7.00 am on a sunny Thursday May morning in the club car park (impressive to see Muppet and Fenner putting in an early shift to secure their places in next season’s G team). I get my kitbag and case onto the bus for Heathrow before the flight to Budapest for the European Masters tournament.
Boarding the 16 seater, I’m greeted by the overpowering smells of Deep Heat and Steradent and hear the tour team negotiating swaps of Glucosamine Sulphate and Ibuprofen. Surely I was on the wrong bus? A squash tour? With the possible exception of Christian we looked as though we should have been accompanied by a carer.
More by luck than judgement we had all managed to remember our passports and boarding passes and by about 4.30 pm we’d booked into our hotel. Youthful exuberance returned as we agreed to freshen up quickly and be in the bar by 5.00. A kitty was arranged and as Channy prepared us for tomorrow morning’s matches by revealing our opponents’ names we sank 5 or 6 of Hungary’s premier lagers within an hour. My confidence was restored, I was with a bunch of athletes after all.
After a few more beers we decided to get tram tickets into town but failed on the organisational front and ended up walking in (via some bar stops). Having taken the obligatory tourist photos to show our families how much we had appreciated the culture, history and sweeping views of this remarkable capital, we hit a sports bar to watch telly and taste the more chemical beers. Night became morning and I’m sure some of us were feeling a little jetlagged as words were being slurred.
Friday morning and after a staggeringly unhealthy breakfast containing frankfurters, ketchup and dinosaur eggs we entered the arena. Five squash courts (three available as the Germans had put their towels on two) and a nervous tension in the air generated by an international contingent who were clearly here to do business.
Great starts for Richard, Bob, Mark, Ray, Chris, Christian, Martin, Dave D, Wiggy, Pete H and Channy. Time for me to follow suit. I peered at my opponent in the O55s section – a six foot three Austrian who looked no more than 32 and was doing sprint turns – and thought “You didn’t go out last night and I got back to my room about three hours ago.”
His height was a definite disadvantage to me as I couldn’t get close enough to intoxicate him with beer breath. He got to each corner of the court in a couple of outrageously large steps and made no unforced errors. He was too nice to try any gamesmanship so I accepted defeat and got a beer (well, it was 10.30).
All of Wales’ representatives performed admirably, particularly Richard with two wins and one defeat (against the eventual winner). I got through my next match with a win against a French opponent who simply didn’t turn up and thought about an early night to prepare for tomorrow’s games. The boys eventually persuaded me to come out for just a couple of beers and we were given fantastic fashion tips by Wiggy (apparently slacks and espadrilles are a good look) and lessons in joke telling delivery by Martin (who read rather monotonously from his phone).
My early night became a not so early morning as I was kept in the bar by my room mate (Richard) and Chris and Dave D (who after squaring up to each other and almost coming to blows decided that they were, in fact, in love).
Saturday morning and after another decidedly dodgy breakfast we returned to do battle. Ray and Bob were progressing really well and there were some stalwart performances from Mark, Dave D, Christian, Peter, Chris, Martin, Richard and Channy. Wiggy put in a particularly good effort with some backhand kills straight from the textbook. I lost to a German guy and then a Hungarian so my tournament was over and I could concentrate on seeing more of the city. We were, however, treated to some unexpected entertainment when two highly ranked English players spent more time arguing and challenging decisions than hitting the ball. Steve, a brash Yorkshire man who “made himself big and had an uncoached, raw talent for getting to balls directly and Nick (I’m guessing from Essex) who wimped about being bullied and thought it was “Just so unfair”, eventually played to a finish. Nick (having lost) proceeded to seek sympathy from everyone who would listen. I told him he had been cheating and was doing himself no favours by wingeing . Never had the expressions Northern Monkey/Southern Poof been so personified.
We again walked into town via numerous waterhole stops and some of the boys decided to eat. I had decided that the food here was making me ill and so breakfast would be my only intake of solids. Again we took in some great bars but more importantly the banter was top notch.
Sunday was finals day and although Wales weren’t hugely represented Bob and Ray managed podium positions and we all got involved in group photo sessions. As it was our last full day some of the lads had decided to start drinking early (elevenish) so just to maintain team spirit I joined in. After several beers at the hotel, a taxi into town and some beers/food at a pavement café overlooked by the Basilica we found ourselves in a ruin bar and had an excellent night. I’m glad to say that none of the lads (possible exception of Martin who hadn’t fallen asleep anywhere throughout the tour) accepted any of the huge quantities of white powder being offered to us at apparently, extremely reasonable rates.
Final day. A walk into town, a boat trip for some and some last minute present buying for most. We said our fond farewells to Budapest and made the trek home.
I have to give huge thanks to Channy for arranging flights/accommodation and to Richard for arranging transfers. I had a brilliant time with fantastic company and can’t wait for the next tour.
PS from Ray. Great thanks to Colyn for the write-up who now lives in the Wild West of Swansea. I'm impressed by his powers of recall given his level of consciousness at some points.
Despite the above, some of us did manage to work out the trams. Budapest is a great place to visit, and the beer …
Unfortunately Colyn missed out on the fetishists' party - the highlight of the tour for some. Finally, if you play in a European tournament watch out for opponents with foreign accents, particularly the bloody English who seemed to win everything.