On the middle Saturday of the tournament, my brother, John and I are set down to play on the Centre Court against Margaret Court and Marty Reissen. He is touring in the Davis Cup team managed by Harry Hopman and this is the first tournament we’ve played at the same tournament since Palermo.
Although we are the next match on, and have been duly instructed where to wait, I am the only one who is sitting on the hard, board seats in the small room behind the Centre Court. The other more experienced players and my brother – who no doubt has been counselled by Harry Hopman, – remain in the comfort of the change rooms until the very last moment. Unfortunately this gives me too much time for my already shattered nerves to kick in especially as right above the doorway leading out to the Centre Court are the two crossed swords and underneath the lines from Rudyard Kipling’s poem:-
“If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same.”
Triumph I can handle easily, I reflect, as I sit there. It is Disaster that is my main concern.
I find it hard to believe that I am about to play on the hallowed Wimbledon turf, the scene of so many long and torrid battles, fought by past champions. As a young girl, growing up, I’d dreamed of this moment, as I’d lain sprawled on my parents’ bed, sipping hot, sweet tea and listening to the crackly radio broadcasts from Wimbledon in the early hours of the morning. Now I am here and it is about to happen.
When the others arrive and I stand up to go out on the court, I can’t feel my knees. They’ve completely gone to jelly. Nor as hard as I try, can I get the butterflies in my stomach to fly in formation. They are running wild. I make the mistake of looking up at the Centre Court stands, which are full to overflowing with people. They shimmer in the afternoon sun, appearing to rise out of the ground, almost perpendicularly. I pray fervently, to the God of all tennis players, that I will play my best, not let my partner down, or worst of all make a fool of myself. I step gingerly forward, wishing fervently that I was a turtle and could just disappear into my shell.
We lose – but only just. The good part is that as a brother and sister combination – only the third in the history of Wimbledon – we are the crowd favourites and are cheered loudly every time we win a point. Mum will certainly be very proud and happy as it has always been her dream for John and me to play Mixed Doubles on the Centre Court at Wimbledon.
On the day of my first match at Wimbledon, in 1970 a chauffeur – in full livery complete with cap – arrives in a black, shiny Rolls Royce at the boarding house in Putney where I am staying. The other, not-so-fortunate players who haven’t made the draw, plus our landlady – dressed in a crinoline brunch coat with her hair in rollers, covered by a paisley chiffon scarf – gather at the front door to and wave me good-bye. I hop in the front with the driver because I get carsick in the back, and am so excited that I don’t shut up the whole trip! As we drive regally along, everyone keeps turning around, to see if they recognize me. “Am I someone famous?”
The sun, for once, is shining as we drive into the Club grounds past mile long queues of people waiting for tickets for the standing room area. Loud, spruiking scalpers are plying the crowd with tickets at exorbitant prices. The crowd parts as we drive through the gates then pass the Centre Court to the Players Change Room. Autograph seekers thrust their books at me as I get out. I sign a few, and then race for the cover of the Ladies. No doubt they are disappointed that I am not one of the top players!
I am due to play Margaret Court – the Number One Seed – in the singles in the First Round at 11am, and try to cool my nerves before the match. I am most certainly relieved that, due to rain, we have been rescheduled to play on Court 17. It would have been a nightmare to play her on the Centre Court, where we were originally drawn.
As I make my way through the crowds milling around the outside courts, adrenalin is surging through my body, making my knees go weak. Unfortunately, I’ve managed to get very little practice on grass since I’ve been in England and find the transition from the very slow loam courts which I’ve been playing on, to the faster-than-lightning grass, difficult. The long, lush, English grass is also very different from the Australian lawn courts which bake themselves corn coloured during our long hot summers – by the end of which there is mostly dirt with only a few odd spikes of grass around the service line.
There is a large crowd crammed around the court which I am not used to and I become caught up in the occasion. Margaret Court turns out to be every bit as formidable an opponent as I imagined she would be. As well as being the Number 1 Seed in the tournament, she is the current Australian Champion. It doesn’t help that grass is her favourite surface and really suits her serve/volley game to a tee. I play in a hesitant manner, mistime the ball and don’t really settle down in the match at all.
It is not a pleasant experience.
I already had the “Nervous Nellies” before the match, having read a feature in the paper this morning, which compared the various arm lengths of the players in this year’s tournament. I am especially intimidated by the fact that Margaret’s arm length is longer than two thirds of the Men’s Draw. That doesn’t help my confidence and during the match when she comes into the net, it’s all I can think about. My worst fears are confirmed. It is just impossible to get the ball past her. It feels like she is just all over the place without taking more than a step in any direction. The reality: with that massive arm stretch extended to the maximum… she is!
She also hits the ball with a lot more power and depth than I am used to, which I’ve heard is due to the fact that Frank Sedgman (who is coaching her) has had her doing weight training. She wins easily but fortunately I manage to get a game in the second set for which I get a big cheer from the crowd. 6-love, 6-love would be very embarrassing even though she is the Number One Seed and we are on an outside court.
I expected to lose so I am not that disappointed. As I walk back to the change rooms by the other outside courts I notice that there are just so many good players. As only one hundred and twenty-eight players make the draw, I feel I’ve done well just to get into the tournament especially when I take into consideration that I am far from dedicated, have a dreadful second serve and am the female version of McEnroe. I also have smoked all the cigarettes that the Rothman and Malboro (tournament sponsors at that time) representatives gave me to hand around to the spectators. Besides Margaret has the advantage of an entourage, whereas I am here all by myself.
I console myself in the change room with a long hot shower followed by afternoon tea on the lawn in the sun outside the centre court. I eat the biggest, sweetest strawberries I’ve ever tasted, with lashings of cream washed down with a half-way decent cup of tea. I’ve never really liked strawberries all that much before, having always found them a bit sour, but these English ones are so sweet and luscious. They are truly to die for!
At last I can be me. It has taken a long time for me to realize that I’ve spent my whole life fulfilling other peoples’ dreams – rather than my own. I am 65. Time is marching on. I feel a sense of urgency. There’s no time to lose. I don’t want to leave this world with my songs unsung – or in my case my book unfinished.
My mother’s ambitions for me were centred on tennis. She always dreamt that my brother John and I would play in the mixed doubles at Wimbledon. My Dad’s dream for me was more of the practical kind. He was 42 when I was born and knew he wasn’t going to always be around to support the family. He wanted me to have financial security and encouraged me to go into real estate.
From an early age Dad had been intent on a career in business for me. I received a telephone for my third birthday, a cash register for my fourth, he taught me how to write the receipts for the rent when I was seven and gave me a typewriter for Christmas when I was eleven. He was doggedly determined to get a square peg into a round hole.
Both these professions left me somewhat dissatisfied and unfulfilled – as if I was rowing upstream against the current – there was something missing. Deep down my dreams were along very different lines. I had dreamt of living a creative life. When I was young, I desperately wanted to be a dancer – then when I got too tall to be a ballerina – an actress. I wanted to perform.
Mum and Dad were concerned about my creative side. They were afraid I’d taken after Dad’s mother, Florence, who was very musical and arty. She’d studied music at the Conservatorium in London, before coming to Australia with her husband. She played the piano, sang and also wrote fantastic stories. However, she failed to pass muster with mum and dad because she was on the Bohemian side of life, was constantly on the move, had unreal expectations of life and people, was an unskilled money manager, a hypochondriac without maternal instincts and smoked roll your owns. I adored her.
My grandmother, Florence May Alexander with her four sons looking like butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth which was far from the truth.
My creative life, which had lain buried for more than 30 years, began to make itself known in my late 40’s. It seemed to arrive with the beginning of menopause. For two years I had a recurrent dream in which I packed suitcases every night. I had a plane to catch but I couldn’t decide what to take. I kept putting things in the case then taking them out. The clock was ticking. It wasn’t until I realized that the plane represented death, and the packing represented the things I couldn’t decide about, what I wanted to do with the remainder of my life. It wasn’t real estate. I started taking singing lessons. Poems and songs popped into my head as I walked through the bush around the lake near my home at Narrabeen on Sydney’s Northern Beaches.
I was invited to read my poem “Road death of a Kangaroo” at an international poetry conference in Washington and reached the semi finals.
Spirituality has always been one of the most rewarding parts of my life. Although mum and dad had duly sent us to Sunday school, I found out later that they were both atheists. They kept this very quiet when we were growing up in the 1950’s. This was the era of the American Evangelist Billy Graham – a time when the majority of Australians were Christians (89.4% in 1954) and regular Church attenders. Mum and Dad only sent us there so they could have peace and quiet while they gardened on a Sunday morning.
I’ve always believed that there was another dimension of invisible energy – not anything to do with what we learnt about in those Sunday school classes, held in the freezing chamber of Sir Frederick Stewart’s old dairy. I never felt alone as I raced barefoot through the bush or sat high up on branches watching the world go by. I have always felt that there was something else – a presence. Not just what we see – another level – invisible and magic.
I sold my real estate practice in Narrabeen in 2006 but it has taken me until now, 9 years on, to relinquish my real estate licence. I finally made the decision to be a full-time writer while walking the Camino de la Plata in Spain, last year. I had waited so long for this moment. Sometimes I regret the time I’ve lost pursuing other people’s dreams. I wonder whether I’m too old to throw caution to the wind and embark on this new endeavour. The silver lining is as I like writing about things which have happened in my life, and there is certainly plenty of material to write about.
I do believe that everything that has happened to me in my life, happened for a reason and at the right time – although quiet often it didn’t feel like it at the time.
I am finally walking my own path.
*Sir Frederick Stewart was a businessman, politician, government member and philanthropist. In many ways he was the antithesis of a professional politician, being prepared to sacrifice political advancement to achieve social reform. He relished his role as a gadfly: he was critical of his party leaders to the brink of disloyalty, but always commanded their respect. More active in social and industrial policy than virtually all Labour politicians of his generation, he was frustrated in his supreme objective of implementing a national insurance scheme. His idealism, administrative talents and disregard for political aggrandizement made him one of the more effective and attractive of Australia’s politicians in an era of depression and war.
Yo era una jovencita de 18 anos, una jugadora del tenis Australiana,cuando llege en Madrid en 1967. Vivi en espana durante el inviernocuando no habian torneos entre 1967 y 1973.
No sabia nada de la guerra civil ni las repercusiones de ella que resono despues. Pero aunque estaba ajeno a la situation politica note algunas cosas estranas.
Nadie hablaba de politica. Nadie hablaba mal de Franco ni le contabaun chiste sobre el.
Y aunque yo no sabia nada de esta red de intrigas y insinuaciones,me di cuenta que los bancos de las iglesias estaban llenos, la gentepresto estricta observancia de las fiestas religiosas y opus dei, la mafia espanola governando el gallinero.
Durante este periodo cuando Franco estaba vivo el goberno con un punyo de hierro. Fue reverenciado, temido, despreciado y siempre obedecido. Supresencia ominosa flotaba en las habitaciones traseras, taxis,restaurantes y casas particulares en forma de una multitudinaria red de espias, escuchando y reportando sobre cualquiera que hablara en contre de el. Franco pronto despacho a esos disidentes y todavia estaba firmando ordenes de ejecution en su lecho de muerte en
La corrupcion durante estos anos abundaba y aunque no habia eldivoricio los matrimonios podian anular su matrimonio por un precio determinado pagado a la iglesia.
Durante este periodo los catalones, los gallegos y los vascos no se les permitiaran hablar sus idiomas. Como puedes imaginar Eso causo mayor descontento.
En 1984 cuando volvi a espana para areglar unos papeles por mi hijo vi que ha habido una revolucion social desde la muerte de Franco. Transvestis estaban solicitando topless en mi vieja calle General Oraa aunque era invierno. Marihunaa fue legalizada. Hubo divorcio. Y Pedro Almovodar, el famoso director estaba lanzando unas peliculas que eran casi pornograficas. No sei si algun a visto « Nasty Habits. »
Markus y yo tuvimos que dejar el cine cuando las Monjas empezaron a tener sexo con leones.
En 2015 cuando yo volvi una vez maz a Espania para caminar elcamino de la Plata con mi marido, Markus los bascos, gallegos y catalanes puedieron hablar sus idiomas. En Barcelona todos los menus estaban en catalan. Y Tuvimos un problema con nuestro gps por que solo hablaba espanol – nos perdimos todo el tiempo en cataluna, el pais vasco y Gallicia.
Cuando estabamos en Madrid no pudimos resistir a ir a ver donde habia vivido Franco. Despues la guerra civil, vivio en el Palacio Real de el Pardo situado a unos 15 kilometres fuera de Madrid. Originalmente era un parbellon de caza. Mas tarde convirtio en la residencia alternativa de los reyes de Espana hasta Alfonso el ocho se murio en 1885.
Franco se mudo alli despues de la guerra civil. Principalmente por seguridad. Siempre estuvo preocupado de que lo asesinaran. Con razon sin duda.
El palacio es énorme, con yo no se cuantas habitaciones elegantes y lujosos, con muebles franceses antiguos y pinturas famosas. Pero el dormitorio de Franco y su mujer era humilde, con muebles muy basicos, una cama doble con un banco tapizado al final para sentarse y ver la tele. Pero encima de la cama estaba una estatua mas grande de Jesus que se extendia a lo largo de la pared del fondo. Me resulta dificil entender como pudo reconciliar el asesinato de tanta gentecon sus creencias religiosas.
En este momento en espana habia estatuas de franco por todas partes.
Pero En 2019 cuando volvi con mi hermana todas estas estatuas se habian ido y substituido por estatuas de Los Reyes Catolicos Isabel y Fernando del periodo 1474 hasta 1504. Esta es una fascinante historia para un otro dia.