Scotland · Sport

Week 87: Falkland Palace

The week of work was defined by me trying to decipher a long series of outputted formulae from my computer program. Having a long list of equations is great, but the output format was obfuscating the underlying physics, and understanding it all was not a simple task. By the end, I had enough to go on to try and redo some of the simpler pieces of the calculation by hand to try and gain some physical intuition.

On Monday evening, it was time for Darwin’s first match of the MCR Cricket League for the season. We were scheduled to play against Queens’ at their sports ground on the outskirts of Cambridge. When we got there, we were told to go across to the adjacent King’s college grounds. We bowled first, keeping them somewhat economical, but for some late hitting by their middle order. The problem was a large fence that bordered the southern edge of the ground. If the ball was struck there, it would require several players to go and scrounge around under the hedges to try and find it. By the end of the innings, Queens’ made 5/140 from their 20 overs. Our response was swift; both our openers made fifties and retired (the rule in this competition). Queens’ took their solitary wicket an over before we reached the target at 1/141, winning by 9 wickets with 19 balls remaining. I was due to bat at six, so didn’t get an innings. After the match, a group of the Darwin players went out to the pub for a post-match drinks.

On Tuesday evening, the Gates social officers had organised for a formal swap to Murray Edwards college. A group of around a dozen scholars and their partners headed up to the hill college; one of the three remaining to still only admit women. The college is mostly made up of modern concrete-and-glass buildings, but in a somewhat appealing way. We were invited out to the garden for the pre-drinks, and then ascended up into their spaceship-like dining hall. Embarrassingly for us, the fellow giving the grace at the hall was one of the Gates Trustees, and eagerly announced that we were visiting the formal that evening. It was a nice meal, noted for a large discussion with the waiting staff that prawns are indeed seafood.

On Wednesday evening, Annika and I went along to the Trinity College chapel to see Jacqueline perform with a small string orchestra. We also bumped into Elyse, another Gates scholar who was visiting with her father. They were playing the Mendelssohn String Symphonies, with a limited amount of practice. The quality was mixed; there was a solo section that the violas missed completely, and separately one of the violas had their pages in the wrong order and so had to miss a movement, but otherwise it sounded nice.

Thursday evening was time for yet another cricket game, this time for the Cavendish team against the Engineering team. We were scheduled to play this match at the King’s college oval, but got shifted last minute to the adjacent Queens’ college oval. It initially looked like it was going to be a bad match for the Cavendish, as the Engineering openers put on a 90 run opening partnership. However, their batting was without depth, and we managed to keep them down to 125. In response, we kept finding the boundary. I chipped in with a few runs at number 3, but the rest of the team chased down the total with 5 wickets and 5 overs to spare.

On Saturday, I had my bags packed and was ready to go off on a long trip out of Cambridge. I was heading north, for a three-part trip across the border into Scotland. This weekend, I was planning on playing at the two northern-most real tennis clubs in the world. Over the following week, I was scheduled to attend the Higgs School for Theoretical Physics summer school in Edinburgh. Then the following weekend, Jacqueline was planning on coming north and we were planning on hiking in the Cairngorms. As such, I had two bags fully packed; one full of hiking gear, the other full of tennis and study equipment.

The first part of the trip was to Newcastle-upon-Tyne. There was a real tennis club in the Newcastle suburbs called Jesmond Dene, and conveniently for me, the Cambridge club had organised a club trip up to Newcastle on this weekend. I arranged to travel up with David and his wife, who arrived at my house early on Sunday morning to head up north. It was going to be a long drive on the rather boring English motorways, so David’s wife brought along some much appreciated snacks. We were travelling smoothly until we got to near Leeds, where the traffic on the motorway came to an absolute standstill. We were just approaching the junction between the A1(M) and the M1, where six lanes merge into four, but an accident involving a car and a minibus meant that all of that traffic was halted. Combined with the fact that it was the first morning of a bank holiday weekend, it meant we were stuck without moving for over an hour.

As I was scheduled to play the first match at Jesmond Dene, it meant that when we did eventually arrive into Newcastle, the start was delayed, and the matches were shortened. We only managed to play one set of singles and one set of doubles. It didn’t go all that well; I narrowly lost the singles after failing to capitalise on a good start, and then we got thoroughly beat in the doubles. The most exciting part for many of the Cambridge players was that Scott, the Newcastle professional was for many years the assistant professional at Cambridge, so they all knew him, his wife, and his children well. The court itself had a very high and majestic looking timber hammerbeam trussed roof, which meant you could lob the ball very high.

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After the matches were over, I took my heavy bags on the Newcastle metro a few stops into the centre of town to check into the hostel I was staying at to check in. Then, I came back a few stops to meet up with the Cambridge team, who were heading out to a restaurant with Scott and his family for a semi-reunion dinner. Finally, I went back into the centre of Newcastle to sleep.

The next morning, I woke up and checked out and took the short walk to the main Newcastle train station. I was heading north, taking a train up to Edinburgh, and then connecting onto a service to Markinch. I was heading to the only operational real tennis court in Scotland at Falkland Palace. This really was a special and unique place. This court is unlike any other in the world, and is the only remaining example of the jue quarré style, all other courts are in the more modern jue dedans style. This means that several of the features of most courts, such as the dedan, the large opening at the back of the court, the rear service penthouse, and the tambour, an angled piece of wall protruding at the receiving end, were not present. Instead, these were replaced by an ais, a narrow wooden panel in the service backhand corner, and four lunes, tiny holes high on the back service wall; all of which won points. The court itself was built from 1539 for King James V of Scotland, but most notably used by Mary, Queen of Scots before James VI and I headed south at the Union of the Crowns. It is therefore the oldest court still in use in the world. It is also notably the only operational court in the world to not have a roof, which is odd for the famously rainy Scotland, so play can usually only take place in the summertime and daytime, and even then one must be lucky. The club itself is small as well, so organising a match can be difficult.

A few days ago, I had emailed the club secretary having checked the fickle weather forecast. I was told to email a guy called Peter, who was kind enough to offer to pick me up from the train station and take me to the palace for the game. While waiting in Markinch, I went and found some lunch, before Peter arrived and drove us the short distance to the palace. We entered through the back gate and parked near the tennis court. The club changing rooms were a narrow storeroom behind the court, so I got changed and ready to play. Before starting, we had to put out signs up warning of tennis balls flying out of the court. The palace was open to the public during our stay, so there would be many people wandering through the gardens, especially on the bank holiday weekend. Fortunately for us, the weather was beautiful; a cloudless sky and fairly warm.

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Over the course of the match, I did hit a few balls out of the court. Each time I did so, a few minutes later, someone would come through the gallery and ask if we had lost a ball; they had found it in a rose bush. All of the balls that we lost were eventually returned to us. Some people came in and sat in the gallery and watched for several minutes, asking questions of us as we changed ends, or commenting that of all the times they had visited the palace, they had never seen a match being played. It was a much more inviting place to watch than at Hampton Court, Henry VIII’s court, where the public are usually consigned to a glass box and cannot interact with the players at all, and the players can feel like a museum exhibit.

I won the first set 6-5, but couldn’t hold on and lost the second two sets. The court itself was old, and parts of the floor were uneven, so the ball was prone to bouncing in strange directions. The penthouses themselves were uneven too; so you had to be reflexive and ready for anything. After the match, Peter went to relax and have a drink, while I went off and wandered the grounds briefly. He then dropped me back at Ladybank station, where I caught a train back down to Edinburgh. Once at the station, I loaded my bags onto my body and walked half an hour south to the guesthouse that I was staying at for the next week. I met my roommate, who was going out that evening to spend time with his visiting girlfriend, but I went and got some much needed rest.

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