I like to play badminton. I’m not very good at it, but I’m not so bad that it’s not fun. In my last-but-one job we had a badminton league, where you played the three or four other people in your division over the course of a month, and the best player moved up a group and the worst player moved down a group – unless you were already in the bottom group, which I usually was. Occasionally I would make it into the second-bottom group, which was briefly encouraging, but I always went straight back down again. But that was OK, because it was fun, and anyone good enough to mind that I wasn’t very good usually wouldn’t have to play me again.
Then I left that job, and didn’t play for a while, until I noticed that my new workplace also had a badminton group, which played once a week at the local leisure centre, in casual games of doubles whose members swapped in and out over the course of an hour. So I joined, and suddenly it mattered that I wasn’t very good, because I would find myself paired with much better players – usually, I’m afraid, men – who really wanted to win and who would attempt to improve our chances either by shouting at me angrily every time I didn’t manage to follow their inexplicable instructions to the letter, or by creeping up behind me and sweatily showing me how I should be holding the raquet – both courses of action which, naturally, resulted in my playing much more badly than I had already been doing.
So I stopped going. And then I changed jobs again, and eventually I found yet another workplace badminton group to join, so three weeks ago I went along to Kensington Leisure Centre to try my luck again. This was another free-for-all, with two courts booked over two hours and an ever-rotating cast of players, so I was wary of being variously shouted at or molested by people who wanted me to do something other than whatever I was doing. But it was fine: everyone was very nice, and I had a lot of fun, and I ached for two days afterwards and decided I’d definitely go back. And last week I went back, and met the guy who organises it, and partnered him for a game and swiftly realised I was never going to go again. Not only did he shout and tut and sigh heavily at my lack of skills, he also couldn’t tell the difference between my not being able to carry out his instructions, which I couldn’t, and not being able to understand them, which I could. By the end he was speaking the kind of angry, staccato, exaggeratedly loud English popularly supposed to be how British people talk to foreigners, which somehow didn’t seem to improve my backhand at all. But even worse, and I’m almost as cross with myself for not saying anything about it as I am with him for doing it, every time he wanted me to move to a different part of the court, which was often, he would NUDGE ME IN THE BACKSIDE WITH HIS RAQUET.
I know, I should have told him off. I was just so surprised, and so already bowed down with the knowledge of my complete and perfect failure, that I somehow didn’t manage it. But whatever, I’m not going back, so it doesn’t really matter.
But what does matter is that, as I said when we began this conversation (doesn’t it seem a long time ago?), I really like playing badminton. And I feel as though it ought to be possible for me to play it in an environment where I am not told off or sexually harassed on account of not being very good; ideally against someone who, like me, is there for fun rather than because they really want to win, and who won’t mind that I am a bit shit and sometimes need to stop and have a rest. So in a first for gladallover this is a heartfelt appeal: if you are in London and are that person and would like to play badminton with me, please let me know. But I ought to warn you, I’m a bit shit.