From The Bubble To The Opera

A lot of water has flowed under the proverbial since I last wrote about the end of year World Series Finals. At that time (January 2011) the finals had the unique distinction of being held in a (temporary) inflatable venue in the grounds of The Queen’s Club in London, a location best known as the home of a grass court tennis tournament held a fortnight before Wimbledon.

The Finals that year were also unique in a different way in that they terminated, unexpectedly, at the semi-final stage. This was due to the unfortunate manifestation of gale-force winds over and, sadly, through the tournament venue causing it irreparable damage.

As I remember, the colour schemes for both the show-court and the night-time illumination of the outside of the bubble-shaped venue both incorporated pink. For this year’s tournament (held in Dubai in June) I’m glad to see that the former colour scheme, at least, has been retained.

However, with regard to the outside of the venue (the state of the art Dubai Opera), I suspect that pink may have proved to be a step too far.

Sources

Thanks to PSA Squash TV.

London Squash: The Claridge Courts

Although the game of squash was invented in Britain, the first squash governing body in the world was founded, in 1904, in the United States. In fact, it was not until 1928 that an equivalent organisation, the Squash Racquets Association (SRA), was formed to agree standards for the game in Britain, including those for court size.

By that time, however, many squash courts had already been constructed which did not meet the new standard. Two of them were built in London during the period 1919 – 1921 to the same specification as the squash court on The Titanic which had sunk in 1912. The courts, known as The Claridge Courts, formed part of the premises of a service club in London’s Piccadilly.

They were to remain in use for almost a hundred years.

RAF Club, Piccadilly

The RAF Club

The Claridge Courts were seventeen inches narrower than the 1928 SRA standard. During their post-1928 lifetime, this feature was to add what has been described as “a certain measure of eccentricity” to the games played on them.

RAF Squash

The courts were located on the premises of the RAF Club, established in late 1918 for the use of members of the Royal Air Force. The RAF itself had been founded only on April 1st of the same year and was the first such national force in the world to become independent of army or navy control. The RAF Club’s buildings, still in use today, were acquired by the middle of 1919, their Piccadilly frontage being originally that of the Ladies Lyceum Club.

The RAF Club was officially opened by HRH The Duke of York in February 1922 and was visited the following month by Their Majesties King George V and Queen Mary. This association with the Royal Family continues to this day, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II being the Club’s Patron.

The Bath Cup

The Claridge Courts were amongst the first in London to host matches in the Bath Cup, the oldest squash league in the world. Established in 1922, the Cup was named after its founders, the Bath & Racquets Club, and is still one of the most prestigious squash competitions in Britain. The Cup is contested annually by the oldest clubs in London including: Queens, RAC, Hurlingham, Lansdowne, Roehampton, Oxford & Cambridge, MCC, Cumberland and Lloyd’s of London. The RAF Club has been represented in the competition since its inception, pausing temporarily in the early 1940s whilst its players were otherwise occupied in the Second World War.

Over the years the Claridge Courts have also been used for internal competition between Club members and their guests, as well as for inter-service competition with representatives of Britain’s other armed forces. The Club also has a long tradition of friendly competition with other London-based clubs such as Jesters, Escorts, Swans, Wine Traders, John Lewis, Old Wellingtonians and Civil Service, all of which have been able to experience the “eccentricity” of playing on The Claridge Courts.

The End Of An Era

Sadly, in 2016, a decision was taken to renovate the interior of the RAF Club in response to increasing demand for additional accommodation. One of the consequences of the decision was the removal of The Claridge Courts, marking the demise of two of the oldest squash courts in the world.

One of those campaigning to save the courts, Squadron Leader Philip Tilstone, a member for 30 years, said: “Whilst I understand the commercial reasons for the decision to close the courts I find it extremely disappointing that no other arrangements have been proposed.

“By representing the club in the prestigious Bath Cup league as well as in many friendly matches during the season, players have been able to educate many of our opponents on the way the military works and become better informed about the challenges faced by those in the commercial world.”

Sources

Thanks to the RAF Club, the Royal Air Force, Wikipedia, The Times, West End Extra and The London Evening Standard.

London Squash: The In & Out

Dating from 1927, the oldest private squash court in London has a remarkable history. Situated on the top floor of a mews building attached to No.4 St. James’s Square, the court was built by The Army and Navy Club which had outgrown its premises on the corner of Pall Mall and George Street. After 3 years of development the new mews building provided chambers, bed-sitting-rooms, bedrooms, a ladies’ drawing-room, a dining-room and ground floor shop premises in addition to the squash court.

The Army and Navy Club

Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington

The Army and Navy Club had been founded in 1837, the year Queen Victoria acceded to the Throne. It had been formed to meet the needs of the many army officers wanting to join a Service Club, most of which were already full. Its first president was Arthur Wellesley, First Duke of Wellington, who accepted the post on condition that membership was also open to officers of the Royal Navy and the Royal Marines.

The In & Out

By 1862, London boasted three Service Clubs: the United Service Club, the Junior United Service Club and The Army and Navy Club, all of which were at full capacity. To meet demand, a fourth club, The Naval and Military Club, was founded in March 1862 by a party of officers who at that time were quartered at the Tower of London.

94 Piccadilly

After several changes of premises, The Naval and Military Club moved, in 1866, to 94 Piccadilly, also known as Cambridge House. There, it came to be known as “The In & Out” from the prominent signs on the building’s separate vehicle entrance and exit gates. In 1996, having failed to agree terms for a new lease in Piccadilly, the club purchased the freehold of 4 St. James’s Square and finally moved into its new home on 1st February, 1999.

The Squash Court

In And Out Squash Court

As part of its freehold, The In & Out gained access to the squash court formerly used by The Army and Navy Club. Now in its 90th year of use, access to the court is a key part of the club’s fitness and leisure programme.

Evidence of the historical use of the court can be seen in the form of an honours board in the clubhouse where the winners of a Squash Challenge Cup for the years 1936-56 are listed. The competition was not contested for the years 1939-47.

Squash Honours Board

The Naval and Military Club is now advertised as a St James’s private members club for ladies and gentlemen, and officers of the Armed Forces.

4 St. James’s Square History

4 St. James’s Square was built in 1726–28 during the reigns of George I and George II. Amongst its distinguished occupants were Waldorf and Nancy Astor who made it their London residence from 1912-42. American-born Nancy Astor was the first woman to sit as a United Kingdom Member of Parliament in 1919, later becoming Viscountess Astor.

In 1942, the house was requisitioned by the government and was used as the London headquarters of the Free French Forces led by General Charles de Gaulle.

In April 1984, St. James’s Square became the centre of world attention as the setting for the 11-day long Libyan Embassy siege triggered by the fatal shooting of WPC Yvonne Fletcher. The Libyan Embassy occupied 5 St. James’s Square.

Sources

The websites of The Army and Navy Club, The Naval and Military Club and British History Online. Thanks to Wikipedia as always.

Squash Ω (2014) – Short Film

A short film that explores the abstract narrative of an enthusiastic and passionate “squash” player.

Cast

Tim Patterson as Tommy Williams
John Hill as Jon Hill

Credits

Written and Directed by Derek Goulet and Tyler Chauncey
Director of Photography – Tyler Chauncey
Editor – Derek Goulet
Producer – Jill Bailey, Derek Goulet, and Tyler Chauncey

Crew

Gaffer – Ben King
Sound Recordist – Davis Bannister

There’s a lot to like about Goulet and Chauncey’s short film, not least the bewildering number and variety of ‘that’s not really squash‘ references, possibly referring to the ‘Ω’ of the fiilm’s title.

There was the actual squash reference, of course, namely the main character’s narrative tribute to his hero Jahangir Khan and his astonishing 555 match unbeaten run. But then the film introduced a series of images which, whilst not distracting from the story, kept this viewer at least wondering where the plot was heading. There was Tommy’s training regime which showed him roller-blading whilst playing air-shots with a  racquetball racquet. Crossed badminton racquets adorned the wall of his room above a photograph of Jahangir. When the on-court action began, Tommy and his opponent, Jon, entered a giant glass-backed court with no wall markings or tin. The court’s floor bore several sets of markings, including (possibly) badminton, whilst and on-court umpire completed the surreal scene.

Finally, having been knocked unconscious during his match, a dream sequence (Tommy’s sitting fully-clothed in a milk-filled bath being sponged down by the umpire and two assistants) is intercut with unsuccessful on-court attempts to resuscitate him.

I, for one, can’t wait for the follow-up.

The Play’s The Thing: Squash On Stage

Betrogen (Berlin Renaissance Theatre)

It’s one thing to write a serious play, particularly one using squash as a metaphor for the male social games played out by the protagonists of a classic love triangle. But it’s quite another to stage that play live on a set designed to replicate the closed space of a squash court.

Betrogen

Nevertheless, at least two attempts have been made in recent times to do just that. The play, of course, is Harold Pinter’s 1978 masterpiece ‘Betrayal’ in which Emma betrays her husband, Robert, a publisher, by conducting a seven-year affair with his best friend, Jerry, a literary agent.

Betrogen

2011’s Berlin Renaissance Theatre production of the play (‘Betrogen’) used a German translation of Pinter’s text by Heinrich-Maria Ledig Rowohlt and a modular ‘glass court’ stage set. In his review, theatre critic Andrew Haydon observes:

“… the entire play turns out to be set in a squash court. The glass fourth wall does gradually recede throughout the action, which, at least, has the effect of situating each scene in a different space, even if they are all white with a red line running round them about halfway up the wall. But even this hardly feels like an outrageous exercise in regietheater gone mad.

“The squash court is no doubt a cunning reference to one the famous motifs of Pinter’s text being Jerry and Robert […] repeatedly mentioning that they haven’t played squash together for years. Here the squash court surrounds them like an emblem of this failure, and a monument to the reason behind it.”

Betrayal

In 2017’s Derby Theatre production, director Lakan Lawal used a fixed ‘glass court’ stage set, the significance of which is initially missed by theatre critic Alfred Hickling in his review for ‘The Guardian’:

“Even more peculiarly, the action is encased within a rotating plastic box full of modish, transparent furniture. You can appreciate what Lawal and his designer Neil Irish are attempting to do here, since the play is written in reverse chronological order that first shows the end of the affair and eventually arrives at its beginning. But the backwards-spinning box comes with the unavoidable side-effects of isolated, artificial sound, while the walls – which could do with a wipe – heighten the impression that you might be glimpsing the action though grimy bus windows.”

Betrayal (Derby Theatre)

However, Hickling then recovers, suggesting:

“Or perhaps it’s all meant to be happening in one of those see-through courts in which competition squash matches are played. It’s a plausible solution, given that the play’s homoerotic subtext bubbles up in a speech celebrating the testosterone-rich rituals of racket sport (first the game, then the shower, then the pint – women not welcome). And what emerges most keenly from the performances, which are generally good, is what a vituperatively misogynistic play Betrayal can be.”

Sources

Thanks to the Berlin Renaissance Theatre website and the ‘Postcards from the Gods’ blog for reviews of ‘Betrogen’. Thanks to The Guardian and the ‘Behind The Arras’ website for reviews of ‘Betrayal’.

The Redeemer Of Floridablanca

I have to admit that until recently I’d never heard of the Colombian city of Floridablanca.

True, thirty years ago I probably flew over it en route to a memorable stay in the Colombian capital of Bogota. but, at the time, my attention was focussed on reaching Lima where I was due to join a group destined for Andean adventure, Amazonian exploration and, although I didn’t yet know it, severe food poisoning. Nevertheless, at 928 metres above sea level, Floridablanca had, and presumably still has, something that, at 2640  metres, Bogota noticeably lacked; namely, enough air to breathe whilst playing squash.

In March this year, Floridablanca hosted the inaugural Ciudad de Floridablanca PSA Women’s World Tour tournament, the final rounds of which were played on an open air court located in the city’s Parque el Santisimo. In the final, former World Number 1 Nicole David defeated America’s Olivia Blatchford 11-3 11-4 11-8.

All this might not sound particularly special but the location of the court certainly was, sharing an elevated plaza with the tallest “Christ the Redeemer” statue in South America. At 43 metres, the Floridablanca statue dwarfs its 30 metres tall rival in Rio de Janeiro which, as I recently discovered first-hand, shares its vantage point on top of Corcovado mountain with up to 14,000 visitors a day most of whom spend their time getting in each others’ way and taking photographs of themselves and each other with smart-phones.

The Floridablanca venue joins other iconic squash court locations, including the Great Pyramid of Giza in Cairo, the Vanderbilt Hall at Grand Central Terminal in New York and The Peninsula in Shanghai, in providing an providing an incredible setting for some of the best on-court action.

So the next time you consider visiting Rio for the holiday of a life-time, why not check out ticket availability for the next Ciudad de Floridablanca? You could even fly down to the fascinating city of Bogota for a few days.

But if you do decide to visit Floridablanca, be sure to pack your umbrella. And if you  decide to check out the capital too, you might want to consider an oxygen tank.

Sources

Thanks to Squash Site for its review of the inaugural final and to My Rio Travel Guide for its information on visitors to Rio’s “Christ the Redeemer” statue. Thanks also to Colombia Reports for its article on Floridablanca’s “Christ the Redeemer” statue.

Club Policy (2016) – Short Film

A couple serves up tragedy on the squash court when someone doesn’t abide by club policy.

Credits

A New Media Ltd Film

Written and Directed by Ryan Dickie and Abigail Horton

Assistant Director Ryan Gladstone

Produced by Corey Deckler and Paul Horton

Starring Meredith Hagner as Kelly and Jason Selvig as Don

Costume Design by Jami Villers

Production Design by Evan T. Schafer

Prosthetics by Izzi Galindo and Jackie Zbuska

****

Official Selection Fantastic Fest 2016

Official Selection Woodstock Film Festival 2016

 

 

Let’s Squash (2015) – Short Film

A short US film about a face-off between a squash player and a racquetball player.

Having recently played my first ever game of racquetball, I can understand the differences between it and squash, if only in relation to which of my muscles seized up afterwards.

However, the narrative of ‘Let’s Squash’ veers off into territory I’m no so comfortable with, e.g. the use of an on-court referee (clad in baseball ‘umpire’ gear), the occasional use of the side wall (by one player) to gain positional advantage during rallies, and the off-court appearance of a female player bouncing a completely different kind of ball.

Still, despite my concerns, I think I’ll give racquetball another try.

Anyone for tennis?

Credits

Produced by Michael McGovern and Chris Piepgrass (PiepGovern Productions)

Starring: Michael Schmidt, Michael Stevens and Michael McGovern

Special thanks to: The UO Rec Center, Tennis Gal, Ryan Grenier and Skye Gallagher

Brooklyn Nine-Squash

Maybe it’s just my imagination but there doesn’t seem to be any tailing off in the appearance of squash in TV series. In particular, the sport appears to be popular whenever characters are required to display extreme competitive behaviour bordering on psychopathy.

Take a recent (2015) episode (‘The Swedes’) of the US comedy ‘Brooklyn Nine-Nine’ set in the fictional 99th Precinct of the New York Police Department. The programme follows a team of detectives headed by newly appointed Captain Ray Holt and including Charles Boyle, a capable but quirky detective who wears his emotions on his sleeve.

In ‘The Swedes’, Holt enlists Charles to stand in as his squash partner for an annual doubles tournament. Boyle enthusiastically agrees although he confides to a colleague that he’s afraid he’ll let his competitive side out and start eating squash balls like he did in his college days. He begins the tournament trying to keep calm but, after losing the first game of their first match, Holt reveals that he’s picked him purely because of his squash insanity; he knew about Boyle’s crazy college antics and wants that on his team.

“I need you to unleash the beast,” says Holt.

Boyle and Holt (on the T) prepare to start the match

Boyle and Holt (on the T) prepare to start the match

Boyle responds, loses his calm and proceeds to dominate the competition in his own unique, aggressive and unsettling way. He and Holt win the tournament but are then banned from entering ever again due to the trail of physical and emotional damage they have left behind them.

****

Now cast your mind back, a long long way back, to 1993 and the second ever episode (‘Space Quest’) of the long-running comedy ‘Frasier’. Over no less than eleven seasons radio psychiatrist Frasier Crane and his non-radio psychiatrist brother, Niles, would be portrayed as squash buddies of undisclosed playing ability. Yet, although they periodically appeared wearing squash kit and carrying squash racquets, not one scene was ever set on or near a squash court.

Frazier and Bulldog at KACL

Frazier and Bulldog at KACL

In the ‘Space Quest’ episode Frasier engages in conversation with a colleague Bob ‘Bulldog’ Briscoe, a sports talk-show host at Seattle’s so-called KACL radio. The brash, womanising Bulldog is everything Frasier, a culture snob, loathes. After he tells Frasier that sports keep kids from fantasising or committing murder, Frasier mockingly agrees saying: “Yes. If only Jeffrey Dahmer had picked up a squash racquet“. At the time, Dahmer was a convicted American serial killer and sex offender who would be killed in prison thirteen months after ‘Space Quest’ first aired.

****

So, there you have it for Brooklyn, squash, Seattle and, er, psychopathy. Amazing how ideas can come together, isn’t it? That’s TV for you.

Sources

Thanks to ‘Spoiler TV’ for its review of ‘The Swedes’ and to the ‘Frasier Wiki’ for its review of ‘Space Quest.’ Thanks to Wikipedia for its entries on ‘Brooklyn Nine-Nine’ and ‘Frasier’.

High-Rise Squash (2015) – Film Review

High-Rise, directed by Ben Wheatley, is a 2015 British film based on J.G.Ballard’s 1975 dystopian science fiction novel. Starring Tom Hiddlestone and Jeremy Irons, it tells the story of doctor and medical school lecturer Robert Laing who moves into a new apartment on the 25th floor of a state-of-the-art high-rise building on the outskirts of London. The tower provides its well-established tenants with all the conveniences of modern life: a supermarket, a swimming pool, a school, a restaurant, high-speed lifts and, naturally, a squash court.

High-RiseHiddlestone plays the cool, detached Laing with Irons taking on the role of the even more detached Anthony Royal, the building’s architect who lives with his dissatisfied wife in a grandiose penthouse flat. Laing forms an uneasy friendship with Royal, based partly on their playing squash together (on a court with alarmingly blue walls) but also on their mutual regard of each other as being high-status gentlemen of distinction. As the story progresses, the building’s occupants gradually become disinterested in the outside world; then, as the buildings amenities degrade order breaks down leading to violence and murder. In one scene, Royal saves Laing’s life (he is about to be thrown over his own balcony into the car park) with the explanation “You can’t do that! He owes me a game of squash!”

Thankfully, in the squash scenes, both Hiddlestone and Irons do seem to have played the game before.

Although not necessarily on blue squash courts.

Sources

Thanks to Wikipedia for its entries on J.G.Ballard and his 1975 novel ‘High-Rise.’