12+ My girlfriend and I had travelled all day to reach the small farming town of Nijemirdum, in the northern Netherlands state of Friesland, to visit the parents of an old housemate. But it was more of a "reunion", as I had met Mr and Mrs B when they visited Sydney eighteen months before we set off on our grand European backpacking tour.
"My mother liked you very much," Jan had assured me in Australia, handing me his parents' address. "She will be pleased to see you."
The bewildered look on Mrs B's face when she opened her front door indicated otherwise. Fortunately, Jan's multilingual brother Roel appeared and explained to his mother that the dishevelled backpackers on her doorstep were friends of Jan. Her shrug and shake of the head suggested we were not the first Australians to arrive unannounced with the same story.
Nevertheless, Mrs B graciously invited us in, ushered us upstairs to a cosy bedroom, and demonstrated the workings of the bathroom. And that night, she treated us to a delicious dinner.
With Roel's help and translation, Mrs B and I got back on a familiar footing over dinner — showing her my less dishevelled passport photo also helped — and I attempted to gauge her interest in tennis. It was July 1987, and the day before, at an Amsterdam backpacker's hostel, I had watched Pat Cash beat Jimmy Connors in the Wimbledon semi-final.
"Will you be watching the tennis tomorrow?" I asked. "Pat Cash, an Australian, is playing in the final at Wimbledon." Again Mrs B looked bewildered.
"Tennis? Pat Cash? Wimbledon?" And again, Roel translated on my behalf. "Nay," Mrs B replied, boredom replacing her bewilderment. I nodded and smiled but suddenly felt sick.
I was weaned on Wimbledon growing up in Australia. Year after year, I'd stayed up half the night to watch the finals on TV. And here I was in the northern hemisphere, able to witness the match in broad daylight for the first time, with an Australian in the final, for goodness sake, and Mrs B wasn't interested in tennis!
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The next day, Mr and Mrs B and Roel took my girlfriend and me sightseeing. As much as I enjoyed the villages and dikes, I found my mind wandering to the Wimbledon Centre Court in the afternoon. But despite peering through quaint cottage windows, I didn't see a TV all day, let alone catch any news of the Wimbledon final. And as I noted in my travel journal that night, "It's the closest I hope I ever come to suffering withdrawal!"
The first thing the next morning, I tuned my Walkman radio to the BBC World Service and couldn't believe my headphones: Pat Cash had upset the world number one, Ivan Lendl, and won Wimbledon. I dashed downstairs to share the good news. Roel was out milking cows, so I resorted to sign language to explain to Mrs B that Pat Cash was the Wimbledon Champion. I swung my arm over my head, simulating a serve, clenched my fists in a victory sign, gave thumbs-up, and served again. "Pat Cash, Australian, Wimbledon, tennis, champion, huh-rah!" I chanted, jumping up and down.
A look of bewilderment creased Mrs B's face for the third time, and I knew she was thinking, "What is this mad Australian trying to say to me?" And then suddenly, her face lit up with understanding. Mrs B said something to me in Frisian, swung her hand over her head, smiled and nodded. "Yes," I replied, matching her broad smile, proud we'd breached our language and culture barrier. And that she had understood my news about Wimbledon.
Lost in translation
Mrs B nodded again and then disappeared for a few minutes before returning with two badminton racquets and a shuttlecock. I fixed my smile, thanked Mrs B, took the racquets and shuttlecock, and went outside to find my girlfriend. "Don't ask," I said, handing her a racquet. "Let's just play badminton."
Mrs B waved at us through the kitchen window. I smiled, waved back and hit the shuttlecock to my girlfriend, who swung and missed. "Fifteen-love," I called out, with a thumbs-up to Mrs B. She returned my smile, and I served again.
I missed seeing Pat Cash win the world's premier grass court tennis title in 1987. But thanks to Mrs B and our translation attempts, it became my most memorable Wimbledon.
© 2018, 2023 Robert Fairhead
I later explained to Mrs B, with Roel's help, that Cash had won Wimbledon. And that instead of asking for badminton rackets and a shuttlecock, I'd tried to tell her this in the morning. Mrs B was embarrassed, but again with Roel's help, I reassured her that I would always remember 1987 as one of my favourite Wimbledons
N.B. Listen to this blog post on the Tall And True Short Reads storytelling podcast, recorded and released as My Most Memorable Wimbledon.
Robert is a writer and editor at Tall And True and blogs on his eponymous website, RobertFairhead.com. He also writes and narrates episodes for the Tall And True Short Reads storytelling podcast, featuring his short stories, blog posts and other writing from Tall And True.
Robert's book reviews and other writing have appeared in print and online media. In 2020, he published his début collection of short stories, Both Sides of the Story. In 2021, Robert published his first twelve short stories for the Furious Fiction writing competition, Twelve Furious Months, and in 2022, his second collection of Furious Fictions, Twelve More Furious Months. And in 2023, he published an anthology of his microfiction, Tall And True Microfiction.
Besides writing, Robert's favourite pastimes include reading, watching Aussie Rules football with his son and walking his dog.
He has also enjoyed a one-night stand as a stand-up comic.