Support 100 years of independent journalism.

We’ve lived next to tennis courts for five years, but it has never occurred to me to play. Until now

After two months of no chat and no people and no fun, the sound of racket on string sounds almost as beautiful as music.

By Alice O'Keeffe

Something has changed in the park. We arrive for our daily exercise session to find the place abuzz with activity. Usually, everyone is loafing around looking pale and stressed, making a desultory pretence of doing press-ups to keep the police at bay. But today there is a new air of purpose. People are striding about looking like they are actually going somewhere.

“Look, Mum!” cries Moe. “The tennis courts are open!”

Jubilation! Due to the government’s decision to relax the lockdown rules – hotly debated in some quarters, welcomed with unfettered joy in ours – we all are officially allowed to play tennis. In the Before Times, as in, when things were actually normal, rather than the New Normal, I never particularly noticed the pock-pock noise of tennis matches going on in the background. I was too busy chatting with my friends as the boys played football after school. But now, after two months of eerie, haunting silence, two months of locked-up courts, two months of no chat and no people and no fun, the sound of racket on string sounds almost as beautiful as music. The music of human activity! The music of people playing together! 

We have lived next to these tennis courts for more than five years, and never in that time has it even remotely occurred to me to play tennis. I would walk past on a sunny day and admire, in an abstract kind of way, the sporty types racing around in their shorts and caps. But after two months of absolutely zero entertainment, it’s imperative: we must all play tennis, immediately. The boys and I rush home and dig out the tennis rackets, dusty and covered in cobwebs, from the deepest depths of the hoover cupboard. I book us a court for that afternoon.

Clearly everyone has had the same thought: when we arrive all the other courts are occupied. On the one next to ours, two young men are smashing a ball gleefully back and forth.

Select and enter your email address Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
I consent to New Statesman Media Group collecting my details provided via this form in accordance with the Privacy Policy

“God, isn’t it so good,” one shouts to the other, “to be playing tennis?”

“I never want to do an online workout again in my life,” his friend replies.

Over the fence in Court Five, Larry’s friend Archie is playing with his mum. We wave a cheery hello.

“Isn’t tennis just the best?” she calls. “I’ve booked us a court every day this week!”

And they are all spot on – tennis is great. The sky is blue, the birds are singing, the elder trees are holding out vast plates of blossom, and we are running around a tennis court, a real, flat tennis court, with a proper net. It’s so satisfying, when the ball meets the racket. It’s so good to play a real game, rather than kicking a football around the same old tree. More than anything, it’s so good to see everyone else enjoying themselves. None of us is dead yet; we are all playing tennis. Yippee!

Moe hits a crazy backhand and the ball goes sailing over the fence and into the bushes. I start getting inappropriately competitive, which is always a sign that I’m having fun. Larry is getting the hang of it, even putting a bit of spin on his forehands. The men on the next court are getting more and more audacious, racing around doing volleys and chops. I had thought that people might get crazy and hysterical coming out of lockdown, drink and party themselves silly. Perhaps all that is to come, but that’s not the vibe at all now; it’s a kind of quiet, concentrated joy.

“Can we book another court for tomorrow?” Larry asks on the way home. “Perhaps I can play with Archie.”

“And me,” says Moe. “I want to play tennis with Harry.”

“Of course,” I tell them. “We’ll book two courts. You can play with Archie and Harry, and I can play with Archie’s mum.”

In fact, I can’t wait to ring all my friends and tell them how great tennis is. We’d better get in as much as possible now, while we still can, before the second spike. 

This article appears in the 27 May 2020 issue of the New Statesman, The peak