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I'm Jane McIntyre, a voiceover and writer, formerly an award-winning BBC radio newsreader and producer. My blog covers life, love and loss; travel, coffee and chocolate; with some heartfelt pieces in the mix about my late dad, who had dementia. Just a click away, I'm half of the team behind - two empty nesters who whizzed round the world in 57 days.

Friday 2 July 2021

Congratulations, Emma Raducanu! Same school; different century (and why I failed at tennis...)

As I write, the incredible Emma Raducanu has just made it through to the fourth round of Wimbledon. Now I can boast that I went to the same school as Emma...AND Dina Asher-Smith. 

DECADES before.

Newstead Wood was an incredible school, and I consider myself so lucky to have studied there for seven years. Teachers there sparked my passion for English language and literature studies, and put me on the path to a long and happy career in print and broadcast journalism.

But me and tennis? We really didn't hit it off.

I mean....these were very different times. It was a green grammar school. Green skirt. Green jumper. Green felt hat. Yeh, ok green gym knickers.

Surrounded by glorious green woodland, with tip top tennis courts. And while the stars at Wimbledon can really make the game sparkle; after five summers; I realised I never would.

I wasn't alone. So I joined a small band of rebels whose sole intent was to skip as much tennis as possible, without landing a detention.We'd turn up with racquet, tennis skirt and a smirk.

The aim, however risky, was to slope off for a smoke, fully aware that if we were caught, it would mean immediate, non negotiable expulsion.

Today, I think smoking's a filthy habit. But at fifteen, it seemed glamorous. And exciting. You couldn't do it at home. It was tricky on the bus, in case your mum's friends saw you.You could sometimes get away with it down the Wimpy if you cupped your hand round your fag the right way, kept it low and then blew the smoke back over your shoulder towards the kitchens. But it wasn't ideal.

This was our secret solution.

To the confusion of our games mistress, the tennis lesson escape committee began to focus determinedly on improving forehand strength. Not for the good of the game, of course, but to ensure that we had the power to doublehandedly whack the balls out of court, over the high fence, and into the adjoining woods. And once enough tennis balls had been `whacked into the woods`, someone had to go and retrieve them. I mean--Slazengers didn't come cheap. But woods, of course, could be dark and dangerous places for young girls. Nobody, apart from us, knew what might be lurking there, so our timid and trusting teacher usually allowed us to take a friend or two.

Once through the creaky school gate and down a soft, mossy path, we quickened our pace, turning into undercover jungle commandos, using our racquets to batter down the tickly, thigh-high ferns; scything through any brambles that had pinged back since our last foray. In the densest part of the wood, we'd glance over our shoulders, fall to our knees ...and lo. Game, set and matches. Just there; wrapped in a Woolworth's carrier bag, and stuffed into the end of a large, rotting log, deep in the undergrowth, and surely worthy of any nettle sting or bloody bramble scratch : one glorious, (green) packet of More Menthol. And a box of only *slightly* damp Swan Vestas.

Their presence meant that at least four of us, in the course of double tennis, once we'd got the damn things lit, got to have a smoke--whether we liked it or not. We chose the menthol variety to hide the nicotine smell, of course, but I'm sure Miss P knew what we were up to. Especially as it was rare to see us return with any tennis balls whatsoever. If she'd reported us, we'd have been marched off the premises for good. I assumed for many years that she kept quiet because she probably smoked like a trooper herself .

But I've realised since then, that it's far more likely that she let us go because we were so completely, utterly crap at tennis.

Anyway. No detentions. No expulsions. And no chance of ever making SW19 either. But Emma has, and she's me one more reason to be a proud Newstead Wood girl.

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