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Dom Joly: Disorder on the tennis court

PUBLISHED: 10:57 27 July 2015 | UPDATED: 11:19 27 July 2015

”I couldn’t help but notice that your socks are not tennis socks,” he said, staring at my ankles as though they had a swastika tattoo on them

”I couldn’t help but notice that your socks are not tennis socks,” he said, staring at my ankles as though they had a swastika tattoo on them


I once belonged to a very posh tennis club in West London. One day, someone on the ‘committee’ took me aside in the clubhouse. “I couldn’t help but notice that your socks are not tennis socks,” he said, staring at my ankles as though they had a swastika tattoo on them.

As summer slowly arrives so the Joly family rushes like eager lemmings to do all the summer things. We drive to the garden centre to buy lots of plants. We talk about going to the seaside. We bring out all the garden furniture. We discuss the idea of a barbecue. We pack away all those silly jumpers, coats and wellies. We buy loads of shorts and t-shirts. Then… it rains and we trudge sadly back inside to watch the people by the seaside on the TV news. The plants all die. The barbecue rusts. The garden furniture gets blown about and we desperately try to remember where we put all the waterproof stuff.

This year we’ve gone one further. At the first ray of sun we ran out and joined a tennis club. This, we decided, was how we would spend our English summer. We will wear crisp whites and knock a ball around elegantly before retiring to the clubhouse for a pot of tea and some oh-so-thin cucumber sandwiches. Then it rained and we went off the whole idea.

I’m a bit like summer – annoying and unpredictable and intent on ruining it for everyone. It’s probably for the best though – I don’t really like joining clubs. I’m with Groucho Marx who said, “I don’t care to join any club that would have me as a member.” I just can’t resist the urge to break rules and behave like some petulant little schoolboy.

Take tennis, for example. I once belonged to a very posh club in West London. It cost a fortune but I loved it and was playing pretty regularly. Then one day, someone on the ‘committee’ took me aside in the clubhouse.

“I couldn’t help but notice that your socks are not tennis socks,” he said, staring at my ankles as though they had a swastika tattoo on them.

I didn’t understand him at first. I was wearing all white, including my socks. I’m a bit old fashioned when it comes to tennis. I think you should wear white with no huge logos.

“But I’m wearing all white,” I said to the old duffer. I was going to mention how big a deal this was for me – an ex Goth – but I didn’t think he’d take this on board.

“Yes, but your socks are not a tennis brand…” continued the ankle Nazi.

“But, they are white and ankle length…” I spluttered.

They must be tennis socks.” He was not to be deterred.

I looked out of the window towards the courts. On the nearest one a woman was wearing a vivid blue and red shell suit, pink socks, black trainers and an over-sized green visor. I pointed to her.

“I think you might want to start with her before you reprimand me?”

The man looked to where I was pointing.

“She is wearing tennis clothing. She is not in breach of the club code.” I looked at him in disbelief.

“What? She looks like she got dressed for a rave in the dark while ripped on acid. I’m dressed in all white and you’re picking on me?” I was getting cross now.

“I’m not picking on you. I’m enforcing the club dress code.”

This was more stupid than when I’d had the showdown in a French public pool over the fact that I was not wearing Speedos. All I’d been doing was supervising my kids as they swam. I was not swimming myself but still the officious French lifeguard insisted that I must return to the reception area where there was a machine dispensing budgie-smugglers. I made a stand, my own private Agincourt. She threatened to call the police. I offered her my phone on which to do so. We argued for a good half an hour. It was plenty enough time for my kids to have a good swim and I left Speedo-less and victorious.

Back in the London tennis club, however, things had reached boiling point.

“This is the most ridiculous conversation that I have ever had. Tennis is supposed to be played in white. I am in white. That woman looks like she is auditioning for the Rio Carnival.”

“That woman… is my wife,” the Committee member replied, looking at me with an icy stare that suggested there was no way back now.

I gave up and resigned on principle – despite my loving the club. I haven’t checked the dress code for my new place. I might go dressed as a squirrel and go from there…


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