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ISS Joan Hunter Dunn was not from Neath!

MShe was, in fact, furnish'd and burnish'd by Aldershot sun, as we all know from Sir John Betjaman's poem, A Subaltern's Daughter.

You might be able to share the poetic vision in his subaltern eyes if, like me, you could understand exactly what "furnished" meant in a heart-fluttering context. What was it that turned on Sir John, and is this proper poetry or doggerel? A bit of both, I reckon.

Let's just say, the old devil got "the hots" when he played singles tennis against her and lost. Defeat by the strong right arm of a graceful girl, moving in for the kill with "the speed of a swallow, the grace of a boy" looks certain to have been the tap that turned it on.

Hence his imaginings of her lovely legs moving with the speed of a swallow and the grace of a boy to make the winning strokes. And in his dreams, "With carefullest carelessness, gaily you won, I am weak from your loveliness, Joan Hunter Dunn."

So, let's go back to the Dyfed Road tennis courts in Neath. There were definitely girls who could beat the boys at tennis in the '50s and great legs too, but it was most likely because the Grammar School for Girls had a tennis team and full list of fixtures and the Boys had none.

It is impossible, however, not to see ourselves in the presence of a social class separation. We did have Neath girls and boys away from home in public schools, though not more than the fingers on a hand, and perhaps naively we corralled them as failures of the scholarship examination, sent away to catch up in exile.

But Miss Joan Hunter Dunn was not quite in that social or educational stream because she was the daughter of a general practitioner from Farnborough in Hampshire, granddaughter of Andrew Hunter Dunn, Bishop of Quebec, while her uncle Edward Dunn, was Bishop of British Honduras and Archbishop of the West Indies.

One of her great-great-grandfathers was William Hunter, Lord Mayor of London in 1851-52.

Betjeman's muse of a girl was educated from the age of six at Queen's Anne's School, Caversham, near Reading where she played tennis, became captain of the lacrosse team and was finally head girl.

She was 25 years of age when she whopped him at tennis in a match, not played on a tarmac council court such as the ones we played on when we patted the ball back at much more capable girls in Neath.

It is literally a different gender game today. The female gender appeared determined to attack the ownership of male sports by forming their own teams. Women's rugby!

Unthinkable, but now often viewed on national television. It is novelty coverage and therefore interesting enough, but rugby? In rugby matches you have to use physical advantage, especially these modern days when the repeated wet blanket movement of "pick up and drive; pick up and drive" requires head-to-head confrontation, hand-off into-face, knees, elbows, fists and fury... and repeat.

The message from the young women is that they can do what the men can do, and that is happening to much applause in almost every section of life, certainly the business career parts and now, increasingly, the sporting.

Watching more and more women's rugby, my memory has been nudged to recall how attractive the old passing game used to be.

I read that girls, like boys, are recruited to clubs from the Under 7 age upwards, under the overall Welsh Rugby Union description Minis to Millennium.

I could not imagine being a senior schoolboy these days, meeting my girlfriend outside the Gnoll cinema on a Saturday night after she has played a hard match against Llanelli's scarlet women, and contemplating her swollen lip, her blackened, bulging eyebrow and swollen cheekbone. "Ah! Don't touch me. My back! My front!" exclaimed the Neath Athletic tight head prop. Handle with care.

The "Women's Game On" in North Wales kicked off with 92 players involved in three fixtures. How would I feel involving daughters in that? How would I persuade them to go low for their open-field tackles? What happens when they pick up a boot to the face in the Amman Valley? Reminds me. I am due in the dentist next week.

Personally I would prefer to battle Joan Hunter Dunn in tennis kit, or on a private, floodlit tennis court, or face Mr Foyle's driver Honeysuckle Weeks. Not only because Honeysuckle was born in Cardiff, but she would be in khaki uniform with peak cap and Sam Brown. Surely, losing to her would be worth a Betjeman poem.

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Oct 21, 2017
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