THE BLOG

Quiet, Please: Play.

30/06/2014 11:14 BST | Updated 27/08/2014 10:59 BST

It's Glastonbury weekend, and I spot one of those online quizzes: What Sort of Festival-Goer Are You? The sort who doesn't go to Festivals, I think, as I turn on the TV. It's Wimbledon fortnight too, which, here in Northern Ireland, means the end of the school year, with children, teenagers and exhausted teachers rejoicing or collapsing in a heap.

I wish I could play tennis. I did try, at school: I wasn't as indescribably terrible at it as I was at hockey, meaning that Summer Term PE was fun. Wimbledon has always fascinated me. I've never been; I'll probably never go, but I love following it on TV, the restrained commentary all part of the experience. It's not just because hearing the theme tune and seeing the green and purple logo means that school's (about to be) out for summer. There's something almost hypnotic about it, which doesn't come across in any other tournament. Maybe it's the grass. Maybe it's how even the very top players have to stop when it drizzles, rains, or gets dark. Maybe it's a certain formality of language, such as 'Gentlemen's Singles' or 'Quiet, please: play.' Or maybe it's the ritualized choreography of the ball-boy teams and the occasional excitement when the courts have to be covered, fast. Tension seems to melt away, even from the habitually anxious, as these annual rituals begin. And when you start to think about it, maybe there's a lot about Wimbledon which forms a kind of metaphor for everything we do.

Think about it. You've met so many people in your life - every day, every year, in every era or area of your life. There were the school friends, the colleagues, the people you socialized or learned with at university, the neighbours, partners, parents, children... the people who tormented you or whom you tried hard to avoid. Imagine yourself as a Wimbledon contestant, tracking your way through qualifying rounds, first round, second round, and onwards, perhaps defeated by that arch enemy you'd hoped to miss, by the unexpected wildcard, perhaps the one you'd counted as a friend. Single combat - doubles - mixed. Supporters, detractors, endless commentary: it's all there in the unpredicted spin of daily life.

Then there's the rhythm of the game. The slow build of attrition: that determined person who wears you down or wins your trust. The ace: the forceful, showy person who blasts down your defences with wit, or stunning looks, or even cruelty. The one who outruns you or outpaces you, who has an answer for everything you do or say. The cleverness which finds a return for every shot; the stubborn, unbudging baseline hitter or the brilliant volleyer, lobbing the ball to land just behind your feet, like the person who always has that perfect one-line comeback. Quick sets, deuce games, broken serves: the right opponent can destroy your defences in moments or in what feels like years.

And that's saying nothing about all the traditions parallelling the business of Wimbledon - the tennis - and of life - our interactions. The strawberries, the champagne, the souvenirs, the Mexican waves, the antics on Murray Mount (or Henman Hill) and the partisan supporters with their favourite stars. We all do it: I rarely drink champagne, but I do hold dear my rituals of coffee with dried apricots and oatcakes, or early morning forays on the treadmill, or evening walks by the sea, and endless reading - anytime, anywhere, every day. I try to capture my rituals with quick photos on my phone, so I can scroll back to them to make myself feel better in times of stress, just like we buy souvenirs of memorable, happy times to look at in the depths of wintry misery.

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The commentary, whether it's the sardonic incisiveness of John McEnroe or the sporting gentlemanliness of Tim Henman? The endless pressure of how others see us and the things we fear they'll say. The seeds, the rankings, the knocking out? Endless social competition or popularity: Facebook 'likes' and offline loneliness. Those film montages and defining stills form the narrative which we live out on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or in the self-defining we do through how we look or live. Centre Court, Number 1 Court, Court 16... those subtle judgings by address or name. The scorelines with a logic of their own, defying numerical series rules - one set down, thirty all, forty love, break point, match point- just as we judge ourselves, by things which don't abide by common sense. All life is there.

You won't find me at a music festival, in wellingtons and shorts, amid the mud, and I won't find myself in that quiz. But maybe I'm somewhere amid the tramlines of worn grass, the thwack and bounce of ball on racquet strings, the polite applause responding to an Umpire's 'Quiet, please.'

Perhaps, as summer times of play begin at last, that's where I find my 'perfect match'.