Hello, you don’t know me but may I join your game of tennis?

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Thank you so much for the lovely messages on Friday – they were really kind, especially the ones which told me to spend the week watching crap TV as an antidote to self-improvement. It turned out to be too sunny to do that but I wholeheartedly approve of the sentiment.

Thanks also to the reader who told me he liked me more for being knackered, grumpy and fed up with it all. I promise you that knackered, grumpy and fed up is my natural state but it’s frowned upon in self-help land so I’ve been keeping those moments to myself. I’ll let them all hang out in the future…

But for now, my self-help loathing is sort of over and I’m back on the saddle again by asking total strangers if I can play tennis with them and shoot some hoops.

I hadn’t planned these challenges but was walking through the park on Saturday when I saw people playing tennis and really wanted to have a go. I haven’t played since school and every summer I talk about buying a cheap racket and starting again but I never do.

I realised that it was the perfect rejection therapy challenge.

I hovered behind the wire fence around the court before plucking up the courage to call out to the two men playing.

‘Excuse me…’ I said.

They didn’t hear me.

I called again. ‘Hello…’

Again they didn’t hear me.

I thought about walking away but I told myself off for being a wimp. This time I said ‘hello’ at the top of my voice and they both looked around.

I realised that I looked a bit crazy. I’d left the house in a rush – my unwashed hair was up in a top knot, I had no make up on and was wearing very unflattering leggings that I may have slept in a few times. Including the night before.

Oh well. I blurted out something along the lines of:

‘This is a random request but I haven’t played tennis since I was school and I’d really like to have a go. Would you mind if I borrowed your racket and just hit a couple of balls?’

The guy nearest me, who must have been in his early twenties, looked a bit surprised but not at all put out.

‘Sure,’ he said. I walked on to the court,  he gave me his racquet and introduced me to the older man he was playing with, who it turns out was his dad.

Dad acted like this was the most normal thing on earth.

‘Ready?’ he asked, before hitting a ball my way.

‘Ready!’ I shouted.

I wasn’t. I swung and missed.

Dad hit another ball, the same happened.

I apologised and remembered that when I was at school I spent half my time on the court saying ‘Sorry!’.

But then on the third go the ball hit the middle of the racket and glided over the net. It felt great. So satisfying. Dad returned it to me. I returned it again. We had a rally. I’m not sure how long it lasted  but it felt like ages.

‘You haven’t played since school?’ he checked.

‘No,’ says me running around the court like a panting wreck.

‘You’ve missed your calling! You could be a Wimbledon champion if you’d stuck it,’ he says. Oh, the charmer!!

I walked off court with my head held higher than Andy Murray at the Olympics and they waved off their new nutty ginger friend with smiles on their faces.

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High from the triumph I grabbed another rejection opportunity when I walked past the basketball court further down the road. There were two teens shooting hoops in t-shirts and very big trainers. They were intimidating, a bit street and cool looking. But I did it. I walked up to them and said I’d never tried to throw a ball into a basket ball net and would it be OK if I had a go?

‘Yeah, sure,’ one shrugged. But despite the cool response they were really sweet. Their names were Leon and Steve and they spent the next ten minutes coaching me on how to do it – positioning my hands on the ball, telling me about angles and how to bend my knees.  After a dozen attempts, I didn’t get the ball in once but I hit the board a few times which was good enough for me.

I told them about rejection therapy and they looked at me like I was a crazy, old lady – the kind of crazy lady who might have slept in her clothes – but they kept talking.

‘Try being a guy,’ said Leon. ‘You get rejected every day. You go up to a girl and you get blown out and then you have to walk the ten steps back to your seat…’

‘Does it bother you?’ I ask.

‘Nah,’ he shrugged. But of course it does.

I told him about my coffee shop Greek and he said that there was no way he would have rejected me. I beamed, thinking he meant on account of me being so gorgeous and lovely but no.

‘A guy’ll say ‘yes’ even to a girl he doesn’t really like, cos, like, why not? You might get some…’

Oh. Cheers for that.

Anyway, we talked for a while. Me and two 16-year-olds swapping chat-up techniques. It was lovely.

This whole rejection business has made me realise that actually most people are really kind and only too happy to say ‘yes’. We all but these barriers up, especially in London, and think that people are cold and scary and different to us but they’re not. Most of the time they’re all too happy for an excuse to interact. Or maybe I’ve just been lucky.

As I was walking off the basket ball court Leon shouts: ‘What you going to do now? We didn’t reject you.’

‘Could you lend me a tenner?’ I asked. ‘Nice one,’ he smiled. ‘Is that a no?’ ‘Yeah, it’s a no.’

Thanks! Job done.


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