Jonathan & Katie Buckley, Tom Daly, Dick Friend and Julie Hayes, Andrew Gould & Merrin MacKay, Howard & Suzanne Mason and Nicholas Rooke
Jesters in Australia are real tennis players who like to travel – whereas the UK membership is also drawn from other indoor racquet sports but, then, they may also play outside.
The first official Australian Jesters Tour of the UK involved six Australian Jesters, accompanied by 4 partners, travelling in 2 people movers to 15 courts at 13 clubs for 11 matches over 15 days, plus squash, Eton & Rugby Fives, croquet, skittles, padel; billeted throughout by countless Jesters; innumerable breakfasts, luncheons, teas, dinners and suppers, banquets; and kindness from too many to mention all here.
The tour’s success was due tothe organisers, being Jesters President, Robert Dolman, Stephen Finch and their teamof Jesters and Clubs acrossthe country. We shall do our best to reciprocate the extraordinary hospitality ofour hosts in the future.
There are just 375 member sof the All England Tennis &Croquet Club and, as all thegrass courts are stripped and replanted every year, members have a narrow window after Wimbledon toplay.
Four courts (3, 7, 9 & 10) were made available for our party, as guests of All England Members Robert Dolman and (former CEO and author of
‘Holding Court’) Chris Gorringe. We were honoured to enjoy lunch on the balcony of the Members’ Dining Room with its grand trophy cabinets.
Our tour included the Royal Box to the show courts and media centre. Post-game, baths drawn by attendants, fluffy towels and various potions were highlights for the ladies.
That night, we enjoyed a picnic in Regents Park,prior to attending Evita in the open air theatre.Leaving London the next day in two people-movers for our party of 10 was not without incident: one van shed a fuel return line on the first traffic-calming bump, which we discovered afew miles down the road – luckily not far enoughto leave us stranded. Seemingly unconcerned,our Europcar personnel provided another van,this time with an in-built GPS. But to little avail,for on entering our destination “Hardwick House”, it took us to another Hardwick House,some 30 miles from where we should have been!
“Hardwick House is where Wind in the Willows was penned” we were told over delicious lunch during our tournament. We loved the 1907 Bickley-floored court, being a second court on the estate, built while the owner’s wife was on holiday.
Our match results were not as lovely, recorded by Tony Billington in the Hardwick journal.
Tony’s family has four generations of players at the Wimbledon Championship.
Spirits were raised on the willowed banks of the Thames for a picnic of scones and tea, with a beverage or two while boating with Kit and Diana Marriott to enjoy the vista of the House.
A “grouse” BBQ at Vaughan and Suzie Williams gorgeous country farmhouse awaited us.
On Day 3, a country breakfast preceded a bucolic drive to Wellington College, where we struggled to find the newest UK real tennis court in the expansive grounds.
We succumbed to the locals with one win in six matches. Returning to our Hardwick billets, some of our party visited The Oratory School – former home of Jonners Howell and family – and lost our way attempting to exit via the tenth fairway of the school golf course!
Tony and Fayleen Billington were perfect hosts at Lindens in Upper Woolhampton, formerly owned by the Sutton Seeds family. Tony has held many Jesters squash matches at his own court and left us with several wonderful customs.
- Jesters always give the hosts choice of ends instead of a toss.
- On occasions, only telling players which team they are playing for after the match.
- End of day night caps, known as 1 – 2s. Come in for one and have a second.
Holyport was our next hunting ground, on Day 4, providing a most beautiful clubroom, reconfigured from the House’s original pool house.
Hosted by Nick Pellewand Club Manager John Evans, on the beautifully painted court, we endured another defeat, but requiring a countback to games…
…perhaps due to the cunning camouflage of Oliver Buckley, who could not be seen moving around the court!
Meanwhile, the players’ partners were escorted on a tour of Windsor Castle by Doone Pellew, before being offered lawn tennis, a swim, table soccer and other distractions at one of our billets.
Dinner was at a Thames-side restaurant in Windsor with hosts.
On Day 5, en-route to Hayling Island we visited Jane Austen’s home in Chawton, and lunched at the Greyfriar, before playing at Seacourt – where squash, padel, racquets, badminton were all on offer. Billeting provided views of sailing on the Solent or waking for a morning swim in a pool where, while doing laps, one could visualise the games ahead.
At Seacourt. Howard “I will go to second gallery”. Tom “Let me know when you get there”
UK Jesters have a tradition of tours that have ingrained hospitality unrestrained by geography or the generations; until now they have been restricted to squash tours from South Africa and USA. Part of this history is the Campbell’s Northfields estate, a beautiful country house, with a squash court, two lawn tennis courts, croquet and a pool. Alasdair Campbell hosted us for Day 6 – our “rest day”, continuing a long Jesters tradition started by his father.
In his charming manner, Alasdair arranged all sorts of games, from croquet, to lawn tennis and squash. When we finally did rest, Alasdair, his sister Millie, and his dear mother Veronica hosted a wonderful dinner, followed by his first lesson to us on the benefits of being patient with wine. We were invited to guess the age of the Bordeaux we were drinking. Estimates ranged from the mid 60s to the 80s, but we were shocked to discover we were drinking a 1950 Baron de Pichon Longueville, the same wine Howard received (and drank) as a gift from some law students some years earlier. A criminal judge he may be, but he was found guilty of “vinfanticide”!
On Day 7, we travelled a short journey up the road to Petworth House. The match was managed by Robert Muir, including the last rubber between the ladies, with Suzanne Mason and Katie Buckley playing Caroline Armstrong-Smith and Carol Muir. After our first victory 4-3 (though a countback for games would have reversed the result), we enjoyed lunch in the newly refurbished club rooms, including Eton Mess.
A gathering of local Jesters back at Northfields joined us for more racquet games, before dinner for 30 or so in the north Dining Room, finishing with another demonstration of the benefits of age, an old Vouvray with pudding. We watched an exhibition of squash on the court adjoining the dining room and, for those still upright, a soiree around the grand piano with ou virtuoso host, who entertained guests with his own compositions and some well- known pieces.
On Day 8, and beginning of week 2, we drove to Newmarket, famous for its horse racing. In fact, there were many horses being walked past the court. On another lovely Bickley floor, the tournament was a Jesterly tie.
And so on to Selwyn College, for the Cambridge Weekend, an annual event for the UK Jesters to enjoy their games of racquets, fives and tennis. We enjoyed accommodation and dinner at Selwyn College on the first night. Cambridge is a most beautiful city to immerse oneself in – and hopefully not immerse yourself while punting on the Cam River! A round robin tournament pairing us with UK Jesters kept us busy, with some eventually escaping the courts to the new sports centre to try their hand at Rugby Fives and Eton Fives, the latter providing court geography even more bizarre (if that’s possible) than real tennis.
On Saturday evening, a black-tie dinner was held at Trinity Hall, on the banks of the Cam, where we enjoyed amusing graces and toasts from our hosts; and responded in kind.
On Sunday morning, some had found their way into the final Cambridge tennis play-offs. For the rest, there was a fascinating architectural tour of the ancient university town, exploring not just the cloistered, spired/inspired and Coliseum-like structures, but also controversial new additions of varying success.
Our thanks to John Burnett for managing Burnett for managing congratulations to Jesters Chairman, Gareth Quarry and his son Oli, for winning the handicap final.
By now the wheels were beginning to fall off… Our WhatsApp chat group – Where’s the van?
Player 1 to Team Captain – “Could you get your van to the club by 9.45 as my tennis gear is in it and I am playing at 10am”.
Team Captain to Player 1 – “You have the van”.
Player 2 – “Well spotted skipper”.
Late on Sunday afternoon, we left Cambridge to be at Newcastle Upon Tyne for supper. One of the vehicles, led by our intrepid Andrew Gould, travelled via Prested Hall to see Robert Fahey. This turned a 4 hour plus drive into a 6 hour plus drive, but his party arrived safely for a late supper at Jesmond Dene, prepared by Richard McAlister.
Jesmond Dene is the ultimate northward destination for indoor real tennis enthusiasts, with the open-to-the air-Falkland Palace court the only current Scottish court in play. So we travelled the long journey through Yorkshire to Newcastle and were welcomed in the proportionally-pleasing Jesmond court beside the beautiful dene (= “narrow wooded valley of a small river”) by Club Committee members Simon Johnston and Richard MacAlister.
After a stroll along the dene, our billets entertained us on the Newcastle Upon Tyne waterfront which, like many other former industrial wastelands, is now a vibrant cultural hub, complete with beach and bathing huts.
Manchester beckoned, so south we headed to the gritty suburb of Salford, where we were welcomed mid-morning in the foyer of the Club by Jamie Bebb offering glasses of white burgundy. It is hard to recall the results of the afternoon tennis and Jamie marked all day keeping a firm grip on his glass. Manchester is a renowned luncheon club and we enjoyed pheasant pie, pudding, stilton and port for lunch.
Some played rackets, with less skill than was required, and few will forget the faulty (and foot-faulty) displays of skittles accompanied by “restoratives” after dinner in the Club that night. Hosted by President, Tony Lawton, Stella and her team prepared a dinner of high class.
On Day 13, Royal Leamington Spa was our picture-perfect destination, and, after the match, there was a little time to explore the Royal Pump House and Jephson Gardens along the Leam River.
Leamington is considered the happiest place in the UK. Back in the Club, some tried their hand at American Squash Tennis, while others explored the art and comforts of the lounge.
For members, traditions remain strong: with Alastair Robson showing how port continually moves to the left, as the decanter will roll and spill its contents should it be rested between consumption! The welcome was warm – and thanks to the club manager, clean clothes appeared miraculously after drinks from the bar and waited on tables all at once.
Day 14. Exhaustion was a distinct possibility, but somehow everyone was still playing. Moreton Morrell – a privately-owned court in a rural idyll, with another beautiful clerestory- windowed clubroom, looking through the separate dedans to the court. Our stay was too brief, knowing we had to drive on to London, however we may have wanted to linger at the post-match lunch in the dining room. Thanks to John Miller and Moreton Morrell members.
The final day of the tour was back in London. Day 15 began with padel tennis (and optional lawn tennis, swimming, squash, cricket or croquet) at Montrose House, the palatial Richmond home of Jester Chairman Gareth Quarry, his wife Jill, Ben, Oli, Hugo and Loveday The Spanish game of padel is becoming popular (here, too!) and has now become a Jester sport. It combines lawn tennis and squash skills – and playing off some walls as in real tennis – in a fast-paced close-to-the-action format, but where the tennis balls used are not life-threatening.
The outdoor action was relieved by a variety of champagnes, spritzers, beer and wine options – and a late summer’s afternoon feast.
It was hard to leave, but Queens Club beckoned – with a triangular real tennis match between Queens’ members, UK Jesters and the colonial marauders.
The games were played in an enjoyable format, arranged by Simon Mansfield. The ultimate result was declared to be a three-way draw, engineered to perfection across the matches.
The final dinner, overlooking the Queens Club east court was accompanied by toasts, boasts and Jesterly “roasts”; including songs and doggerel from our magnificent hosts led by Robert Dorman and Andrew Page. We were delighted that Jane Vaughan, widow of former Chairman, David Vaughan was there. Our leader Jonathan Buckley gave a brief summary of the tour and reported that the Jesters are now 20 years old in Australia. Around 1999 David Vaughan and Robert Dolman suggested forming the Jesters in Australia. It was to be for only real tennis, coordinated by George Limb, Richard Allen and Jonathan Buckley. Some years earlier, Owen Parmenter had explored an Australian squash branch, but reported from Sydney that there was not the appetite for the Jesters in Australia.
Jonathan thanked our long- suffering ladies on tour and declared this first tour was the best UK tour that the Australian Jesters had ever attended. Dick Friend and Howard Mason then entertained us in verse, with apologies to WH Auden and John Betjeman.
Alastair Mackenzie’s Graces
Let us who jest – and love our sport – And chase small ball around the court Ask God to bless our food and wine And us, as we sit down to dine. God bless each special Jesters game, Let us recall our founder’s aim – It was Jock’s wish that fun Be more important than who won. God bless our club and make us grateful For every glass and every plateful.
All England, Hardwick, Wellington, Holyport, Seacourt, Petworth, Newmarket, Cambridge, Prested, Jesmond Dene, Manchester, Leamington Spa, Moreton Morell and Queen’s Club.
Then it was over. Equilibrium reached by the end. Match results were even going into Moreton Morell.
What could be more Jesterly? “The playing of the game is more
important than the result”
In 2021 we will host a UK Jesters tour of Australia. Australian Jesters will be invited to participate, including billeting guests. By that time, we hope that we have a Sydney club to include in the programme and returning the outstanding hospitality we enjoyed in England.