Friday 2 September brought dark clouds, ominous winds, power failures and plane-loads of masochistic, mature Masters Squash players to Port Elizabeth. Worried brows were eased by bitterly cold brews as the Opening Function was pushed forward and players gathered in blacked out places with the Crusaders Castle hosting the host province's players in candle-light to set the mood with some balmy barmen and brazen and brave-hearted banter .
Saturday brought more winds as the tents were repaired and re-prepared and it was time for these fine men and women, reasonably fresh, and ready, stretched and strapped, to greet old buddies and meet new friends , pass judgement over the virgin players ready to broken in, and drag back memories from those misty days of yore. ( Chris Holden and I worked out that we have been going to schools IPTs ,SAU's, Jarvis, Young Masters, and Masters for 37 years since a tournament at Hilton in 1974 !! - where half of my Border team were sent home for drinking and I wasn't !!) . Not much has changed.
On a personal level, the EP 50-54 boys bonded briefly on Saturday morning before kicking off against the KwaZulu Sharks. Fearful of the A Section, they coped admirably, claiming silver behind the Golden Giants from Gauteng .Tony McEwan, fresh from freeing fish, should have gaffed the Most Improved Player prize as he started at 5, and ended the week at 3, and he truly did improve with every performance. Stu Hancocks, under more pressure from his bosses than his opponents, had to bale after day 3, and had a great win against Andre, the reverse angle fiend from the Bosveld. How we missed the free-running Hancocks against the plastic-knee’d James in the Gauteng encounter. The Staple-bullet, after reeling off wins against the 2 Richards, was in trouble but rallied against Bosveld Bielies’ tricky Tony, but then Xhosa-clicked his knee into a swollen blob that effectively ended his week. It was just left to Van Der Byl to slice his throat, and send him gutted, hobbling in Hansa’d pursuit. Bushbuck Emslie, moving more like a kudu, was at his magical, mystical best with high-hanging lobs and soft, soothing drops that even had the slow game Maestro, Holden, mesmerized. At No 1, our Boertjie , Anton Van Niekerk, ran and moered as if he was chasing and moering Malema, and even the handsomely handy, hamstrung Hanson could not hold him. Off the bench, Robbie Adair, that one with one "i", came, saw but was conquered by the ringing, calf-wretched Van Rensburg, and then went golfing, and the Dulce'd Fuller was a little under-cooked against the Bulle on Day 5
For 5 days they courted and quarter’d , at courts all over the Bay with just the special few being treated to the jewel of the Hage. Bio-oiled, braced ,bandaged and beered , the bodies, now slower , daily, slowed more, in stiffness and soreness. But the skills were slicker, ( on court and off), tactically wiser (on court and off), in competitive camaraderie (on court and off), winning and losing on the courts. But off the courts, all Winners..
After wowing the world with their rendition of the anthem at the All Black test a week earlier, Port Elizabeth once again, wowed the over 800 participants with warmth, proximity and pub-friendly friendliness. Off court the real tournament triumphed, with quarts being quaffed, the clubs buzzing, the bars, bustling and bubbling, the Fines Meetings, fierce, frenzied and fizzy but above all, hospitality, so P.E and so homely, Like the Squash bodies, the wind tired, and died, leaving our visitors with opportunities to humiliate Humewood , and memories of a beautiful city.
Brothers&Sisters-in-arms, squires&maidens-in-squash, the old buddies bonded and new friendships were founded. From the commanding control of Craig Van der Wath to the gregarious Giorgio Giaconi, from the trauma and tremor of Trevor Wilkinson’s power to the lovable power of Elsabe’s laugh, from the tightness and touch of Toothil to the elegant range of Rae Masters’team’s clothing , from the serenading mad Scotsman to the cruel Keevy Fines Master, from the Roaring Twenties to a fine tented Final Function, from zany Zimbo’s who travelled and “tored” to the layers of locals who laid it on thick, from the ageing to the aged, from plumbing problems to police patrols and from Lisa’s cooked Calender Girls Cook Books to bloody blisters and beer, we bid you all, Farewell. Stories will be told, secrets will be stored and memories will be many. And we ask Jimmy Catt and Rae Masters, and their team of merry workers, to take a bow, for A Job – Well done. Thanks may be few but appreciation will be sincere. Well Done.
And we wait, and prepare, in anticipation for East London , 2012 ..