Great Aunt Anna

There are Great Aunts and there are ‘great’ aunts and Aunt Anna was both to me.

She was born in 1900 and died on June 29th, 1991 ~ just a few months short of my wedding day.


Anna was my maternal grandmother’s young sister and one of those ‘forever young’ people. She was more like a sister to my mother than an aunt and I find it very difficult to describe what she was to me ~ I think I’d simply say ‘Anna.’

I have never met anyone remotely like her. She was about as fun-loving as it gets; mad into sport; generous to a fault and a supreme romantic.

She married for the first time, aged 72, and was the best ad I ever came across for marriage. She relished every moment of the eight years she had with her husband.

She lived half way between Dublin and the various homes my parents had when I was based in Dublin. I’d always call into her on my travels home at weekends and we’d spend hours chatting. She was always mad to hear about the latest romances in my life and if she got a sniff of anything serious, she’d teasingly ask me ‘where’s the ring?’  I was in my twenties then and would tell her that I had nearly 50 years to go to be in the same league as her ~ getting married at 72.

I think of her with special love tonight as we shared a passion for both playing tennis and watching Wimbledon (which starts tomorrow.) She was the person who bought me my first decent tennis racket ~ a swish wooden Maxply ~ when I won my first tournament aged 12.

She spent the last 4 years of her life in a nursing home here in Tramore, where she had spent many holidays with my parents between 1948 and 1963. Whenever I was home, I would head up to visit her and, as she was a real night owl, I tended to go up to her late in the evening.

We talked about absolutely everything ~ nothing was out of bounds. She was an avid reader of Cosmopolitan right up to the end, smoked like a trooper and had an eye for a good-looking ‘young man!’

She was all set to come to my wedding in September 1991, but got a very bad dose of shingles in the June and went into decline very rapidly. I was with her when she died in the early hours of June 29th, 1991, holding her soft hand which had always been such a comfort to me.

I’ve never been a person for rings. However, when it came to my wedding day, it seemed more than appropriate to wear the slim golden ring with a sliver of sparkling diamonds that Anna had given me shortly before she died.





Creativity, Arts and Sport ~ Gatherings from Ireland #185

It seems to me that it is widely assumed that ‘sporty’ people and ‘arty’ people are poles apart and as one who loves both sport and the arts I’ve grappled with this for years.

It has all come to a head today because  there is a writing ‘do’ that I’d love to go to this evening BUT what about Wimbledon? Needless to say, I’m asking myself  How could anyone organise anything on men’s quarter finals day at Wimbledon which is bound to go on late into the evening?

But that’s just the warm-up or should I say the ‘preface?’


Back in 1976, I first came upon the concept of paradigms through T.S. Kuhn’s book  The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.  It’s a book that I always keep very  close at hand because it has always seemed so useful in trying to grapple with what can seem like different ways of thinking, different worlds.  I know, as a young sociology student, I wasn’t really meant to be using Kuhn to help me see how it was possible that someone would think that ‘doing a line’ could only mean ‘ having a fling’ when, of course, it could mean ‘being a line judge’ at Wimbledon or wherever.

I firmly believe that both sport and the arts require creativity.  To me, they are like opposite sides of the same creative coin. I think, though, that those who frequent the different camps don’t realise how much they have in common. And worse still, I think there can be a tendency to categorise kids from a very early age as being either ‘arty’ or ‘sporty.’

Yes, ‘natural’  talent and leanings come into play with regard to both sport and the arts but I think we need to look at them as being within the same broad paradigm ~ a paradigm in which there is so much common language.

So, now I must dash and check on the latest scores at Wimbledon.  As for the writing ‘do’ tonight, I think that calls for yet another way of ‘doing a line!’

Poetry and Tennis ~ Gatherings from Ireland # 176

Rudyard Kipling’s, If, was one of the first poems to which I was introduced by my mother who was also responsible for inspiring my love of tennis.

Mother liked to listen to Wimbledon on the radio, even after we had got our first television in the 1960s. Her hero was Fred Perry, who won Wimbledon in 1934, 1935 and 1936,  and she often talked of how getting to hear the tennis was quite  an issue  as she had to do battle with her farming father who simply had  to hear the Livestock Report. As Mother recalled it, the Livestock Report always seemed to happen just as the tennis matches involving Fred Perry were poised at psychological moments!

Fred Perry Photo: Wikipedia
Fred Perry
Photo: Wikipedia

What a difference nowadays ~ I can be driving along and getting a point by point and grunt by grunt commentary from my son via his phone!

But, whatever the technological changes, the words of the poem If  remain  as meaningful as ever. I love this rendition from Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal:

Wimbledon Waits ~ Gatherings from Ireland # 174


There are few days in the year that fill me with such happy anticipation as the Sunday before Wimbledon starts. I’ve been like this since I was a kid and, if anything,  the pre-Wimbledon feeling gets stronger with each passing year. At this stage, it’s at bursting point.

I feel like I need to devote today to cooking for two weeks and stockpiling on such mundane matters as hovering, washing, ironing, weeding …… and all the bloody rest of it!

I intend to ‘be’ at Wimbledon, for the next two weeks and I mean ‘be’ to the point of having my strawberries and cream, chewing my nails at every break point, set point, match point ….

I was lucky enough to get to Wimbledon back in the 1990s, when Steffi Graf  was in her prime and I  was engulfed by the place.  I had tickets for two days but queued for four days. I’m the one who hasn’t the patience to queue in the supermarket for two seconds, but there I was chatting happily in a Wimbledon queue from about 7am ’til the Gates opened hours and hours later.

I can tell you, I made the very most of that experience and on the last evening, I went into the empty Centre Court Stand and just sat, thinking and dreaming …..  A kindly steward finally came to me and asked if I wanted another few minutes but that they really needed to lock up!

What is it, you might well ask, that gives rise to such ‘madness.’ Well, I’d say it’s everything from that soothing Wimbledon ‘green’ to memories of being able to buy a tennis magazine with the full draw in it in the Savoy shop across the road from us in Drogehda; seeing dreams being realised; the joy of grass courts with chalk rising, white whites and, yes, memories of great matches like   Jimmy Connors vs Arthur Ashe and Borg vs McEnroe.



To Tennis with Love

Once May is in sight, thoughts of tennis come flooding through me. They came a bit earlier than usual this year because I was fortunate enough to be in Mallorca at Easter and hoped that maybe, just maybe, I would catch sight of Rafa Nadal. I didn’t and what surprised me even more was that I couldn’t even find a copy of his autobiography over there. I have read it since I came home and understand now that Mallorca is the one place where this superstar wants to be, and most importantly, is, treated like a normal human being.

Passion for tennis is what emerges from Nadal’s book and that is something with which I can certainly identify. One doesn’t have to be a superstar to know that special feel of rusty red clay courts – will Nadal follow up his recent win in Monte Carlo with yet another victory at the forthcoming French Open?

Rafa Nadal

The clay courts in Ireland that brought me hours of pleasure were those in County Tipperary Lawn Tennis Club, which was founded in 1887, and which was steeped in quaint old-worldness when I used to play in the August tournament there throughout the 1970s and early 1980s. This was the era before floodlights were widespread and those weeks in Tipperary, which were punctuated by cucumber sandwiches and homemade cream sponge cakes, also highlighted the fact that summer was ending as failing light would curtail play around half-eight. We would retire in our rust stained whites into the tiny wooden hut that housed the ‘bar’ and all the talk would be about the highlights of the season just passed and questions of how it was possible to find two such different personalities as Borg and McEnroe.

But most of all, May brought the scent of cut grass and thoughts of Wimbledon. My first introduction to tennis was on the grass courts of Tramore, Co. Waterford when I was three. From those early days, I harboured dreams, as so many youngsters and not-so-youngsters do, of being Wimbledon champion one day. Thoughts of serving for the Championship were never far from my mind as I practiced endlessly against the walls of the Bank Houses that we lived in around the country when I was growing up.

Me, aged 14.

 Billie Jean King was my idol and deep down I hoped that, at least sharing part of her name, might help me to follow in her footsteps. While others might have counted sheep to get to sleep, I would work my way down through the Men’s and Ladies’ Singles draws which I tried to commit to memory from the minute they were made. John Newcombe was my heart throb ~ he had it all! Whenever I was sick, my mother would ask me a key question to try and gauage if I was as bad as I was making out:  ‘Now, if John Newcombe was at the front door, do you think you’d be fit enough to go down and talk to him?‘ Even when I moaned, ‘No‘, I knew that I would be well able to zoom down the stairs if there was even the remotest chance that  ‘He’ might be calling!

I had a fleeting glimpse of the ‘Big Time’ when I was drawn to play against the great Maria Bueno – 3 times Wimbledon Champion and tennis legend – in the first round of the Irish Open when I was 19 and she was semi-retired. That was a lesson and a half! I learned more about spins, angles and drop shots in the seventeen and a half minutes it took her to beat me than I had learned in the sixteen years I had been playing tennis. Forever after, no matter who I had to play, I could at least say, ‘Well, she’s not Maria Bueno!’

Maria Bueno in her prime

Walking through the airport in Mallorca, I thought of my mother’s view that being able to play tennis to some kind of reasonable standard is like a passport in life. I also wondered how it must feel for Rafa Nadal to ‘come home,’ having won so much from the Under -12 Balearic Islands Championships, aged only eight, to Grand Slam titles, Davis Cup and Olympic Gold. 

Hearing about his humility, I was also reminded of  his rendition, with Roger Federer, of Rudyard Kipling’s, ‘If,’  which  hangs in my heart as well as at the entrance to the hallowed Centre Court  of  Wimbledon.