minds of tablods headline writers — I don’t think so. It’s probably going to be Nadal. Federer or perhaps Djokovic. Will the screamers and grunters be disciplined for gamesmanship — they should be. Monica Seles really started something there. I wonder what the inimitable Dan Maskell would have thought of it all. “Oh my gosh, it’s just like an orgasm, and what’s more, it’s the vital seventh game!”” Then, just when we think it’s all over, the great tennis circus moves on to Flushing Meadows , New York —  for those of us with Sky TV that is. The BBC will only show the Murray matches or the Men’s final, if we’re lucky. That’s why for many , tennis equals Wimbledon with : Sue Barker ( it used to be Harry Carpenter), the Royal box ( which the Queen always avoids), umpires and lines people in white caps and silly blazers, Henman Hill or Murray Mount and Sir Cliff always ready to give us a song if it rains. ( except now we have the amazing centre court roof, so there will be no more complete wash-outs.) Wimbledon fortnight is a wonderful part of Britsh life and long may it continue! Anyone for tennis?

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Who’s In Charge — Them Or Us?

18 Jun

This is the second blogging site I have opened in less than a week. It might be some kind of record. Scrapheapstuart has already been supplanted by scapheapstuart 2. Why, you may ask? Is this egotism gone mad? Well, the simple reason is that I have been prevented from entering my own blogging site. I type in my Username, chosen by yours truly and carefully  recorded, but the computer tells me it is an “invalid” name and bars my entry. I try several variations but to no avail. The machine is in charge. No matter how hard I try to circumvent the website’s blocking mechanism, I, the human being, have to admit defeat. It’s like arriving home and finding that a robot is stopping me from getting through the door, claiming I don’t live there even though I know I do. Surely this is not supposed to happen! We humans are supposed to be in charge of the machines, not the other way round.

The website has no facility for me to actually speak to another real person about the problem. So I’ve been thwarted and frustrated by the very machine that was invented to serve me. The only solution was to open a new email account and then re-register with WordPress.com with a 2 added to my original blogging name. Thus “scrapheapstuart2” has been born, to replace its shortlived predecessor that still lives on in cyber-space but is forever unreachable.

As it happens, this is one of my favourite rants. That is — the ups and downs of living in the age of rampant technology. Technological and scientific advances have changed the world beyond recognition since I was born back in 1949, and the pace of change is accelerating at a bewildering rate. Many of these advances have greatly enhanced our lives, whether they be in medicine, communication, entertainment or countless other areas. You don’t need me to list them all. However, I would challenge the notion that all technology is for the good. Nuclear weapons and nuclear power stations that go into meltdown are just obvious cases in point. Ask the Japanese, who suffered terribly both in 1945 and earlier this year. We now have the power to obliterate our own planet at the whim of a “mad” politician or a “misguided” terrorist .

On a more mundane day to day level, it seems that machines and gadgets such as : computers, mobiles, smartphones, Kindles. ipods,ipads etc are taking over our lives. They are swamping us just as the tsunami swamped the Japanese nuclear power stations. Through the belief that we HAVE to HAVE all these things, that they are essentials rather than luxuries, we have allowed these contraptions to control us rather than vice versa.

Technology is worshipped in our society. Machines have become our new gods. As conventional religion declines and churches limp on with dwindling and ageing congregations, the vacuum is filled by the need to own a whole range of technological gadgets. The purpose of life for many seems to be to possess bigger and better material things, rather than say, to help others, or to develop as a person, or to follow a spiritual path. On top of this is the decline of the idea of patience and of delayed gratification , which I taught my children and all my school pupils over the years. It has now been replaced with the DEMAND for instant gratification. ” I want it , and I want it NOW!” Thus we now have the instant ( and sometimes illegal) download, rather than patiently saving up to eventually purchase the CD, DVD or book at something called a shop.

Obviously, all this materialistic “wanting” is relentlessly driven by capitalism, which insists that we constantly consume so that the producers can make a lot of money. All pervasive advertising and marketing techniques ( otherwise know as “brainwashing”) persuade us that we want and have to acquire many things that we don’t actually need. In other words, many of us have become prisoners of our own technology. We are addicted to the TV, the Internet, to Smartphones and the like as if they are hard drugs. We cannot live without them ( or we think we can’t.) When we are denied our “fix” we suffer from withdrawel symptoms. I met a friend recently who was suffering terribly because he was not connected to the Internet. ( He has moved to a new estate which had not been cabled up yet.) Yet merely 10 to 15 years ago, most of us lived quite happily without it. When I speak to my parents, both born in the 1920’s, their faces glaze over whenever I mention computers. They have no interest in that “alien” subject and simply do not take anything in. Computers have never been directly a part of their everyday lives and never will be. It is too late for them to change. However, they still somehow manage to lead a full and happy life without having to be constantly linked to the Worldwide Web, and they can still navigate themselves from A to B without the aid of sattelite signals from space. They, like me, still find out information from books and use something called a map to find their way rather than being instructed by a disembodied voice. In some ways, people of my parents’ generation are the lucky ones, because they have not become slaves of technology. Neither are they interested in the game of oneupmanship, which the marketing men love us to play.

OK, I am 61, getting stuck in my ways and ideas, and resisting change for the sake of change. I am fast developing into a “grumpy old man” I’m proud to say. But I still believe I have a valid point. What is in operation here, I believe, is the concept of F.O.M.O.  I heard this acronym on the media for the first time this week. It is supposed to be a new and growing phenomenum, except it is really a very old one. F.O.M.O stands for “Fear Of Missing Out”. Back in the 1950’s and 60’s we used to call it:”keeping up with the Jones’s .”The difference is that back then it was washing-machines, vacuum cleaners, refridgerators  — and cars, whereas now it is the latest generation of mobile and their array of apps, the latest Laptop, the latest games console, or the most recent ipod or ipad — and cars! I confess to owning a Sky TV , mainly so I can feed my sport addiction.  Not content with me upgrading to Sky+ and Sky HD ( as I recently did), they are now screaming at me to get Sky3D, or Sky Anytime or Sky Multi-Room! The demands to keep up with the pace of technological advance are unremitting.

What a state to get into — being ruled by fear of missing out and being controlled by machines and the need to acquire them. This used to be the stuff of science fiction novels. I rail against it but am simultaneously sucked into it and/or swept along by it. Trying to resist it will have the same result as King Canute trying to keep back the tide. ( He knew he was powerless to do so.)  Yes, I go along with it, even to the extent of  putting my rambling thoughts into cyber-space to be read by unknown others. What an absurd idea — writing to nobody!  Yes, I succumb to it, as why else would I waste 2 hours of my precious time trying to outwit a website that won’t let me do what I want to do? I created the key but the machine hid it away!

I now have a great sympathy with the Luddites, the 18th-19th century machine- smashers. They fought against the machines that were taking away their livelihoods. Maybe we should follow their lead, and fight against the machines that are taking over our lives. Who’s in charge — Them or Us?

Hello world!

17 Jun

Welcome to WordPress.com. After you read this, you should delete and write your own post, with a new title above. Or hit Add New on the left (of the admin dashboard) to start a fresh post.

Here are some suggestions for your first post.

  1. You can find new ideas for what to blog about by reading the Daily Post.
  2. Add PressThis to your browser. It creates a new blog post for you about any interesting  page you read on the web.
  3. Make some changes to this page, and then hit preview on the right. You can alway preview any post or edit you before you share it to the world.