Friday, March 23, 2012

In His Own Words...Aubrey Waddy, author of the new "Sex, Drugs, Squash 'n' Roll". Book

I recently posed some questions to the author of that very entertaining new novel, “Sex, Drugs, and Squash ‘n’ Roll”. Aubrey Waddy is not only a very accomplished writer, he a masters international squash competitor.

SDB What prompted you to write your book “Sex Drugs Squash ‘n’ Roll”?

AW Primarily, I’ve discovered in the second half of my life that I want to write. I started at it by telling and then writing stories for my three boys when they were small, thinking that children’s stuff would be an easy way into being published. Wrong, in spades! But the 45 or so children’s stories that I wrote did allow me to develop the craft.

The link to a squash book starts in Australia. From 1970-1973 I played a lot of squash in Sydney, and during a visit there in 1986 a chance remark from an old squash-playing friend made me think, ‘what a great idea for a squash plot’. I’d no notion then that I’d ever write something as long as a full length novel and I just filed the idea away.

For the next step, I decided uncertainly, in the mid 1990s, to try to write a full novel. I chose to set it in the world I worked/lived in: medicine (though I’m not a doctor) and the south of England. This was because I didn’t have any time to spend on research. The book was taken up by a small publisher in 2002 as ‘The Progressive Supper’, and I’m about to republish it in an improved version, ‘Just Desserts’.

After completing “The Progressive Supper”, my next project was to be a dark novel set in the medical device industry, in essence a retelling of the thalidomide story with a device rather than a drug. That story is going to be set in the third person, and after planning it I hesitated to begin writing because I’d so enjoyed the first person angle of The Progressive Supper. So in about 2006, with not the faintest idea that I’d soon be starting to play the game again, I decided to bring forward the squash book, written in the first person voice of Jolyon Jacks. The manuscript spent most of its life as ‘Caught off Court’ but at the last minute, at the suggestion of the cover designer, it became ‘Sex and Drugs and Squash ’n’ Roll’ after I’d mentioned this mangling of the late Ian Dury’s words as a possible strap line for the book.

SDB How much of the book is based on reality or is it completely fiction?

AW The story is completely fictional, with none of the characters based on specific people.

SDB How much of your own life is in Jolyon’s life (main character in the book)?

AW As anyone would notice if they saw me playing squash, Jolyon mirrors little of that side of me! I was a strictly amateur player, for a while in my twenties at the bottom end of the British rankings. Away from the squash angle, I was educated at an English private school, but the limited vignettes of Redbrook, Jolyon’s school, are from my imagination. The places in the story are mostly real.

SDB Why did you decide to have an American as the number 1 in the world? Was that so you could knock him off?

AW I wanted a sympathetic US character in the story because I have a lot of US friends, inside and outside squash, notably John Nimick, who has been most generous in his support of the story all the way through. As the idea of Razz began to develop, he grew in scope, and I’d have liked to explore his personality and history at greater length.

SDB What does your book say about the PSA?

AW During my playing days I marginally overlapped with Gawain Briars, who when I started to plan S&D&S’n’R was Chief Executive of the PSA. Gawain gave me a lot of information about the association, and my conclusion was: what a lot of substance there is in the PSA tour. The structure of the worldwide game is a strong one, but the sponsorship is pretty parlous. I don’t see much of the political side, and in the book I didn’t touch on the vital issue for the game of television; now I wish I’d explored this as I’ve come to a twenty-twenty, crystal clear realization that the basic angle for viewing the game should be from the front. That’s what will get the ordinary sports fan watching - that’s where the drama is. I missed the opportunity to say something about this in the book.

SDB How did you get started in squash and when?

AW I was a sporty kid, apparently never without some sort of a ball from the age of two. At my secondary school, thirteen onwards, I took up squash along with the other hand-eye sports, and played in the school team and university second team. Cricket was my biggest love. I went to Australia in 1970 with the intention of playing a lot of that. However, I arrived in the fall, and cricket is a summer game. Instead I met up with some great squash guys from Sydney University, and started playing in the fiercely competitive Sydney leagues. Come the following spring I was hooked on squash, and although I played cricket for a while I preferred a game that took up less time. And I love the sheer physicality of squash.

SDB Give us a bit of your background, where you were born went to school, sports you played, etc.?

AW I was born in London and grew up partly in what was then the Gold Coast in West Africa, now Ghana, but mainly in the beautiful English city of Winchester. My principal schooling was at the English private school, Marlborough College, which led me into a career in medical science. I’ve already mentioned cricket. There’s no greater pleasure in sport than ‘middling’ a cricket ball with a perfectly balanced bat, a momentary encounter of willow and leather, such a soft feeling characterized by, even defined by, a total absence of vibration. Hitting a cricket ball is that sweet. Squash doesn’t come close in the joy of a perfectly timed shot. I also played rugby, soccer, rackets, field hockey and tennis, and later real tennis, and somewhere along the line in my teens suffered the knee injury that has dogged me all my sporting life. I read Natural Sciences at Cambridge University and stumbled into a career in which I’ve travelled a lot, made a middling difference and managed to pay the bills. I just wish I’d had a greater insight during my education into my passion for words and images.

SDB Who is the most influential person in your life?

AW I had to think about that one for a moment. On reflection, almost every day I see something in myself of my father. I don’t remember him though as pushy or assertive, so his influence has been osmotic, in absolutely everything, rather than specifically directive. There are so many things I’d love to tell him and show him now.

SDB Who turned you on to squash?

AW At school there was a squash and racquets professional called Bill Gordon. I remember Bill teaching me to play the drop shot, and I’m eternally grateful. It has saved me from running countless court miles over many years, usually because I’ve hit the tin!

SDB It seems you were trying to capture the essence of squash, that it really is a noble calling so much so that a young man like Jolyon would give up his million dollar trust fund until he makes number 1 in the world…

AW I do believe that it’s a gift to enjoy a competitive sport, and that winning is the reason for playing. I hadn’t reflected on that aspect of Jolyon’s motivation, although I have reflected on a little entity, I think of it as a worm, that’s present in the minds of some competitors, the one that drives them harder than their rivals. It’s part of the innate ability of champions, along with their strength and their coordination and their athleticism. I guess that idea fed through into Jolyon’s intense competitiveness.

SDB What did you give up to play squash?

AW It’s my dear partner Alison, whom I met four years ago, who has to cope with me being repeatedly away from the house because of squash. Right now what I give up is sometimes sitting down to an evening’s television, no great sacrifice. For me, being able to play squash after a twenty five year gap, during which I never for a moment imagined that I’d ever play again, is one of the great things of my life.

SDB Your favorite player on the tour now?

AW Lefties rule, it’s Amr Shabana! I’ve never met Amr, but he has an impish quality and the deftest touch on the planet.

SDB The best player you ever saw play?

AW I remember being awestruck watching Qamar Zaman destroy Gogi Alauddin in a British Open final. I saw Jonah Barrington reduce Geoff Hunt to patting gentle shots down the walls because he’d run out of strength. Sadly I missed Jahangir and Jansher. Peter Nicol I’ve seen post-retirement and I’ve marveled at the current top players. But of the ones I’ve seen, on his day and with them on their day as well, Shabana would beat them all.

SDB As an older player and a player at a high level, what do you have to do to win?

AW First and foremost, as it ever was, it’s being fit! That’s the bedrock. One of the negatives of getting older is your simple loss of strength, and with that goes loss of speed. I sometimes feel that time lapse photography is needed to demonstrate that I actually move on court! I find shuttle running is great exercise for the legs, and I’ve discovered recently that I need to do stuff for my arms and shoulders as well. Beyond that, for me, the squash takes care of itself, assuming that it doesn’t include too many rubbish cross courts. I’ve always been inclined to pull the trigger early in a rally, and with Masters players the percentages are more in your favour doing that, because they are slower.

SDB What do you think of Egyptian squash? British squash?

AW I don’t know too much about the mainstream competitive squash scenes in either country. In Britain it’s sad that so-called minority sports get so little public recognition. The fact that Britain has the one and two ranked players in the world is absolutely brilliant! The numbers of fine current and emerging Egyptian players is tremendously impressive, too. I suspect that India will soon be a force in squash. The thing that has impressed me most since I became involved in the game again is the wide range of countries that are producing ranked players. Who built all those courts!

SDB Anything you’d like to say to those who would read your book, other than buy it?!

AW I would say that I’ve done some good stuff in my life, and I’m a current Masters squash international. But I’m a far better writer than anything else I’ve been, so you won’t be disappointed! My aim in writing is make the reader want to turn the page, and along the way to have some fun with the words. And finally, once you’ve enjoyed S&D&S’n’R, look out for ‘Just Desserts’, another darned good read! (And down the way, ‘Hip Hip Boo’, currently in the writing.)

Note: “Sex, Drugs, Squash ‘n’ Roll” can be purchased from Can hardly wait for “Hip Hip Boo”.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Alan Thatcher: The Most Interesting Person in Squash

If I was stranded on a deserted island for an extended period of time and had no access to Daily Squash Reports, PSA Live TV or You tube and I was eventually rescued, the one person in the world I’d want to update me on squash would be Alan Thatcher. Aside from his vast knowledge about the game, as historian, player, coach, broadcaster, none rival him. He is squash’s rendition of everyman, guru, Renaissance man the Da Vinci of squash I would say.

His broadcasts are so entertaining; his turns of phrases, his insights into the players, his observations about the game never cease to amaze me. You might put him alongside some of the other great sports announcers like Johnny Most of the Celtics, Scully of Saturday NBC Baseball Game of the Week, Tim McCarver of the NY Mets and certainly I would put him alongside venerable Howard Cosell (I loved Cosell). Witty, urbane, with a great sense of the drama and timing, like Cosell, Thatcher seems to be in love with words, with language and the impact good rhetoric can have on something as fleeting and intangible as a dramatic sports moment.

What is even more remarkable is you can just listen to Thatcher do the play by play without video and hearken back to the days when sports were broadcast from radio exclusively. This is no easy feat, considering the game is so fast, you have to announce the shots in rapid succession, which means you have to first know what you are talking about and secondly process what you see into words to keep pace.

I posed some questions for Mr. Thatcher recently and the following are his answers:

SDB – You’ve been known for some memorable quash quotes, which ones are your favorites?

AT – “There goes David Palmer, flying through the air like a kangaroo on Viagra (it was a fun way of describing a phenomenal athlete).”

“Jonathon Power .... He’s halfway up Yonge Street, but still gets the let (just to show that I do my homework before every event. I was amazed to learn that Yonge Street starts in downtown Toronto and carries on halfway to the North Pole! Having looked at the video clip again, from a match between Power and Peter Nicol, I think Power actually did enough to deserve the let!) “

“Happiness is a supple pelvis. Squash and life combined. It is a highly motivational comment when coaching a group of females, especially those in their 40s, who wish to be reunited with their pelvic floors. Me, I've had plenty of pelvic flaws. My late brother Mike introduced me to squash in my early 20s (not the 1920s) and I put my pelvis out stretching for a drop shot the very first time we played. I have been suffering from the same injury for more than 30 years! I have finally found a genius osteopath who has sorted out my problems and I am training to be world champion when I am 60 next year!”

SDB – You are a squash coach as well; give an example of your coaching wisdom?

“Get the mechanics right, and the shots are easy (that was my coaching this morning, telling James Evans, last year's British Under-15 champion, to sort out his lazy footwork while we were doing a backhand volley routine).”

“Leave the court, NOW!!! (Me, last Saturday, talking to a junior who picked up several double bounces.)”

SDB – You’ve written a book on squash, what sorts of things are in that book, can you give us some examples?

AT – “Why do you expect to win a team match, against a fit opponent, when you do absolutely zero training? (From my new coaching book aimed at club team players). “

“Honesty and respect will give you balls of steel. If you pick up a double bounce, or try to gain any kind of unfair advantage on court, you are CHEATING. You have already lost the rally, so give it up and walk away. You have around one to 1.5 seconds between shots (much less if you volley) so honesty will help you to concentrate much better on that next shot. If you cheat, you will know you cheated in five minutes, five hours, five days, five weeks, five months and five years down the line. Do you really want to carry all that baggage around with you? (From the same book). “

SDB – You are the co-founder of a very noble charitable cause, something that hits close to home. Tell us about it.

AT - TriSports, a community sports club aimed at providing sporting opportunities for disadvantaged (often homeless and unemployed) young people that I launched in Kent with a friend called Stewart King.

SDB – What was the impetus for founding such a charity?

AT - Having grown up in poverty after the Second World War, losing my mother to suicide at the age of 11, and being made homeless at 17 when my father remarried and I was kicked out of home, makes me keen to help any young people with problems in life. Most of the homeless kids I have helped down the years are the product of broken homes and parental separation or abuse. It's not their fault, but they get angry (understandably), do stupid things and get in trouble. Sport, and especially a game like squash, can help them get fit and healthy, and provide some shape and discipline in their lives.

SDB – What are some of the things people say about Alan Thatcher?

AT - Things people have said to me down the years:

1: I never expect someone of your size to move so quickly (most days)

2: You'll never make any money at squash.

3; You possess all the athleticism of a dead horse (Toronto doubles opponent).

4: I'm amazed at your lateral movement for such a big guy (New York squash coach).

5: What?! You've never played hardball doubles in your life? Never? Ever? And you've just beaten us? That's insane (New York doubles opponent)

6: Do you want to give up now? (Much younger Kent League opponent who saw I was injured, tried to dead leg my injured leg and was very surprised that I beat him ... on one leg!)

7: Thanks. (A homeless lad, who joined TriSports, got fit, sorted out his life and got a job with the Fire Brigade).

8: I was with you all the way. (God)

SDB - Egyptian squash is this squash's equivalent to sliced bread?

AT - I love the way that Egypt is taking over the squash world. Everyone wants to know the secrets of their system. System? The big answer is: there is no system!! They just have hundreds of talented kids with an army of brilliant coaches who destroy the European "system" of age-group events. The Egyptians don't really care about age groups. If you are good enough, then go out and win. Age doesn't come into it. Here in England, our kids spend more time on the motorway than they do on court, driving all over the country to ranking tournaments or trying to find another talented kid to train with. Just imagine turning up at your local club and you can have a hit with Ramy Ashour? Squash is a wonderful diversion for a country going through such turmoil.

SDB - Why do real US squash players have to go abroad to learn the game?

AT - Because it's not yet in your DNA. All pros need to travel, to learn. Experience and learn from the masters of Egyptian skill sessions and European fitness. Squash is perfect for the American psyche. You guys love the work ethic involved. But there are no short cuts to genius. You are hiring many of the world's leading coaches, so I think in ten years’ time you will be producing some great players. The USA needs a Jonathon Power, a mad, genius, Mozart maverick who plays the game like no-one else. Then things will really take off.

SDB - Who was really the greatest player in the game?

AT - He (or she) will be among the millions of sperm deposited in the welcoming womb of the wife of a squash player on Valentine's Day this week. Every era produces new champions, and a new champion, of a new generation, will be born in nine months' time. For me, the greatest champion of all was Jansher Khan. Not only for his astonishing ability, and the way he adapted his game to cope with every new challenge, but most of all for the way he dealt with the hostility from the Pakistani hierarchy when he arrived on the scene as a skinny 17-year-old and announced to the world that he would take down the mighty Jahangir. And he did.

SDB – A lot of people including myself thought Ramy Ashour would be as good if not better than Jansher...what is your take, has he had his time?

AT - I am sure Ramy will come back. He is too good a player not to. He loves the game and people in the game love him. He is too young to write off, as you seem to be doing, but I think he needs to develop a more disciplined approach to his life and career. Being injury-prone is not a good sign. I hope he gets the right treatment and has the right people around him to nurture and protect him. Just imagine Ramy and Jansher playing each other at their physical and mental peaks.... what a game that would be! I would take Jansher to win 3-2... 38-36 in the fifth.

(Note: I could have gone on forever with questions to Mr. Thatcher, but he had to stop and gets some sleep in preparation for the US Open, even Mr. Thatcher needs his sleep. Please key into his web site ( for the best of the best of the professional squash world, and tell me he isn’t the most interesting person in squash…)

Monday, March 19, 2012

Thanks to All Those Who Contributed to Zimbabwe Squash

It was quite an undertaking that began last November to collect any and all squash equipment to donate to most worthy squash cause, The Zimbabwe Squash Academy, an organization in Zimbabwe, Africa which brings squash to orphaned children. These children as hard as life is have found some great consolation and purpose through squash. While I might play squash or go on the court to forget a bad day at the office, these kids go on court in spite of a really tough life. I hold the founder and director, Mashumba Mukumba of this program in the highest esteem, especially as I became friends with him over the past months. He has the patience of a saint, while not only running the academy but fundraising, and going through the immensely painful process to get the goods out of customs. What I thought would be a most simple process of collecting equipment and shipping it overseas turned into something else. I had to really scramble to pack and unpack the goods, since shipping to Africa requires a certain sized package, regulation, otherwise the cost is through the roof, and we are talking about thousands of dollars. But we managed and when after weeks of negotiating with Zimbabwe customs officials who were convinced the goods were part of an effort to import equipment for resale, Mr. Makumbha finally acquired the goods. The picture of the children in the academy with the equipment is worth all the problems we faced. I want to thank (Ben Beilin is the best and so is his squash site) for his very genrous contributions, and the following LA Fitness, Lake Success, NY squash community: Margaret Higgins, Jay Arkin, Kyle Jens, Selena Mahoney, Dr. Ashok Kukadia, and Haadi Ahmat. We have already started collecting much needed additional equipment as one of our squash junior's is planning a trip to the Squash Academy for a summer internship and will be our carrier of donated goods. Any unused, new, or old equipment please donate it to the Academy through squashdashersbashers. It is only with additional equipment that they can make sure every squasher has the equipment to learn and develop their squash game.

If Holden Caulfield Played The PSA...Review of Sex, Drugs, Squash N' Roll

If Holden Caulfield ("Cathcher in the Rye"), the penultimate bad boy of Preparatory School and adolescence were alive today and played squash and was a master mixer at illegal raves he’d probably fit nicely into the role of Aubrey Waddy’s main character (Jolyon) in his novel Sex, Drugs, Squash N’ Roll. This is a very entertaining novel, and I repeat novel, on so many different levels. Aside from being cleverly written, believe it or not, squash players can lead interesting lives, the book also provides a plethora of information about the professional squash tour, namely the Professional Squash Association (PSA). While all the squash characters are fictional, their squash world is what I imagine as very real – even with great names like aspiring World Number 1 phenom Joylyon to women’s world champion Zoe Quantock, to names like Razza Mattaz to their inimitable squash guru and champion architect Sailor McCann (I want to change my name to “Sailor”).

Waddy seems to have stalked the hallways and byways of the current youth culture along with the squash galleries and locker rooms to produce these squash vignettes that weave professional squash play with the fiercely and sometimes mean spirited play for PSA ranking points and sponsorship. As you will read, it can be metaphorically a matter of life and death. The book traces the discovery and development of a phenomenal junior squash player in the UK as he rises to the top of the squash world, through sheer determination and often in spite of the difficulties he finds himself in. While he is a great and dutiful squash soldier, he balances this with a bit of the Caulfield rebelliousness and champions himself against all those “phonies” out there who can make a young man’s pursuit of truth and beauty and championship squash very difficult. In spite of himself, he is a great character, the kind of son, regardless of the success in squash that any father would be proud of – provided he didn’t know quite all the going one’s that a contemporary teenager experiences in the sordid world of sex and drugs.

By all means, don’t for a minute think that Waddy has produced an antihero type in the squash world that can live a life of sex and drugs and squash -- very much the contrary. But like every ancient hero on a quest for fame and fortune or truth and beauty the road is fraught with all sorts of temptations. The truly great champions and great human beings don’t judge what goes on around them; they live in this world and take everything this world has to offer. They champion what is good, and in true Caulfield-like fashion mock what is bad. Jolyon can be Caulfield; he can also be a brooding Achilles, or wily Odysseus. While the anti-hero used to be the bad guy that turned the good upside down, the world has changed; Jolyon is the good guy turning the bad upside down.

What is inspiring about this book is that Waddy seems to have created a character that has not followed any recipe, is not part of the legions of juniors aspiring to squash stardom. He’s taken a player with little squash experience and with his mentor, Sailor McCann, has designed a map for stardom and success. Of course he has to have some superb qualities to rocket him to the tops of the PSA, in Jolyon’s case, phenomenal physical and aerobic attributes. How realistic is this story? It doesn’t matter. The beauty of what Waddy is saying is that no matter what you aspire to you don’t have to follow any prescription, yes you need talent, and dedication, and physical, great physical abilities in squash for elite play, but because you didn’t develop your game, your talents along the usual manner doesn’t mean you can’t strive for that achievement, eventually becoming champion.

While most squash players at an international level have been playing since they were very young, Jolyon started playing at 16. Who is to say that can’t happen, who is to say that you must follow the recipe of starting early and hopefully by the time you are 17 years old knowing whether or not you are good enough to someday become champion. Yes, Jolyon forgoes college to pursue this dream. He is driven, he has to be, mostly to prove an overbearing mother who pushed him into tennis wrong about doing what is best for yourself, even if it means going against your parents... As a trust fund child, who loses access to his trust fund because he goes against his mother’s imperatives, Jolyon finds his way from the point he started, nothing more, nothing less. While his trust fund might be the impetus to achieve world number 1 ranking by the age of 21, never in the book or the development of this character do you sense that is his motivation. As he says, he has the chance to be the best in the world number 1 among millions.

The book has a fantastic twist and turns into a fast pace suspense and thriller. You won’t be able to put it down. As Jolyon gets closer and closer to his goals at squash number 1 the forces of darkness and evil are preparing their obstacles…

I recommend this book not only to the entire squash community, but also anyone who wants to read a really entertaining novel which just happens to be about squash. Waddy is a world master’s champion who has been involved in squash for many years. Look for an in depth interview forthcoming from squashdashersbashers about this author and squash master.

( Kindle edition

Also serialized in

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Passing of a Good Sport

She played football, squash and some tennis. Her favorite for a while was squash until she became a little bit older and turned to touch football. She used a deft touch when dropping the squash ball to the floor. She loved chasing around the tennis ball. She wasn’t much to look at and often her dark bangs hung over her eyes, she was a bit bow-legged as well but she loved the sports; in fact she wasn’t a very good athlete at all. She tired easily, probably mostly from laziness. She lead a dog’s life, we swore after her games she slept 23 hours out of the day and got up only to have some food and go to the bathroom. While approaching that master’s age, she still, while ever so briefly, still exhibited a child’s enthusiasm for her games.

What she lacked in skills she more than made up for in intelligence. She learned so many tricks, she could really dance and sing if the incentives were right; she loved an audience, she loved people and talked to them in her own language all the time.

Two nights ago, after a leisurely game of touch football, she collapsed. I held her in my arms and while she lay so listless in my arms I knew she wasn’t going to make it. My son was at the squash courts, I stayed with her for quite a while trying to make sure she knew how much she was loved. Each breath struggled, she was fighting it, I wanted her to just close her eyes and let go into that other place. She hung in there, she wouldn’t let go. I left her with my wife to go get my son.

I told him she was very ill and probably wouldn’t last very long. Long before we opened the house door (bat like hearing), she had tried to go to the door to greet us, probably mostly my son, and she collapsed again. He picked her up, I knew she had waited for him as if to say she wouldn’t leave this world without saying good-bye to him. He held her in his arms as she rested her near lifeless head on his chest. She was going now and we told her how much we loved her and would never forget her and then she died.

She was our dog, our “puppy” as we called her, she didn’t suffer in the end, death came quickly – but like she lived and played she died with great dignity. She was my son’s dog, even though I took care of her, she was his, she adored him as much as he adored her. She was our friend, our family, and we played those crazy games with her; I may have cursed her once or twice for puncturing the squash balls, or yelled at her when trying to work and she wanted a game of football, and she always seemed to bark at just the right time during a conference call – but, wherever you are, “puppy”, your heaven is surely that much loved rest and I hope to keep your spirit up there’s an occasional game of whatever ball they play up there.