Page 8 - HGS Suburb News 139 - Summer 2019
P. 8

Mike Brearley on table tennis                                                             California to Hawaii

                               on the Suburb                                                              – in a rowing boat?

      Suburb News has featured the                          a particular bit of technique,   If you’d told me 20 years ago
      Suburb Table Tennis Club,                             but when you ‘become’ the   that I would be attempting to
      founded in 2015, which uses                           teacher, embodying Nico or   break the world record for rowing
      the Free Church Hall and runs                         Elinor in your strokes. And   the 2,400 miles from California                                            PHOTOS: BEN RODFORD
      sessions on Thursday evenings                         finally, in table tennis as with   to Hawaii, I’m not sure whether
      (, several times                    other difficult activities, things   I would have laughed, cried, or
      (see SN124/129/135) and recently                      start to fall apart so easily,   just stared at you in bewilderment.
      learnt of an article which appeared                   whether because of something   You see, 20 years ago, I was very
      in the New Statesman based on                         unusual in your opponent, or   much a ‘regular’ pupil at Brookland
      the experience of the author,                         because he is a bit sharper than   Junior School. Sure, I relished
      psychoanalyst, pyschotherapist,                       you,  or  because  you  become   our swimming lessons and was
      journalist and retired cricketer,                     complacent or over-anxious.   gravely disappointed when the
      Mike Brearley. He writes about                           I came to it as a result of two   netball teacher went on maternity
      how his learning table tennis                         stimuli: first from watching a   leave, but I’m not sure anyone
      has informed his views on the                         TV programme in which a   would have described me as
      process of learning, being human                      group of old people were   particularly intrepid.
      and psychoanalysis.                                   divided into three: one section   I went on to secondary
         The New Statesman has very                         carried  on  without  any  extra   school at South Hampstead
      kindly given us permission to                         activities, the second played   where, if anything, my sporting
      reprint the following excerpt                         table tennis three times a week   activity dwindled (something far
      from  the  article  Mike  Brearley                    and the third went for a 60   too common amongst teenage
      wrote for the paper and which                         minute walk several times a   girls and something I’m now
      appeared on October 8 last year.  tables available to play on after   week. At the end of the   passionate about preventing). I
                                 the game ended. I would play   experiment, cognitive and other   did, however, participate in the
      I’m giving a public lecture on   with my father, who would let   abilities were measured and   Duke of Edinburgh Award and a
      September 8, on ‘Freeing up   me get to 20-16 and then polish   compared with how they were   World Challenge Expedition to
      thought in sport, psychoanalysis   me off at 22-20. He was a   at the start. What I recall is that   Vietnam, which sparked my
      and everyday life’ (which covers   Yorkshireman. As one spectator at   both table tennis and walking   passion for travel and adventure.
      just about everything). And I’ve   Headingley once shouted, ‘Don’t   improved people’s reactions,   This  is all very well, but
      taken up table tennis. I discover   think yourself so clever, Brearley,  cognition, memory and alertness,   there’s still no rowing in my life
      there are links between the two.    just because you wear socks.”   in slightly different ways that I   story. It wasn’t until I went to
         I go once a week to a club in   The learning process is so   can’t remember. The second   university at Oxford that I
      Hampstead Garden Suburb, where   interesting, even at my age.  factor was meeting Matthew Syed   discovered the sport, but I still   a 29-foot boat for close to seven   you actively avoid scary situations.
      there are two wonderful teachers   Partly it’s a matter of grooving.  when we were invited to perform   wasn’t committed. In my head,
      (Nico from Albania and Elinor   Play four back hands followed   together  at  the  Cheltenham   sport was generally just a bit of   weeks, rowing two hours on,  Each time you take on a challenge,
                                                                                                                                            you build your resilience arsenal;
                                                                                                                 two hours off around the clock.
      from  Moldova),  and  varying   by one forehand. Play three   Literary Festival last year. Matthew   an inconvenience; the sweat,   We  will  be  battling  sea-  the  more you  do things that
      attenders from a mainly male   forehands down the forehand   was England’s number-one player,   the uncomfortable bras, the fact   sickness and waves of up to 60   scare you, the more you’re able
      group, many of us of a certain   side followed by a backhand.  and has written books (as well   that it didn’t really fit in with
      age. I never learned table tennis,   Use your forearm not your   as in  columns in The Times)   nights out.  feet. When sea-sickness doesn’t   to do things that scare you.
                                                                                                                 stop us eating, we will be trying
                                                                                                                                              To that end, our crew is
      never had a lesson, and only   whole arm for back hands.  on  table tennis and on the   But then I fell ill; just before   to plough our way through the   called Girls Who Dare and our
      played when encountering a   Don’t move so far with your   psychology of sport. He put me   my 21st birthday – I spent the   4,000 calories of dehydrated   tagline is ‘dream, dare, do’. We
      table by chance, for instance, at   whole body for a forehand. You   in touch with Richard Grethe   best part of a month in hospital
      the house of psychoanalyst   have to be ready for the return,  and the club.    fighting for my leg and life. I   food we’ll need to fuel our   want our row to encourage
                                                                                                                 efforts. We’ll be using a public
                                                                                                                                            people, but especially girls, to
      colleagues who had a table in   fractions of a second later. Spin   I think learning table tennis   was in Oxford when I’d been   bucket instead of a loo. Showers   dream big, set goals, and have
      their basement in Italy, or those   and how to counter it. You have   is not unlike learning how to be   bitten and became ill with   will be makeshift at best. I won’t   the courage to go out and pursue
      rare cricket clubs (often I suspect   to think, but also let things   more human through psycho-  necrotising fasciitis, a potentially
      bank grounds) where there would   happen. Moreover, you often   analysis. In the latter patients   fatal flesh-eating disease. There’s   go into detail on the sores we’ll   them. We are just four ordinary
                                                                                                                                            women, but we are setting out
                                                                                                                 expect to develop. But it’s too
      be snooker and/or table tennis   play better not when you learn   are asked to free  associate,  to   nothing like facing your own   late to pull out now!  to do something extraordinary.
                                                            say what comes into our minds;   mortality at the age of 20 to   So why am I doing this? I   Our wish is that we inspire you
                                                            the analyst (among other things)   make you realise just how
                                                            notices moments of hesitation   precious your body is!   obviously love challenging myself   to do the same, whatever that
                                                                                                                 and I truly believe that we only
                                                                                                                                            might mean for you!
                                                            or obstruction to the free flow of   As part of my recovery,   grow  as  individuals  when  we   If you want to find out more
                                                            thoughts, and invites the patient   exercise became a life-line, and   force ourselves outside our   about our crew and our row,
                                                            to notice them too. This sometimes   I embraced training in a way I
                                                            leads to the interfering thought   never had before. Rowing and   comfort zones. Many people   please visit our website at www.
                                                                                                                 have recently remarked on my
                                                                                                                                   or follow us
                                                            or feeling that blocked the flow,   exercise became a part of my   assumed fearlessness in the face   on Instagram @Girls.Who.Dare
                                                            which  patients  sometimes  life and followed me back to   of such an immense challenge
                                                            come to recognise in statu   London, where I now work for an                                 JESSICA SHUMAN
                                                            nascendi, in the moment of its   asset manager. It just so happens   but they couldn’t be further
                                                                                                                 from the truth; when I stop and
                                                                                                                                            The editor adds: Girls who Dare
                                                            emerging. Thus we can come to   that this asset manager sponsors   think about what I’m taking on,  will be undertaking this challenging
                                                            feel, as they arise, thoughts that   a number of rowing events and,
                                                            would otherwise never emerge,   through them, I have had the   I’m utterly terrified! But the   row in June next year. I hope
                                                            or never be taken seriously, but   most incredible opportunities   reality is that you’re highly   Suburb News will be able to let
                                                                                                                 unlikely to live a fulfilling life if
                                                            which are parts of the underlying   to race at international regattas,          residents know how it goes.
                                                            assumptions that drive us and   and  also  row  across  the  Irish
                                                            often restrict us. This is potentially   Sea. It was that Celtic row that
                                                            freeing, and, as with small   proved to be a turning point. I
                                                            children moving from babbling   met a girl, Anna, who, two and
                                                            into language, opens up new   a half years later, would ask me
                                                            worlds and new forms of   if I’d join her and two others to
                                                            possible life. Suddenly, we can   form a four-woman crew to
                                                            come to feel on the pulses what   take on the Pacific.
                                                            inhibits, and may be able to   In the interim, I had climbed
                                                            turn partial and vague ideas   a mountain in Nepal and
                                                            into  more  specific,  more  completed an ultra-triathlon in
                                                            accurate and more articulate   Malawi so the ocean row seemed
                                                            thoughts. As the American analyst   like a natural progression to my
                                                            Jonathan Lear says, we can   adventuring résumé. I said yes
                                                           “win wisdom from illness.” Old   in a heartbeat; you can’t deliberate
                                                            automatic habits, compulsions,   about  decisions like these or
                                                            addictions, repetitions, may   common sense will talk you out
                                                            gradually become replaced by   of it! Trust me when I say that
                                                            newer more inclusive capacities   there are many, many aspects of
                                                            of awareness and in the end of   the row that would put most
                                                            new, firmer, stronger habits of   people off. The world record
                                                            mind, forms of life.      currently stands at 50 days.
                                                              As in table tennis these forms   This means we will be living on
                                                            become in-formed, ingrained in
                                                            positive ways, but always with a                            P R HARTLEY
                                                            degree of precariousness. In
                                                            sport as in everyday life we are
                                                            prone to fall back into old habits                      CHARTERED ACCOUNTANT
                                                            of mind and body, whether                                 & REGISTERED AUDITOR
                                                            when tested too hard, or tired
                                                            or pressured, or tempted once                          Accounting & Taxation Services
                                                            again by delusory seductions.
                                                                                                                      Call 020 8731 9745 or 07850 634395
                                                            The article followed the publication                          Email
                                                            of Mike Brearley, On Cricket, Little,
                                                            Brown, published 4 October 2018                         
                                                            at £20.
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