June 12, 2011 by markstani
This short story forms part of a series of loosely Olympic-themed pieces I’m working on – theoretically, one per Olympic sport.
This is a true story. It is the story of two villages, and how they went to war over a game of badminton. The story differs depending which point of view you are inclined to favour, but which ever way you look at it, it was a game of badminton, and it was a war.
In Frostrup, they will tell you their side of the story over afternoon tea. They will tell you what transpired was a great shame for all concerned, but an inevitable consequence of putting power and responsibility in the hands of people from a section of society which is ill-equipped to cope. They will tell you it is liberalism gone mad, and wonder aloud what the world is coming to.
In Glaisholm, they will snort out indignation at the attitudes of the posh folk at the top of the hill. They will spit derision over their inflated egos and over-bearing sense of entitlement. They will not say this in as many words: their language will be coarse and vulgar, but mercifully you will struggle to hear it over a background of barking pit-bulls, screaming step-kids and full-blast Lady Gaga CDs.
These are, of course, ugly stereotypes. In Frostrup, there are folk who will still pop down to the deli without properly doing their hair, just as there are those in Glaisholm who are occasionally inclined to bring out a tin of smoked salmon for tea. They are stereotypes which became increasingly embellished and exaggerated once the national media caught onto the story of the badminton war. But for the most part, those who knew and know the two villages will accept the stereotypes as being broadly recognisable.
Frostrup is a Victorian seaside resort cascading down dramatic sandstone cliffs offering visitors breathtaking panoramic views of the surrounding coastline in an atmosphere appealing to both traditional and modern tastes. It boasts mile upon mile of pristine golden sands and is a three-time winner of the national Seaside In Bloom award. It does not have a public house, although, before the badminton war, non-residents were welcome in the bar of the Grand Hotel provided they were dressed in a smart-casual manner. Frostrup has neither a fish and chip shop nor any amusement arcades, heaven forbid. It does boast an award-winning organic deli. Until the badminton war, it had one of the world’s oldest funicular cliff lifts, connecting the Grand Hotel with the village’s grade two-listed pier below. It had beautiful flower gardens curling in from the coast. It had a telephone box which remained operational. It had an air of privileged tranquillity. It had all those things before the badminton war.
Glaisholm, slightly bigger, tucks in a cove further down the coast. It lies at the end of the main road from the dual carriageway, and all visitors to Frostrup must first pass through its centre, which becomes a notorious bottleneck due to the influx of tourists in the summer months. Because of its location, sheltered from the bracing coastal winds and tidal swells, Glaisholm is a firm favourite of families and revellers alike. Its promenade is coated with fast food outlets, pubs and amusement arcades. It has a nightclub called The Ritzy. To cope with its tourist influx, it has a large static caravan site which peels up the hill towards Frostrup. Its gradual expansion has caused the two villages to effectively merge, to the extent that it was discovered that the site’s farthest three rows of vans were perched on land which legally belonged to the parish of Frostrup. But all this, like so many other things, was before the badminton war.
Glaisholm’s creeping expansion has not gone down well with the citizens of Frostrup. From their conservatories and balconies, they grew used to unencumbered views of the rugged coastline rolling all the way back to the horizon, where the cliffs smoothed into misty purple moors. As Glaisholm expanded, the first static caravan roofs began to appear in the Frostrup residents’ line of vision. With the encroaching tourists came the thumps of their stereos, the cries of their children and the thick, billowing clouds of their barbeques. For those encamped in the newest vans, Frostrup became a more convenient venue to search for supplies: the horrified deli owners spoke of requests for Special Brew, Pot Noodles and Benson and Hedges.
Frostrup’s irritation at the antics of its increasingly aggressive neighbour was founded in something more than mere inconvenience. It was a deep frustration borne of the premise that for a large part Frostrup folk had worked hard to earn their place in life, their two cars and their gravel drives and their holidays in the Pacific Rim; they had taken the risks and made the sacrifices, and they were now being denied the comfort their efforts deserved by a bunch of strike-it-rich merchants who’d hitched up at the bottom of the hill and proceeded to taint this picturesque stretch of coast with their cheap, crass ways. Glaisholm, long tolerated as the unseemly, out-of-sight boil on Frostrup’s backside, was now a cancerous growth, spreading its malignant cells into the very heart of everything Frostrup held most dear.
Frostrup social life revolved around the bar – they would call it a wine bar, but, technically, it was always more than that – of the Grand Hotel. The locals mingled with the hotel residents – mostly retired, well-to-do folk who believed an annual dose of sea air would do them the world of good. They made small talk over local politics and engaged in one-upmanship over past and potential holiday destinations. What held the community together most, however, was badminton. The Grand Hotel’s latest tenants, Jenny and Michael, were former England internationals. They had played doubles together in the 1986 Commonwealth Games. It was no coincidence that they had come to Frostrup, which boasted a county-wide reputation for badminton excellence. In the public bar of the Grand Hotel stood an honours board as bold and proud as the mighty oak from which it had been hewn. It reeled off Frostrup’s extraordinary badminton feats: regional team champions for five years of the previous ten; the names of individual, veteran and doubles victors also abounded. The badminton club itself was a lavish facility, recently rebuilt out of the deep pockets of the Frostrup residents themselves, to include spa facilities, a twenty-five metre swimming pool and a fully-equipped gymnasium. The facilities were for club members only, and gaining club membership in the first place could be a notoriously laborious affair.
For Jenny and Michael, of course, there were no such problems. They were ushered straight through the membership process, and unsurprisingly their arrival coincided with a new era of dominance by the Frostrup badminton team: they won the prestigious county title for the first time, and took the veterans’ crown without losing so much as a set all season long.
Meanwhile in Glaisholm, the summer influx of tourists and the expanding facilities in order to cater for them masked mounting social issues. Through the winter months, when the fast-food shops were mostly boarded up, many locals were forced to revert to benefits. Knots of young people huddled gloomily by the quayside, tossing cigarette butts at the seagulls. Crime and graffiti became a growing problem. Locals bemoaned the fact that while Glaisholm had gone out of its way to cater for its summer visitors, it had forgotten to look after its own. So the owner of one of the fish and chip shops – and mother to two of the teenagers who made up the numbers in the knot by the quayside – took a look up the hill, and decided to put in for a Millennium grant for a badminton hall.
Glaisholm’s badminton hall was a rather more modest affair. It was multi-purpose, designed to share its evenings with a popular street soccer league and a karate class, while its weekend mornings were stuffed with bric-a-brac stalls and charity coffee mornings. The folk from Frostrup almost choked on their choux buns. Hasn’t that God-forsaken place got enough sulky buildings for teenagers to reproduce behind, they scoffed? But then a strange thing happened. With free membership, and the enthusiastic help of Jenny and Michael from the Grand Hotel in Frostrup, who could know little at that stage of the murky political waters into which they were blindly treading, it was badminton the kids and young adults of Glaisholm came to love the most.
The hilarity amongst the folk of Frostrup which had at first greeted the news that those down the hill were making a foray into the sport they held so dear soon gave way to more irritation; irritation which grew into something much more palpable when it was discovered just who it was spearheading Glaisholm’s uncertain sporting revolution.
The atmosphere in the Grand Hotel darkened. Harsh words were exchanged. The proud county trophy was excavated from its place behind the bar and re-exhibited in the badminton club itself. Jenny and Michael noted a discernable downturn in trade. But they held firm, committed to a project that they believed was doing nothing more than encouraging health and fitness in a community which, in Frostrup terms, was disadvantaged.
When the new badminton season started, there was a new name on the district league list. Frostrup folk were not amused. Not only had Glaisholm shoved its seedy caravan site up to their doorstep, but now it was banging its grubby mitts on the door itself, wanting into a society those in Frostrup held most dear. On stormy committee nights, there were some who suggested resignation. Others favoured beating Glaisholm so badly they would soon lose interest in the sport. A large-scale boycott of the Grand Hotel was already underway, but those committee members were torn between banning Jenny and Michael outright, or allowing them to play on as some kind of associate members: they were, after all, the major reason why Frostrup had finally been crowned county champions.
For Glaisholm’s first match, they tempted the local television cameras down to report on the increasing phenomenon in the town. It featured Karl, a local teenager recently out of a young offenders’ institution, who said badminton had helped get him fit and give him back his self-respect. He called Jenny and Michael his mentors. Footage showed him leaping athletically around the court, his collared white tee-shirt occasionally offering a glimpse of the swallow tattoo on his neck. Karl won his debut match. The report ended by zooming in at the top of the hill, as if suggesting the league’s excited newcomers would soon have the county champions in their sights.
Some time in the early hours on the night the programme was aired, the Grand Hotel’s front window was put through. Jenny and Michael, who had resisted the strained invitation to remain within the Frostrup set-up on a match-by-match basis only, repaired the window.
Glaisholm won their first three matches. The street soccer league was abandoned due to the clamour to get involved in badminton. Some weeks later, the Frostrup club was broken into and the county trophy was stolen. Police expressed surprise that there was no sign of a forced entry, and no other silverware – nor cash, which remained in the till after a busy match night – was taken. Nevertheless, acting on an anonymous tip-off, the trophy was traced to a bin at the back of Karl’s flat in Glaisholm. Due to the fact that it had been wrapped and taped carefully, it was recovered untarnished. Frostrup folk laid the blame squarely at the feet of undesirable elements within the Glaisholm team, and called for them to be expelled from the league. After lengthy questioning, the police declined to press charges.
The Glaisholm team, by this stage publicly supported by Jenny and Michael, retorted that the only undesirable elements were those within the Frostrup community who could not bear to see Glaisholm making a success of a sport which they had always coveted as a symbol of their exclusivity and superiority. The war of words led to a series of ugly, finger-jabbing confrontations and a further escalation in the relationship between the two communities.
On the morning of Glaisholm’s fourth home match of the season, team officials arrived to find the court floor covered in a sticky, possibly noxious substance, apparently poured through the letterbox. The clean-up rendered the hall unusable for two weeks, and cost in the region of a thousand pounds. Shortly afterwards, Frostrup residents were woken in the night by the shriek of sirens and the sight of their beloved cliff lift filled with flames, its roof peeled back like a tin-can lid and its windows popping out, sprinkling glass onto the beach below.
And that was the night the war really began.
Jenny and Michael were hounded out of Frostrup by a mixture of threats and intimidation, as well as vicious rumours that Jenny had been having an affair with Karl behind Michael’s back; rumours confirmed by Karl himself, only to be retracted later – much later – when the police became involved, and Karl conceded he had been well paid to make the claims.
The Grand Hotel was boarded up for the approaching summer season. Graffiti was daubed on its wood chipped windows.
Five caravans – the five, not coincidentally, whose roofs could be seen from Frostrup, were set ablaze. Frostrup’s flower gardens were churned by whooping joyriders, its telephone box smashed to the ground. Sentries were posted at Frostrup’s limits to make notes of the number plates and descriptions of the occupants of all the cars that went in and out of the village. Glaisholm boys were accused of pelting cars heading down from Frostrup with flour and eggs, and sometimes rocks. A teenage couple were attacked by a mob on the grade-two listed pier, their crime that he was from Glaisholm and she was from Frostrup.
After a crude explosive device was detonated in a Glaisholm amusement arcade, destroying a number of machines but causing only minor injuries apparently due to luck rather than good management, national media descended on the two villages. They chronicled the disturbances and wheeled out indignant locals on both sides to fan the flames. It was amid such an inflammatory atmosphere that the fixture computer dictated that Frostrup must play host to Glaisholm in a game of badminton which could very well determine the outcome of that season’s district league.
A police van ferried the Glaisholm team up the hill to Frostrup that day. Out-riders pushed back spectators who had come to the road-side to watch or to hurl invective. The sun gleamed down. The convoy passed the burned-out caravans, the boarded-up Grand Hotel, the ravaged gardens and the blackened hulk of the cliff-lift. A tail of satellite trucks followed in their wake. A police cordon ringed the venue. Nobody but the players themselves, their coaches, two league officials and the police themselves were permitted entry. A hastily convened court order decreed the result of the match was not to be made official. The match was played. The convoy snaked back down the hill. Hearsay apart – and it is hearsay which says on the one hand that Frostrup taught their upstart opponents a lesson, and on the other that Glaisholm marched into Frostrup’s back yard and beat them out of sight – the result was never officially revealed. The record books showed asterisks. The league title went unrewarded.
The season over, the tourist hordes having stayed away, the two communities set about repairing the damage. They brokered an uneasy truce: in exchange for a limit on the static caravan site expansion, Frostrup would make their facilities available to a limited, closely monitored group of Glaisholm residents. They would work towards the formation of a united badminton team, though it remained (and remains) a long way off: for the time being, there was stalemate over whether such a team would go by the name of Frostrup & Glaisholm, or vice-versa; over whether Frostrup or Glaisholm would have the majority in the five-person team. There remained setbacks. Distrust between the communities remained palpable. Splinter groups of trouble-makers, mostly teenagers, sparked flurries of violence: there were wheelie-bin fires, trampled flower beds, bomb hoaxes. Conjecture over the result remained intense: one of those allegedly involved said in an interview that the match had not been played at all; rather, the police had taken the opportunity to sit the two sides down and try to thrash out some sort of settlement: the tactic was doomed when the Frostrup team baulked at being brought fish and chips. The grown-up son of a supposedly upstanding member of the Frostrup committee was arrested and charged over the bomb in the amusement arcade; he was eventually sentenced to six years. Karl was sent back to the young offenders’ institution for setting fire to the cliff lift. Jenny and Michael sold their lease on the hotel. After standing derelict for some time, a new couple took it over. The tourists trickled back: the well-to-do to the Grand, the rough-and-ready to the Ritzy. As the years went by, an increasing number were unaware of the villages’ volatile history. They asked after the reopening of the cliff-lift, and why the static caravan site had a line of empty concrete moorings at the back. The time would soon come when only the locals remembered the fighting and fury, and why they had once gone to war over a game of badminton.