Researchers this week disclosed the existence in Britain of "about four million tennis racquets … languishing in cupboards, and one in 10 of these has not been used in five years". Whether I have a tennis racquet in the house at the moment I couldn't say. When I go into the attic, I do often see a tennis racquet, or perhaps I misremember, a tennis racquet being the kind of thing you expect to see in the attic. Like parrot cages, golf bags and empty picture frames, old tennis racquets symbolise superfluous possessions.
Throughout my life, I've been in the position of not quite knowing whether I have a tennis racquet in the house or not. The question comes up during Wimbledon, and sometimes I have a look, but I did this more often – usually with Wimbledon actually flickering away on TV downstairs – as a boy.
Very often I would find a racquet, albeit after a lot of shouting at my parents, "You know I love tennis, and you've gone and thrown out my racquet!". I would discover it in the attic, stowed beneath the Christmas decorations, or next to the ukulele I never learnt to play. The racquet, like the ukulele, symbolised a failed project, but this time, I would think, "I will claim the racquet as my rightful inheritance, and become brilliant at tennis". The chief defining characteristic of tennis players I knew was that they had access to a racquet. They also tended towards being upper-class twits. If someone intelligent and fairly fit (i.e. me) deigned to take an interest there was no limit to what they might achieve. (I refer anyone who thinks this prejudice outdated to a remark last year, by a spokesman for Sport England, to the effect that Andy Murray's victory had at least dispelled "the myth that a British guy winning Wimbledon would increase participation figures".)
In the attic, I would take a closer look at the racquet. It was thoughtful of someone to have guarded against the warping of the head by putting it in a press. Trouble was, the press was warped, so the racquet head was pressed into a warped shape. That might be all right if I could get the press off, but the wing nuts had become rusted tight.
Sometimes I would progress as far towards becoming Men's Singles Champion as getting the racquet down from the attic, whereupon the fact that the thing seemed to function more like a fishing net in relation to the ball raised the matter of whether it might need restringing. But finding a man who re-strung racquets was presumably as difficult as finding a tennis court. In sum, there was an even chance of the racquet being returned to the attic unused, but only after my father had tripped over it a few times. "For God's sake put this bloody thing back in the attic!" Grudgingly complying, my eye would fall on the ukulele. Perhaps that's where my talents had lain all along.
Andrew Martin's novel, 'Night Train to Jamalpur', is published in paperback by Faber on Thursday