Rackets

Rackets Marathon - Laurence Kingsley

03 Feb 2015

18 courts - 28 days - started Monday 5th January


Laurence Kingsley has now completed his challenge.  He started on Monday 5 January to Winchester and finished in Manchester on Sunday 1 February.  He covered 2,269 miles including 460 by train to Manchester and back.

He has raised about £2,000, including just under £1,000 for the Dick Bridgeman. A fantastic effort and the Rackets community should be rightly proud of his achievement. 

First Venue: Winchester College – 5 January 2015

My wife, Linda, accompanied me for my match at 7.15 pm to the first venue, which quite appropriately is one of the oldest schools in the land. The term was not to start until the next day. Nevertheless we were made welcome by Tim Cawston, the professional, who pitted me against Nick Murphy, a former solicitor and district judge.

It was a forgiving court and a friendly match, the score being 16/13 15/1. After the match the four of us had drinks at a really atmospheric pub, the Wykeham Arms. Linda and I then had a snack before returning home, the round trip being 116 miles.

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Second Venue: Haileybury College – 6 January 2015

I went to my second venue via the M25 (80 minutes) but returned through London (95 minutes), covering 109 miles in all. Since 1942 Haileybury has incorporated the former East India Company’s Imperial Service College. The term was in full swing.

I was welcomed by Andrew Stout, the new professional, who had lined up no less than three opponents. Although I elected to play Hal Shayer best of three, I lost 15/5 and 15/9. Beaten but not exhausted, I then played Angus Jones (15/11) and Tom Garrison (15/12). I found the court played similarly to the Winchester court. Fortunately I was still in one piece and not injured.

After my matches Ian Sanders, the master in charge of Rackets, was kind enough to show me round some of the magnificent school buildings, which include two famous quadrangles, a magnificent dining hall and fabulous chapel, where I was entertained to some wonderful organ music.

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Third Venue: Tonbridge School – 7 January 2015

My third venue, a 75 mile round trip via the M25 and the A21 (which took about 50 minutes each way), was at Tonbridge School. Founded in 1553 by Sir Andrew Judde, merchant and Lord Mayor of London, and thereafter supported by the Skinners’ Company, this all-boys school has grown in numbers, both boarding and day, to nearly 800.

Here I was made most welcome by David Makey and his assistant, Graeme Tyndall, who acted as referee and marker. They had obtained as my opponent a real Rackets aficionado, one Nick Harding. We were put on a beautiful new court – apparently one of only four built in the last 100 years – but unfortunately I lost 15/6 and 15/10. I was disappointed with my performance so chose to play on; this time I lost more narrowly. I would like to think that I might improve my Rackets, were I to play again on this absolutely fabulous court. We then played a fourth game on the old black court, where I could hardly see as the lighting was inferior.

Afterwards I met John Gibbs, the master in charge of Rackets, and enjoyed fish and chips. The warmth of my reception and the hospitality offered was only surpassed by the generosity of David, Graeme and Nick, who contributed generously to both charities.

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Fourth Venue: Wellington College – 9 January 2015

My fourth venue, an 80 mile round trip via Farnham (which should have taken about 55 minutes each way but was longer owing to an A3 jam on the way home), was at Wellington College. Founded in honour of the Iron Duke, this large co-ed school has recently grown in numbers, both boarding and day, to nearly 1,100. The Rackets court, part of a large sports centre (commercially shared during the day and the evening), was as good as one might expect to find. Though late 19th century it was well lit and as true as any I have played on. I had the pleasure of playing an ‘A’ level science pupil, Kate Milliken-Smith, whom I was able to beat – partly because she was good enough not to do any mishits, 15/4 and 18/16.

After the match I took tea with the professional, Ryan Tulley, with whom I had a pleasant chat. After this I took a few photos of the college grounds and buildings and noticed that Peter Mallinson is a governor and benefactor of the college.

Fifth Venue: The Queen’s Club – 12 January 2015

On home territory but my most challenging match so far!! I had to play the senior pro, Ben Snell. Having asked him not to wear me out but to give me some opportunities, he gave me such a runaround that I was utterly exhausted after about four rallies. He let me win nine and ten points respectively. Afterwards I was wondering if I would recover!!

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Sixth Venue: The Eton College – 13 January 2015

Fortunately by 2 pm I had recovered from last night’s battering. My sixth venue, a mere 46 mile round trip, was to Eton College, which dominates the village of Eton. Here Peter Brake selected 15 year old Bertie Duncan, who proved too good for me; I lost 5/15 4/15 5/15; after this we were joined by Peter and the master in charge of Rackets, Paul Gillam. Despite Peter’s efforts we narrowly lost 13 – 16. Although the court looked less inviting than the red floored courts, it played true!

Still I have now completed one third of my task in nine days and am still in one piece and looking forward to the next 12 venues. Tea and biscuits were gratefully accepted.

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Seventh Venue: Seacourt Tennis Club – 14 January 2015

My seventh venue was a 130 mile round trip to Seacourt Tennis Club. The weather was foul with it raining a lot of the time. Seacourt is a sports club, which plays all six racquets sports plus pétanque.

I found the court somewhat unpredictable with the bounce. Here Dan Jones tried ever so hard to let me win. Unfortunately I did not take my chances; I lost 12/15 10/15 9/15.

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Eighth Venue: Charterhouse School – 15 January 2015

I had played here before – many years ago. This time a QC friend and fellow Arsenal supporter, Richard Boyle, offered to partner me.

Unfortunately, when we arrived all the Charterhouse Monks (Digby Don, Ed Benn, David Fortune and James Whidburn) were waiting outside. It later transpired that some maintenance work had been carried out and they had left with both locks engaged. The Monks only had the key to one lock!!

After a time, David left and the rest of us adjourned to the Charterhouse Arms for beer and curry. It is hoped to rearrange the match for one of my spare days.

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Ninth Venue: RMA Sandhurst – 17 January 2015

I had the honour to play Officer Cadet Adam Kula an Old Cliftonian. I learnt that not only had he played first pair for Clifton College but that he now represented the Army in both Rackets and Squash Rackets. This – on a difficult and freezing court – was formidable opposition. He tried very hard but unfortunately failed to let me win; we played four games and I amassed about a dozen points in all – despite his efforts.

Afterwards he presented me with a beautiful memento of the Academy and showed me and my wife round the RMA by car.

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Tenth Venue: Clifton College – 19 January 2015

To get to my tenth venue I had to drive 130 miles but Reg Williams gave me a warm welcome. He had arranged a doubles match between him and Tony Hill against me and Nick Cooper. It was an exciting and closely fought match,which we lost 7/15 15/10 18/13 9/15 14/16.

Afterwards we went to a local pub. Tony gave me a generous donation and I then took Nick home where he and Margo entertained me to a lovely three course dinner with wine; Nick had made the best pizza that I had ever had. That night I stayed over at my sister-in-law’s in Bristol.

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Eleventh Venue: Rugby – 20 January 2015

After a rather cold night in bed, where I lost a lot of sleep, I left Bristol and drove 144 miles to Rugby School, which dominates the centre of the town. The weather was awful and the court was freezing.

Philip Rosser, the professional, told me that the courts were the oldest in the world. This, however, did not enable me to play well and, although given opportunities, I only obtained a few points and broke my best racquet. My visit to this somewhat Spartan venue was brightened by a visit from my Leicestershire friend, Michael Robinson; after the match we spent time together in the town of Rugby.

The journey of a mere 124 miles back to Angela’s in Bristol was also awful as there was a snow storm but the day was rounded off really well thanks to Clive Archer, who took me and Angela to dinner. That night I slept well.

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Twelfth Venue: Malvern College – 21 January 2015

Owing to misrouting it took me 70 miles to get to beautiful Malvern College – quite a contrast with Rugby. The courts were heated and the changing facilities palatial. Noel Brett, the professional, not only lent me a racquet and sold me a very nice second hand one but also provided me with an excellent opponent Will Ametts, one of the top under 16 in the country, who beat me 15/6 15/13.

I broke my West Country week by returning home – some 144 miles – to my wife.

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Thirteenth Venue: Cheltenham College – 22 January 2015

Going back to the West Country for my thirteenth venue entailed a drive of 117 miles. Still it was well worthwhile to play with the professional, Mark Briers, who in reality gave me a badly needed lesson. Though he beat me 15/5 15/8 15/7, he pointed out many of my numerous failings, as a result of which I have been playing a lot better ever since. Not content with such favourable treatment, he insisted on giving me a cheque for one of my two charities.

Afterwards I drove a mere 33 miles to Thornbury, where I stayed with my friend, Nick Thornely. He was generous enough to take me out to dinner with an old friend of his, Richard Coffin.

Nick and I had a really good chat about many things and found that we had both been in the Royal Signals for National Service at about the same time as each other.

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Fourteenth Venue: Marlborough College – 23 January 2015

My fourteenth venue was only 56 miles from Thornbury. I was given another warm welcome by the professional, Robert Wakely, a Haileybury pupil. When he started at Marlborough, he introduced a builder to repair the court. The result was so good that the same builder was taken up by many of the other schools but alas not by Queen’s Club, which is considered by many to be one of the most difficult courts in the country.

But back to the Rackets. Robert found me a young opponent of a mere 68 years of age. Hugh Renwick beat me, best of three games 15/8 15/7. I was then able to win the third game 15/9. It’s all a question of getting used to the court! Robert then generously treated me to lunch at the Wellington.

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Fifteenth Venue: St Paul’s School – 25 January 2015

My fifteenth venue was a 17 mile round trip to St Paul’s, where Steve Tulley produced a fellow barrister, Tim Straker, as my opponent. He had generously donated to one of my two charities. But the charity ended there, as he beat me 15/2 15/13 18/16. Once again I seemed to improve as I got used to the court. What I have found is that many of the courts seemed to have been easier to play on than Queen’s. Steve confirmed this and told me that Queens’ was one of the hardest courts to play on.

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Sixteenth Venue: Radley College – 28 January 2015

My sixteenth venue was a four hour drive and a 141 mile round trip to Radley, which has not only a Rackets court but Real Tennis too.

After a slight hiccough in the arrangements, which involved a change of date, I was very warmly welcomed by the professional, Mark Hubbard, another Old Malvernian.

My opponent was one of Mark’s best pupils (and “right-hand man” during a recent incapacitation), Jack Foreman, whom I was lucky enough to beat 1/15 15/10 15/4. Notice how I seem to throw the first game and thereafter improve. We then had a threesome comprising me, Jack and Mark. Jack went off and Mark carried on helping me to improve my game.

Afterwards I was treated to an excellent supper in Radley’s magnificent hall reminiscent for me of the Inns of Court and introduced to Kyle the master in charge.

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Seventeenth Venue: Harrow School – 29 January 2015

My last school and penultimate venue was Harrow, a 45 mile round trip, which took 90 minutes to get there but only 50 minutes to get back.

The professional, my old friend and Old Salopian, John Eaton, had lined up Ben Mumford for me to play. I lost the first game and felt really tired but must have found a second wind because I managed to win the next two games. Apparently one has always to get used to a new or different court. The score was 9/15 15/12 15/7. We then played a doubles, I with Gary, John Eaton’s assistant, and Ben with another John.

Afterwards I expressed the wish to take John for a drink. He took me to a little place next to the Old Etonian, a French restaurant, where we were joined by Ben, John and Daniella. A surprise was sprung on me at the end, when I found that they had treated me and I had been their guest. 17 down – off to Manchester for the last match!

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Eighteenth (and Final) Venue: Manchester Tennis and Racquet Club – 1 February 2015

Last venue; first injury! After only a few points in the very first game I realised I had strained my left thigh muscle; this, however, did not prevent me from playing and cannot be blamed for my appalling performance, which my famous (in the Rackets world) opponent, Brendan Hegarty, modestly explained away as being due to my unfamiliarity with his home court!! The result was 4/15 0/15 6/15. I think I got less than 12 points over the course of four games!

Talking about strain, I let the train take the strain, this being the first venue, to which I had not driven. Manchester, albeit charmingly old-fashioned, is a proper club.

After the match I was treated to a very good lunch with wine by my excellent host and his wife, Irene. Not content with giving me lunch, Brendan also made a generous donation on behalf of himself and one John Mortimer, whom I did not have the pleasure of meeting, before running me back to Manchester Piccadilly, thus depriving himself of seeing the climax of a Real Tennis match between Manchester and Petworth!


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