When our eldest son, Ollie, was a baby, my wife started attending various groups and classes in and around Sandbach, to mingle with other new mums, share any tips or concerns, and generally get out of the house to prevent that post-baby ‘cabin fever’ kicking in.

She made some very good friends via those classes, and a small group eventually broke off to form their own little gang of mothers, who would meet once a week for coffee and cake.

After a while, the topic of their respective partners apparently cropped up, and one lady mentioned how her husband didn’t really know anyone locally, and didn’t socialise outside of his school and work friendship groups. From what I can gather, my darling wife took this as an invitation to emphasise my own unbearable loneliness and social anonymity within Sandbach (which I hadn’t noticed until then), whereupon a few other ladies all concurred about their own other halves.

This then developed into said harem taking it upon themselves to become social secretaries for us, and arranging that we should all get together, post-haste, to bond and make new friends. Lovely. The fact that the only two things we all had in common, were the town in which we lived, and the fact that our wives were meddling gossips, didn’t seem to deter them one iota.

Upon learning of this plan, I tried to protest that I could make friends myself, thank you very much (at which point, my wife highlighted that we had been in Sandbach for three years, and I was yet to make one), and I found the whole thing very embarrassing and awkward. Annoyingly, however, the wives were right (as, I am informed, is standard practice) and we ‘Dads’ are all now good pals. Well, I consider them to be good friends, but they probably think I’m a dick.

Anyway, one of the husbands – who I now know very well – is a keen badminton player, and has competed semi-professionally in the past. Consequently, since he was eager to get back to playing locally, his good lady wife suggested that this would be an ideal way for us to mix, enjoy some sport and exercise, and perhaps go for a beer or two later. After all, we men often find forced-social outings somewhat awkward, and sport + beer is usually a good ice-breaker.

The first I knew about this arrangement, however, was when I returned home from work one evening, to be informed that I would be playing badminton – a sport I had last participated in (only twice), nearly twenty years earlier at school – that coming Friday. No amount of ‘I haven’t played since 1994, and I was shit then’, ‘but I’m fat and out of shape’ and ‘I haven’t even got a fucking racket’, was going to persuade her otherwise. It was happening.

Of course, she quickly responded to each of my protests with ‘it’s ok, none of them have played in years’ (conveniently omitting the aforementioned semi-professional), ‘anyway, you’re not that fat’ (back-handed compliment) and ‘don’t worry, someone is bringing a spare racket for you’ (oh, so they haven’t played in years, but they have more than one racket?). As usual, she had a response for every excuse I could muster.

I was then told that ‘Mr Semi-pro’ – I shall refer to him as that for now, since it would be unfair to use Doug’s real name without his permission – would pick me up at the end of our road at 7.45pm on the Friday evening, and he would indeed bring a spare racket for me. Ok, I thought, what’s the worst that can happen?

So, having asked my wife what car he drove, and having received the very unhelpful response of ‘a red one’, I stood at the end of our road that Friday evening, and waited for Doug to arrive (fuck it, might as well call him Doug now). Sure enough, shortly before 7.45pm, a red hatchback pulled up next to me, and in I got. The conversation which ensued, went very much like this:

“Hi! You must be Doug?”

“No, I’m not. Get the fuck out of my car.”

My initial reaction to this, wavered from ‘is he joking? Because if he is, it’s not very funny’, to ‘oh no, have I got his name wrong, and he’s massively overreacted to being called Doug?’, before it eventually dawned on me that no, this chap was very much not Doug, and it was far more likely that the red Honda Civic, which had just pulled up directly behind us, was in fact the vehicle I was looking for.

Having apologised profusely to ‘Not Doug’, and having tentatively got into the car of ‘Actual Doug’ (‘please, God, let THIS be the right car’), I then had to introduce myself, again, while explaining that I am not normally the sort of gent who car-hops on street corners of a Friday evening. Fortunately, Actual Doug saw the funny side.

Since that fateful evening, when I first demonstrated how pathetically woeful my badminton was (no surprise there), I’ll admit that I have improved a great deal, but then again so has the rest of the group, so I am still one of the worst players (if not the worst). It’s just that now, as a group, we occasionally look quite good, rather than cripplingly shite – or so Doug kindly tells us.

Even though I’m certain he will be embarrassed by the moniker of ‘Mr Semi-Pro’ which I have thrust upon him, the truth is, Doug’s miles better than the rest of us, and clearly has the ability to win a game in a matter of minutes, if he so chooses.

But, to his credit, he rarely does. He is incredibly patient, especially with me, and will often smile politely, while I make countless childish references to the ‘cock’ (to the uninitiated, that’s the thing with feathers you’re supposed to hit), in order to try and disguise my inadequacy at his chosen sport.

I have no doubt that, while I’m larking around, a small part of him is dying inside, but he’d never let on. Every so often, you can see the precise moment when his brain thinks ‘right, fuck this’, shortly before he destroys the opposition, but it’s then out of his system, and he’s back to playing more at our level.

There have been times, when I have naively convinced myself I have him beaten, with a particularly clever shot (these are, of course, rarer than unicorn shit), only for him to somehow contort his body and win the point. I barely have time to think ‘he’ll never get to that’, before the cock is whizzing back past me. *sniggers*

This sort of Jedi shit

As for the rest of the core group (as there have been a few others who have played a handful of times over the past few years), there is a good range of ability.

I don’t think anyone would mind me saying that Richard and Chris (whose names have been swapped around, to preserve their anonymity) are two of the better players, and Richard’s (well, Chris’) determination to throw himself at every shot is commendable.

Honestly, he dives more than Tom Daley and Cristiano Ronaldo put together, and spends a good half of each session leaping through the air like a salmon. I tried this once, when a particularly low shot was creeping away from my (admittedly considerable) wingspan, and I completely knackered my knee. I now leave the diving to Richard (Chris).


Not actually Chris.

We have another Richard too (I know what you’re thinking, two dicks!) and, again, I don’t think he would mind me saying he’s more at my level. In his defence, he only joined us a few months ago, so to think he’s already caught up with (and probably surpassed) my abilities, says a great deal about either my slow progress, or his quick advancement.

Rich is also, like me, partial to a bit of double entendre (which is French for ‘two entendres’), and in a sport where there is a very real chance of getting ‘a cock in the face’, this is often too good for us to resist.

Finally, Rich has one secret weapon, which none of us can possibly match. He is, without doubt, the owner of the most disturbed digestive system of any man I have ever known. I’m not sure what he generally eats (decomposing road-kill, presumably), but there is not a week goes by, when he doesn’t clear the court with an air biscuit of catastrophic proportions.

Naturally (although there is nothing natural about it), he can be a useful ally with this weapon up his sleeve – or shorts – but such is the potency of his rectal turbulence, even his own teammate at the time (and, indeed, anyone within a half-mile radius) is exposed to the chemical warfare, and usually ends up with their eyes stinging to the point they cannot focus.

All in all, we now have a weekly excuse to get out of the house, enjoy some good-humoured sport, and then put back on whatever calories we may have burned, by going to the pub afterwards.

And, rather annoyingly, it’s all thanks to our interfering wives.

Damn. I hate it when she’s right.


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