Thursday, 31 December 2009

2009 Squash Championship ends in draw

So after a massive scramble on my part, the 2009 Squash Championship finished in a draw.

The season really was a tale of two stories.

The first half was mine.

I stormed into a 5-1 lead and had won five matches on the bounce before the season was put on hold as Ciaran was born (April) and Robert succumbed to a nasty back injury. We didn't play for months.

When we both returned to the court, I had put on about a stone in weight and was feeling unfit, really unfit.

I remember that match well. Late summer in Houghton Regis.

I'd got myself into a 4-2 lead. Then I felt my legs completely give up on me in the seventh set and had absolutely no energy left in them whatsoever. Every shot that required me to turn and chase was agony and I lost the set. 4-3 now.

No sooner had the eighth set begun when I felt my deteriorating right hamstring get really tight. I was like a man on one leg at that point and Robert kindly offered to stop, but I didn't want to default the set. I played on and lost it anyway. How sensible. The game finished 4-4.

My fitness that night, or lack of it, gifted Robert a draw in a game I should have won.

But if only I'd known how significant that result would be in the season, I might have tried to work on my fitness beforehand.

That bloomin match, in grubby, sweaty, decrepit Houghton Regis leisure centre (my least favourite venue and one were I have a bad record), was the turning point for Robert.

He was relieved to have ended a five match losing streak and it gave him a much-needed confidence boost. My game thereafter, well, let's just say it fell to pieces.

I lost the next five matches on the spin, a disastrous spell that also saw me break two rackets, struggle to get used to a new racket and suffer some shocking, morale-sapping defeats.

I don't know how many times I came home to my beleagured wife and threaten to quit squash for good. Yeah.

My local sports store had also stopped stocking my favourite racket - Head, Liquidmetal 125 - and I'd invested in a crappy Dunlop. I'm not being funny, but it felt like I was swinging with a piece of balsa wood. My wrist vibrated every time I hit the ball.

Enough was enough. I decided to mail order my old racket. Don't know why I hadn't done it before, really.

It made an instant impact.

Lighter yet much, much more absorbent and sturdy. The power flooded back into my shots, and I thought I had the beating of Robert when I gave its first outing. I lost that match narrowly, 6-3, with loads of sets being decided by a fine margin.

So, it all came down to today.

I had to win for the first time since April, before little Ciaran or Brendan had even breathed their first, to save the Championship from going into Robert's grubby grasp for the first time ever.

He took a 2-0 lead without doing anything special, then a 3-1 lead.

A lot of his mis-hit shots were going in and a lot of my drop shots were missing by inches, and while I thought I was making better contact with the ball than he was, I was getting bloody cheesed off that I was 3-1 down.

The fifth set began. I was 7-4 down, but managed to win the next five points on the bounce to take the set 9-7. Scores now 3-2 to him in sets.

I felt I was in touching distance now and I was building up some momentum for the first time in ages, playing well and putting doubt in his mind. I took the next three sets strongly to take the game 5-3 and save the Championship.

We shook hands on a good year's work, but rather annoyingly, the season ended in an indecisive draw again. Scores below.

I'll be doing my utmost to make sure there's a winner in 2010.



2009 finishes 6-6
Irish Daddy & Robert share the 2009 Squash Championship

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Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Creeping down the stairs on Christmas Day

Christmas is always over in a flash isn't it?

It creeps up on you slowly, ever so slowly, from the first glimpse of those mix-and-match gifts in Boots in mid-October to the sparkle of a Christmas tree in the Tescos’ entrance in mid-November to - bang - Christmas Day.

Ben was first up on Christmas morning.

He stirred at just gone 7am and wandered into our bedroom to get us up too. Not a word about Santa though. Aww. He'll learn. We did try. We then went into Ciaran’s room for a quick nappy-changing session.

When I’d finished with Ciaran, I left both boys with Mummy, closed the door and slipped downstairs to switch on our Christmas tree lights for added effect.

That was it though. No more lights were on downstairs, just the flickering tree.

It was dark and magical, with sparkling white light bouncing off wrapping paper and stockings on the mantlepiece. How would Ben react we wondered. We built him up a bit more.

"Ben, do you know what day it is today? Do you think Santa has been? You've been a good boy haven't you? Shall we find out?" We crept down the stairs slowly, in fact, ridiculously slowly. We were positively milking this moment. Had Santa been?

Erm, he had. In fact, he'd left a bloomin mess in our living room. Presents everywhere. You couldn't get near the place.

Ben was beside himself with excitement.

He ran over to the presents and we grabbed the camera to take some snaps of some very tired parents and some wide-awake boys. Ben got loads of good stuff and so did Ciaran, although Ciaran seemed more interested in tearing down the tree and chewing on wrapping paper.

Keeping with festive tradition, we then beat a track to the in-laws for the remainder Christmas Day.

We pulled up outside the house mid-morning, roads still treacherous with ice and car groaning under the weight of baby high chairs, buggy and essentials.

Auntie Sally rushed out gleefully to greet everyone. Ben couldn't wait to see her. Auntie Sally is never off the phone to him and regularly comes down from York to see the little ones, and they rushed inside.

I, meanwhile, unloaded the stuff from the car. I never travel light at the best of times.

I just don't know how Santa copes, heaving that heavy sack of his around with his bare hands before taking a perilous plunge down a chimney, landing on hot ash more often than not, and then climbing back up the chimney, sooty sack clenched in teeth to free up the hands for grip.

Hot mugs of tea and coffee were quickly exchanged to warm us up and after some more unwrapping of presents, we all sat down to watch Mummy's parent’s video of their recent trip to South Africa and its nature reserves.

My mother-in-law, Gill, had predicted the day before that the video would bore the pants off me. She promptly followed this up with another prediction that it would bring me nothing but displeasure.

How well does she know me!! I've been a fan of the National Geographic for, erm, years, a member of Whipsnade Zoo for, erm, years and I love to travel!!

It was then time for the centrepiece of the day. The Christmas turkey.

It had been waiting patiently in the kitchen for hours. Lush, golden and locally-sourced from a Bedfordshire farm, it arrived on our plates in varying portions generously accompanied by potatoes, stuffing, brussels, sausages-in-bacon and other trimmings.

We all struggled to finish what was before us, all except for Ciaran that is.

I was gob-smacked by how much the little 8-month-old had eaten. Or so I thought. When I lifted him out of his high chair, the little illusionist had managed to spill enough food on his lap and around his bum to feed a cat for a week.

Daddy and Ben pulled their first Christmas cracker and we all assembled to the living room for some much-needed rest and recuperation.

When we'd recovered, we launched into a game of Trivial Pursuit.

Everyone of an adult age joined in except for Barry. Barry always passes up the opportunity of participating in the Christmas Day board game challenge. I never know why. He always ends up barking out answers and helping Gill. The pressure of taking part must be too much for him.

I briefly spoke with my parents, who'd just returned from a cruise in the Caribbean, and later in the day, when I was almost falling asleep after too much food, to my brother, to thank them all once again for their thoughtful presents.

Christmas Day soon slipped into its best evening wear and we all assumed the usual horizontal positions on leather sofas with beer, wine and nibbles never too far out of reach.

A series of Christmas specials flashed before our narrowing eyes and Sally, as always, was the first to succumb to tiredness and went to bed at about 10.30pm. She has no stamina that girl. I don't know how she can summon the energy to stay out night clubbing till the small hours of the morning.

Still, Mummy and Daddy weren't far behind. Mummy succumbed next and we both called it a night.

Ciaran's first Christmas and Ben's third had gone by very merrily indeed and I get the feeling the older they get, the more magical each and every Christmas will get.

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Thursday, 24 December 2009

What's so good about our adverts?

I got my Christmas wrapping done weeks ago.

In contrast, Mummy is running around this morning looking for scissors, sellotape and wrapping paper to get her presents all done in time for Santa.

Nipped out to Tescos earlier to pick up some bits and bobs before its closes for Christmas Day and Boxing Day. That'll keep us going for a while. If not, we'll have to knock on our neighbours door with a begging bowl.

Ben is not getting overly excited about Santa coming I have to say.

And there was me thinking he'd get all excited this year because he understands it a bit more. Maybe he will tonight when we tell him a story about it, but at the moment, he's just his usual self.

Christmas TV looking solid. Don't think I'll need to touch the remote control once on Christmas Day. Everything decent is on BBC1.

That can't be a healthy state of affairs though can it? The recession must be hitting ITV hard as there used to be healthy rivalry and competition in the television market over the Christmas period. Now, it appears, the Beeb have an unhealthy monopoly.

Still, we're spoilt for good TV in this country. A Norwegian friend of mine once told me that thing he missed most about the UK when he went back to Norway was our adverts. Yeah.

Any Americans reading this won't know what an advert is. If you are American and you do not know what an 'advert' is, I say, "Like, kinda, go figure that."

Well, I guess we do do irony well in this country, don't we.

Have a great Christmas everyone.

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Wednesday, 23 December 2009

The Scots are just jealous

Barely got out of my pyjamas today.

I gave them a reluctant tug around midday, before slipping into some warmer layers to make lunch in our rather nippy kitchen.

Officially, I was working from home today but there was no work coming in, so I threw myself into house-husband mode, helping Mummy with the kids before making a nice, wholesome spaghetti bolognese to warm up four hungry tummies for lunch.

The bolognese was a big hit, so simple to make yet so tasty.

Ben loved his so much he lost the will live when he was told there was no more.

He came wondering over to the "big table" from his "little table" with a Dickensian whimper and a generous smattering of bolognese sauce splattered across his mouth and nearby regions, and asked for more.

When he was told there was no more, his little world came crashing down around him.

He dropped his bowl and, in that trademark routine of his, ran across the living room floor, flung himself to the carpet, hunched humself up in a ball and sobbed endlessly.

Thing was, there was more.

There was plenty more in fact. Parents need to lie sometimes you see to protect family interests. We'd planned to save it for dinner to have with some garlic bread.

Yet, it seemed a little cruel to not let Ben have just a little more, so we gave in to the tantrumming one and a green plastic bowl of topped-up bolognese was soon winging its way to Ben's table and the eating-spilling-humming cycle began oncemore.


Oh yeah, I should explain. You know if your food has passed the Ben test if he hums as he eats it.

It's a repetitive, high pitch hum that mingles in with background noise 90% of the time. The other 10% of the time it can be extremely grating, usually first thing in the morning when you're munching your way, bleary-eyed, through a bowl of cornflakes.

A quick snow update.

Our street, and most in the area, is still completely submerged in snow-ice. We've had no falls since Monday night, but the temperature did reach about 1 degrees this afternoon and the trees are starting to shed their loads. But the pavements and residential roads are still completely covered.

I spare a brief, very brief, thought for the poor Scottish.

Crap football team, crap rugby team, Socialist Government, worst obesity rates in the developed world and...crap climate.

That's right, they'll be freezing their Christmas stuffing balls off right now in their kilts, and I see it's going to drop to about -10 in Glasgow and to -16 in the Highlands. Haha.

Colder in the winter and colder in the summer.

You can see why they hate the English so much.

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