THERE are so many problems in the world, too many to comprehend sometimes. So, here is one that only bothers me: why do I always lose at squash?
A person considering such a twice-weekly calamity has one obvious resource: Google. I start to type the words and the clever/possibly evil algorithms anticipate my question. Why do I always…feel sick/tired/cold/hungry. When I add the word ‘lose’ the predicted options change to ‘things’, ‘my voice when I drink’, followed by: and ‘at poker’, ‘at chess’ and ‘at the casino’.
I add the word ‘squash’ to help the algorithm out, and a few options pop up. The first of these is a ‘wiki How to do anything…’ guide to winning at squash.
I have played squash for a long time and shouldn’t need to seek out such advice. I used to win now and then, and often forced a mean draw. In the past, I played lots of people, although now in general only two friends have that dubious honour.
My Monday opponent is beatable on a good day, but there haven’t been any of those in a while. My Wednesday opponent has won every session for about a year-and-a-half, although I did force a memorable draw sometime within living memory.
The wiki guide is full of advice, such as drink water before you play (don’t usually remember), bring a spare racket (don’t have one) and a spare shirt (don’t think 40 minutes of antiquated squash requires a change of top).
One section is headlined: “Figure out who your opponents will be…” Ah, I already know that, Mike on a Monday and Phil on a Wednesday. Warm up (yes) and start slow (probably) and ‘stick to your game’.
That last piece of advice is hardly useful if the game you stick to involves running around to little enough effect, mumble-swearing and dropping your racket on the court floor in exasperation every time you lose a game you so very nearly won.
Nowhere does this guide say: “Stop playing at your age, you old fool.” This is encouraging because otherwise I would stop reading straight away, and anyway my Monday vanquisher is five years older than me.
It is true that Mr Wednesday said last night: “Well, you are 60 now” and managed to escape without getting a racket smashed over his head, as if we were in a cartoon rather than a weekly squash match. Or, in my case, a weakly one.
“Never give up…” Oh, yeah, thanks. I do that every week. My shoulders slump, my head goes down and defeat is mine.
“There are no easy shots…” Now they tell me. Over on the Squash Player website there is lots of advice about watching the ball and changing your grip (I tend to lose mine). All very interesting and sensible, but only if you play squash, so I shall spare you the details.
With Christmas approaching, I have two more chances to win before the year is out. The problem is psychological as much as anything else: if you lose at games too often, you mentally take on the shape of a loser. You become the loser you don’t want to be. And afterwards you stalk about the changing room with a red face until the sweat and the shame stops.
And, yes, it is only a game, and a good one, too. But games are meant to be won occasionally. Still, at heart I remain an optimist, even when the evidence all points in the opposite direction. Perhaps next year.
Tonight, there sees the weekly shuttlecock session. To my badminton friends I can only say that the groans and grumps you occasionally witness are as nothing compared with the squash tantrums.
Away from the court, I tend to be mild of manner. Less so on court, but there you go.