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'Playing the Moldovans at Tennis' is the second non-fiction book from British comedian Tony Hawks. Similar to his first book 'Round Ireland with a Fridge' the story begins with Hawks making a daft bet with his friend Arthur. After watching England's convincing win against Moldova in the 1998 World Cup qualifiers, Arthur bets Tony that he couldn't beat all 11 members of the losing Moldovan team, at a game of tennis. Naturally Tony (who clearly has a lot of time on his hands) accepts the bet, and with the threat of a public rendition of the Moldovan national anthem (minus clothes) if he loses, he quickly heads for Moldova, with his tennis kit in tow.
The actual tennis doesn't get under way until the last third of the book so first we get to learn a bit about Moldova, an Eastern European country living under communism, where the government tries to save money by not providing street lights and leaving manholes uncovered (causing Tony to brave several hazardous night-time journeys). We meet Tony's cynical translator Iulian and the family he stays with; doctors Grigore and Dina (who despite their good jobs, aren't paid in cash and instead accept gifts such as fish, as a form of payment), their stand-offish son Adrian, and their sweet English speaking daughter Elena.
When Tony finally hits the tennis court, he finds the Moldovan team a little hard to track down and after a few matches, he ends up on a wild goose chase through Northern Ireland, finally ending up in Israel.
'Playing the Moldovans at Tennis' was a very enjoyable read, and I thought it was quite a bit more entertaining than 'Round Ireland with a Fridge'. Hawks provides a great balance between his humour, and information about the country, and even though his quest is completely ridiculous and pointless, I was rooting for him and couldn't wait to read the outcome of his efforts. Highlights of the book for me were Tony's grand presentation of a plastic table to local Gypsies, and his very intimate encounter with a spare tyre.
The book was published in 2000 and is 249 pages long, including 8 pages of black and white photos. It's had several different covers since 2000 and is available to buy for just pennies, on all the usual sites.
I would recommend this to you if you enjoy learning about other countries and cultures; Hawk's relaxed, humourous writing provides the perfect ammount of facts without it seeming like an information overload.
Having read all of Danny Wallace's books and been amused if slightly appalled at his childish challenges, I was recommended the works of Tony Hawks by Ms Larsbaby. It seems that Mr Hawks is also famed for his silly challenges and could be seen as something of an inspiration for people like Wallace & Dave Gorman who also like to indulge their egos in ostensibly pointless bets. Moldova was a part of the Soviet Union and has been an independent country since 1992. It's a landlocked country in Eastern Europe located between Romania to the west and Ukraine to the north, east and south. With little previous experience to go on I was keen to find out more about the country and the author.
ROLL OVER MOLDOVA
I was always intrigued by the title of this book, having no idea at all what it was about until I read it. It turns out that our protagonist ends up trying to play tennis (one at a time of course) with the entire Moldovan football team that played England in a qualifier game at Wembley. This comes as a result of a drunken bet from a friend of his, the comedian Arthur Smith, formed whilst watching England hand out a routine thrashing in the game over a few pints of lager. Tony was a quite handy junior tennis player, and he reasoned that being good at football might not be an advantage when it came to tennis without specific tennis coaching. His friend reasoned that athletes are athletes and their skills should be fully transferable. Tony travelled to Moldova to find out fuelled by the challenge from Arthur.
MOLDOVA FOR BEGINNERS
Having conducted extensive research into the country by introducing himself to a Beatles tribute band with a Moldovan member he somehow managed to track down, Tony sets out to Moldova with some names to contact when he arrives. Basing himself in a media centre, where he causes great bemusement all round with his odd task in hand, he enlists the help of a local translator who shares much of his journey, but little of his enthusiasm. You do wonder if Tony is better off without him at times, even if he can't speak much of the native Romanian (though makes a game attempt to learn some). It seems that nothing is simple in Moldova, and meeting the players turns out to be quite a task. At one stage it involves travelling into an almost lawless region run by the Russian speaking populace, where Tony is the guest of a very shady club president, who has his own ideas about how Tony can help his business ...
Tony does manage to blag his way into the realms of the national team and enjoys quite a rapport with some of the backroom staff, which helps his somewhat at times. But it doesn't end in Moldova, as not all the players are based at home (or if they are, available there) so our story also takes us to Northern Ireland and Israel; something of a contrast to Moldova in many ways.
It's when Tony stays with a Moldovan family in the capital of Chisinau, found via his contacts, that for me provides the heart-warming aspect of the book. You get to know and love the 4 members of the family; Grigore, a hard working doctor at the city's state hospital, so badly paid that his income is supplemented by gifts from his patients such as, memorably, an illegally caught fish, delivered in the dead of night. His hospitable wife and fellow doctor Dina; their 2 children, Adrian, a teenage boy and Elena, a younger girl. The intelligent and keen Elena acts as a conduit between Tony and her non-English speaking parents and this young lady comes across as particularly pleasant and charming. Adrian acts as the typical taciturn, moody teenager at first. As time goes on however, you can feel the bond between the odd Englishman and the entire family, and you are sad to say goodbye to them by the end. You feel that they've all learnt something from each other, enriched with cross culture pollination, which in itself is result enough from the book for me, notwithstanding the bet. Although by the end even they are seduced by it and willing Tony on to win it.
ANYONE FOR TENNIS?
It wouldn't be spoiling the plot too much to say that he does manage to play tennis with at least some of the players; I won't tell you if he managed to play them all, though. The results of the matches are quite interesting and it would be fair to say that Tony is right to an extent that sporting skills aren't transferable without the requisite coaching. What does come out in his encounters with the footballers is a picture of helpful, friendly and down to earth chaps, far removed from the primadonna WAGS circus we have come to know and loathe in the Premier League.
This is a very funny book which, quite by accident I should imagine, gives you a fascinating insight in the psyche, culture and everyday lives of the Moldovans. Aside from the many laughs that the various scrapes Tony gets himself into provides, such as trying to hike across the country for a day trip via interconnecting buses he doesn't even know how to find, it's interesting to see what state this country was in at the time of writing (the late 1990s). It would seem that the fall of communism didn't do them any favours; with no street lighting and random exposed manholes due to theft of the covers made of valuable metal, you couldn't even walk around safely at night. But the spirit of the people shines through and you are left with a good impression of their stoic existence in the post cold war transition period. If you like Danny Wallace or Dave Gorman I would recommend this book to study the pioneer of silly bet authors. The self depreciatory style is a well worn path now by those guys and you can't help but like someone so prepared to have a laugh at his own expense, though, like Wallace, you do suspect some of the more outlandish tales have an element of exaggeration to them. The question now is who won the bet? The forfeit for the loser was to sing the Moldovan national anthem naked on Balham high street so the stakes are high!
Did you know that it was the mother of Mike Nesmith (the one from The Monkees who wore the woolly hat) who invented correction fluid? Or that the actress Hedy Lamarr invented a secret communication system which helped the Allies defeat the Germans in the Second World War? You see, women have great ideas. Men on the other hand have crazy ideas. Take, for example, Sir Clive Sinclair and his little C5 electric vehicle. Apparently we were all going to be driving them. When it was discovered that, actually, no one wanted to buzz along at a pace somewhere trailing behind snail they died a rapid death. Like I said, men have crazy ideas. Tony Hawkes has plenty of crazy ideas. As if it wasnt enough to travel the coast of Ireland with a fridge in tow, Tony hit upon the crazy idea of playing a game of tennis against each member of the Moldovan football team, reckoning that he would be able to beat them all. This book tells the story.
The idea arose while he was watching the England football team play the Moldovan national side. Hawkes and a friend were discussing whether being a good sportsman is an innate thing if you can play one sport well, you should be able to have a reasonable stab at others. Tony believed that this is not true. He thought that a good grounding in the individual sport paid dividends and cited his own background of tennis training as an example. As a youngster he had taken tennis lessons and risen to quite a high level within his local area. He said that he thought he would have a strong chance of beating any of the players on the football pitch in a game of tennis. And so the seed grew; spurred on by his friends disbelief, Tony picked up the gauntlet and set about planning just how he would beat every member of the Moldovan national football team in a game of tennis.
For those who dont know, Moldova is a small republic to the north east of Romania, nestling just under the Ukraine. It is one of the poorest countries in Europe and one from which hundreds of people try to escape each year looking for a better life elsewhere in Europe. To say it is under-developed is something of an understatement as Tony found out when he embarked upon his mission. Its two languages are Romanian and Russian of which our hero speaks neither. It is not an easy country to visit and at the time this challenge was undertaken anyone seeking a visa to enter Moldova had to apply to the countrys embassy with a letter of invitation from a Moldovan citizen; naturally Tony doesnt know ANYONE from Moldova. This is just the first hurdle facing Tony in his sporting quest and is by no means the most difficult to surmount.
The story takes Tony not only to Moldova but all over Europe as, one by one, he persuades the Moldovan footballers to take part in his bizarre project. Will they all agree and can he beat them anyway? Will any of them prove to be tennis fanatics who can give Tony a run for his money?
Anyone who has read Travels Round Ireland with a Fridge, Hawkes first book, will recognize his writing style tongue in cheek but always with a fond regard for the people he meets. In Playing the Moldovans at Tennnis he not only relates the story of his challenge in comical style but also gives the reader an insight into life in this eastern European backwater where even a walk in town needs to be taken with extreme caution because certain enterprising people are more than willing to take advantage of the huge scrap value of manhole covers and a shortage of electricity means that even at night the street lights often dont operate! He describes life for the Moldovan family with whom he is billeted and demonstrates how humour is one thing that can be shared by people from otherwise different backgrounds and in spite of language problems.
Always funny, never overly sentimental, this book is an excellent read. From the moment Hawkes accepted his challenge I was there willing him to succeed. While you think that you know what is ultimately going to happen, the twists of this story keep you interested. With Hawkes nothing is ever straightforward but this stoical trooper will let nothing come between him and his pride. Hawkes is the epitome of the nerdy anti-hero; almost anal in his doggedness and yet always the recipient of good fortune at just the right time a tenacious terrier who wont drop the rabbit!
You dont need to be a tennis fan to enjoy this book. All you need is a sense of humour and a willingness to cheer Tony on to this goal. While its not top-notch travel literature its a fascinating yet funny introduction to Moldova and what makes this little piece of Europe so special. Another crazy Hawkes idea, another winning point played!
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxISDN - 0-09-187456-4, £7.99 Ebury Press
Tony Hawks is a funny guy. After all, he is a comedian, and comedians tend to have to be funny. But in recent years, he?s progressed from being ?funny ha-ha? to being possibly a little bit strange. It?s not his fault, I guess. He just can?t resist a challenge. So when he got drunk one night and was bet that he couldn?t hitch hike around Ireland with a fridge in tow, he did, and then promptly wrote a book, the hilarious, if not terribly imaginatively titled ?Round Ireland With a Fridge? Arthur Smith is also a funny guy. He?s a friend of Tony Hawks and has starred alongside him on the comedy circuit and on ?Red Dwarf?. He?s also pretty fond of telling Tony he?s not very good at tennis, which upsets Tony because Tony thinks he?s actually rather good at the game. And so it is that one night, whilst watching England beat Moldova 4-0 and after quite a few drinks have been consumed, a bet is made. The bet is as so; that Tony can?t beat the entire Moldovan football team at tennis. It?s an entirely new challenge to going to Ireland and wandering around with a fridge. For one thing, Tony isn?t even sure where Moldova is, much less what language they speak there. And for another, even getting to Moldova is quite a process and one that, in Tony?s case, involves going to Liverpool to meet a Beatles tribute band. Not quite how you?d expect a Moldovan odyssey to start, but that?s how things had to be done. Once in Moldova, things don?t go a great deal better. It takes Tony a lot of time to even get the first game going, as the pace and quality of life in Moldova is such that even football players don?t just drop what they?re doing and enjoy a frivolous game of tennis. Indeed, it?s a place where there are no manhole covers, no street lighting and quite often not enou
gh money to pay proper salaries to doctors and medical staff. Added to Tony?s woes are that very few people speak English at all, much less good English. And the ones that he can speak to and explain the nature of his visit to Moldova all think he?s insane. So, to fill the time in trying to find Moldovan footballers and force them to play tennis against him, Tony sees some of the country. He visits some gypsies and presents their King, Arthur, with a somewhat predictable gift. He meets who he believes to be the Chief of Police and gets to know the Moldovan family he is staying with a little better, even if he does have to resort to some unfortunate miming to get an important point across. Much like in ?Round Ireland With a Fridge?, ?Playing the Moldovans at Tennis? is more about the people he meets and how he goes about doing what he has to do, rather than the places he goes. Whilst this makes for an interesting read, it doesn?t make it a terribly good travel book, which is what it is technically defined as. However, his experiences of public transport in Moldova are fairly good, although all this leaves you with is a vague knowledge of how to get around the country, but without really knowing where you?d want to go or what you?d do when you get there. A number of his potential opponents either weren?t available or no longer played their club football in Moldova. So Tony?s trip also ends up taking in Ireland and Israel as well as Moldova. Whilst the Irish section of the book involves little other than hanging around with the football squad, the section in Israel is perhaps on of the more illuminating in regards to this technically being a travel book. Unlike his time in Moldova and in ?Round Ireland With a Fridge?, a lot of the people he meets aren?t part of his bet and
aren?t helping him along. And, unlike in Moldova he?s got time on his hands with things being arranged and done a lot quicker, so he?s able to look around a little. There?s no real advice or directions, but there are more descriptions of places he?s seen, rather than people. The general tone of the book is a lot slower and more downbeat than in ??Fridge?. This can?t be blamed on the author, but on the country he finds himself in. Whilst everything in his previous trip to Ireland worked out well and was a step towards completing his goal and took part in a country where he could feel at home, in ??Tennis?, virtually the opposite is true. There are days where nothing gets done and times are hard for everyone in the country. The harshness of life in Moldova is quite well reflected through the writing, which makes for a less fulfilling read, but overall a more moving experience. All in all, ??Tennis? is a better written book than ??Fridge? as it runs a gamut of emotions, rather than being all too easy. Tony?s writing style is again very chatty and straightforward. Whilst not flowing quite as well as ??Fridge?, it?s still a very easy book to read, as it?s told in a relaxed, almost conversational, style and you can almost hear Tony?s voice in your head, relating the events to you. The funny moments are rarer than in ??Fridge?, but there?s some real laugh out loud moments, although even they seem to reflect the Moldovan way of life in that they appear more frequently both before and after he?s been to the country and less so whilst he?s there. If you?ve enjoyed either of Tony Hawks? other books, this is definitely one to read. Whilst not being ?travel? in any real sense of the word, it?s certainly about a journey, and one worth following. If you like people who do silly things, it?s worth a look and if you?ve ever wondered how people in oth
er cultures, particularly in Eastern Europe live their lives, then this is something that?s going to be of great interest. For those looking for barrels of laughs, then other books would be more to your tastes. If you?re going to give this a read, it can be found in the travel section of most high street book sellers for £7.99. However, it can be found far cheaper elsewhere, being available at £6.39 on Amazon, £3.75 at Green Metropolis and from as low as £2.00 on eBay and less than £1.00 in the Amazon Marketplace. Given that you can?t go too far wrong buying at a price like that with any book, picking up a copy of ?Playing the Moldovans at Tennis? is virtually essential, for something that will ultimately tug at your heartstrings and leave you with a contented smile, knowing that even in the depths of a poor country like Moldova, magic can happen.
INTRODUCTION When hubby borrowed the three Tony Hawks books from the library, I wasn’t very interested. While being mildly impressed that one of the singers of ‘Stutter Rap’ could also write books(!), I classed this kind of subject matter as ‘not my kind of thing’. I had filed Tony Hawks away with Bill Bryson. Travelogues were not for me. But when hubby began reading Playing The Moldovans At Tennis, I found my linguistic services were needed. Moldova is a former Soviet republic between Romania and the Ukraine, so names mentioned were either Romanian or Russian in origin. I had studied Russian at University (just before Moldova gained its independence in 1991) and being a fan of East European gymnastics, I knew a small amount of Romanian too. From this tiny beginning, my interest was piqued. Hubby’s regular giggles and guffaws whilst reading were enticing me further and after he had finished, I decided to give it a try too. MAN ON A MISSION Playing The Moldovans At Tennis should give you an idea as to what this book is about. The Moldovan national football team were over in England playing a World Cup qualifying match. The names of the eleven footballers were printed in a page of the newspaper. Comedian Arthur Smith bets Tony Hawks that he cannot play them at tennis and beat them all. The forfeit for the loser will be to parade naked in an area of London, whilst singing the Moldovan national anthem! Tony takes the bet on whole-heartedly, searching for the eleven – Romanenko, Fistican, Spynu, Testimitanu, Culibaba, Stroenco, Rebeja, Curtianu, Shishkin, Miterev and Rogaciov. He sets off, travelling into this relatively unknown country on a mission. He soon discovers that Moldova is not a place to get things done efficiently and quickly and his enthusiasm is somewhat muted by the less than effusive reception his bet is afforded. Facing not only communication diff
iculties, but bureaucracy and disappointment, he soon feels disheartened. This is made worse by discovering that two of the footballers he wants to play are situated in Transnistria – an area that even Moldovans feel is dangerous and best avoided – and another plays for a club in Israel! Perhaps he will be the one singing naked after all…. REVIEW I found it a very easy book to get into. Tony Hawks is an engaging writer. He is so witty throughout that it makes a pleasurable read and one you look forward to. If I had been able to spare the time, I am sure I could have finished the whole thing in a day. The book is 249 pages with the text divided into nineteen chapters and a short epilogue, so it is lengthy enough to be satisfying, but not too long to become boring. You are intrigued as to how he gets on in his task and whether he will succeed – which you desperately want him to. He comes across as such a lovely bloke, that you can’t help but wish him well. This is a happy read, you will find yourself smiling and laughing throughout and some of the anecdotes and imagined scenarios that leap out of Hawks’ mind are hilarious. He describes incidences with such modesty and humour, that you become involved in his quest. He has a wonderful knack of bringing every situation to life, so you believe you are there with him, meeting the people he meets and experiencing everything he goes through. You relish in his victories – no matter how small they are – and you share his frustration, as he tries to overcome all the obstacles that stand in his way. It is also a very informative journey as we pick up lots of snippets of factual data about the countries he visits. Reading this type of travelogue is much more enjoyable than struggling through a text book about Moldova (if there is one!). I certainly felt I had learned much more about the country through the account of Tony Hawks&
#8217; bet. He finds himself in a series of bizarre situations, most of which are extremely funny. His quest to deliver a round (plastic) table to the (Gypsy) King Arthur is especially memorable, as are the encounters with the imposing Grigorii Corzun – President of a football club in Transnistria – who is determined to get hundreds of dollars out of Hawks and hopefully a business deal. Tony Hawks is an engaging writer. He describes the situation in the country in a way that is sympathetic to their poverty and hardship, but he doesn’t come across as being at all patronising. He finds a lot of warmth and love during his trip and it is these friendships that remain a lasting memory to the reader. While Hawks paints a realistic picture of this small Eastern European country, we acknowledge the lack of street lights and the inverse proportions of dangerous pot-holes. But we remember little Elena, the daughter of his host family, who proudly shows him off to her English class at school. It is not just Tony Hawks which takes a journey of discovery, as he also touches many of the people he meets, who see a new way of life, a new philosophy, a new approach that the Moldovans rarely see. His idea is that anything can be achieved if he retains a sense of optimism. From the surly, moody Adrian (the son of the host family) to the quiet Corina (Director of the Independent Journalism Centre in the capital Chisinau), Hawks’ visit makes them see things in a different way. Is there any surprise he gains the nickname Tony cel Mare (Tony the Great)?! PHOTOS The book has a section of eight pages of black and white photos showing his Moldovan hosts and the footballers he met. This is good to see and it does help putting faces to the names, although with Hawks’ great descriptive writing, I already felt as if I knew them. INFORMATION PLAYING THE MOLDOVANS AT TENNIS by Tony Hawks IS
BN 0-09-187456-4 Cover price £7.99 (paperback) Available from Amazon for £6.39 Please note the book is available in three different cover designs! FOOTNOTE The title of this review is from page 73 of the book. I wish I could say I thought of it myself, but I didn’t.
Tony Hawks is mad. Completely mad. As a March Hare. No, scrap that. He's as mad as a hare at any time of the year. This is the man who upon hearing the words- "I hereby bet Tony Hawks the sum of One Hundred Pounds that he cannot hitch hike round the circumference of Ireland, with a fridge, within one calendar month."…. promptly went and did it, and within the time limit too. For a few short weeks the people of Ireland christened Tony their 'Fridge Man' and he won his futile bet. Okay, so the combined cost of a small fridge a return ticket to Ireland had cost him more than his winnings, but a victory was won for mindless futility and people were temporarily alerted to the dangers of making silly bets while inebriated with alcohol. That is, until one fateful night at Wembley Stadium. Little did they know it at the time but the players in the England vs Moldova World cup Qualifier were to have a dramatic effect on the life of Mr Hawks as once again he found himself in a drunken argument. Claiming that no matter how naturally gifted a sportsman was, that he could beat the entire Moldovan team at Tennis, Tony Hawks once again made that fateful handshake and was on his way. 'Playing the Moldovans at tennis, published by Ebury Press is the diary of the next six eventful months, following Tony in his senseless pursuit of Moldovan footballers around the globe, challenging them to a quick game of tennis between matches. Sound a little crazy to you? Think how it sounded when he tried to explain it in Moldovan…. MOLDOVA For those of you that know little about Moldova. (It seems to have been somehow missed off the GCSE Geography syllabus), it is a small landlocked country wedged between Romania and the Ukraine. It is a country currently recovering from fifty years of Soviet rule and certainly not a place where people come for their holidays. Or tennis matches. In the words of our trusty trav
elling companion Mr Hawks 'In Moldova you look to relationships for warmth - the radiators are useless…' No, Moldova is not going to get a visit from Judith Charmers any day soon and its flailing tourist industry is probably not helped by the fact that for a number of years they have had no street illumination in the evenings in a bid to save precious power. This, combined with the fact that manhole covers are stolen by organised gangs and melted down for profit isn't really that helpful in the pursuit of backpacking westerners. A combination of perpetual darkness and big holes in the ground isn't really going to pull in the punters now is it? As you can by no doubt tell, the light-hearted reverie of the bet made in a pub in London was destined to become a much bigger task. After all, if your struggling to feed your family and your radiators haven't worked since that nice Mr Brezhnev left office, you're hardly going to be overly receptive to a cockey westerner turning up with a couple of tennis rackets asking to play your international footballers are you? THE PEOPLE This is a people book and it becomes obvious from the start that the only way that Tony was ever going to succeed in his goal of defeating Moldova's elite is to enlist the help of the locals. Speaking only a few words of Romanian (One of them being 'acrobat', - hardly condusive to a flowing conversation) he found help in Iulian, a Moldovan translator who has a passion for absolutely nothing, least of all silly English men who take on silly bets about foreign footballers. The exchanges between Tony's blind optimism and Iulian's utter moroseness make excellent reading and make the reader even more determined for Tony to succeed. As well as his trusty translator, cum 'I'm doing this as I'm getting paid for it' PR man, Tony also has to deal with the elite in the world of Moldovan football. The players
themselves of course are completely bewildered as to what this strange Englishman is doing on their home turf and furnishing them with Wimbledon memorabilia, but it is the managers and club chairmen that cause the biggest stir in this quest for pointlessness. I won't spoil too much about what the pages have to offer but you will enlightened to read of Tony's encounter with 'The Green One' and the evening of faked geniality spent with the 'Arsehole of the Universe', who is a walking example of what happens when capitalism comes to town. (That is, a town which can’t even afford any new manhole covers…) By far the most touching characters in the book are Tony's host family, who take him under their wing and make him a part of their lives for the months he spends trying to track down his elusive athletes. Tony's recounts tenderly the bonds he formed with Grigore, the local doctor and father in the family, Dina, another doctor, mother figure (and as it turns out, champion to the tennis cause) and their two children Adrian and Elena. One of the most touching moments is when Tony finally succeeds in making Adrian (who is a typical moody teenager) laugh whole heartedly for the first time whilst at a concert they attend as a 'family'. Laughter is not a common currency in this land and to see Adrian learning that blind optimism really can bring forth the fruits of life, brings a wee tear to your eye I can tell you. THE STYLE Mr Hawks has worked in comedy for years, and it shows in the style of the book. Being a Radio 4 regular on 'I'm sorry I haven't a clue' stands you in good stead for making merry quips about Johnny foreigners and this book is filled with sharp observations and entertaining witticisms on this bleakest of countries. Although mocking, Tony also has a profound respect for the people, their customs and their daily struggles, giving us a chance to see what it re
ally means to have a 'hard a day at work'. It is a credit indeed that I now have a burning desire to see Moldova and meet these people even though it sounds like the physical incarnation of hell on earth. As with his earlier book, 'Round Ireland with a Fridge' Tony has proved that a sunny outlook will always bring the best out of a bad situation. It is a philosophy we could all look at following from time to time. The book itself was serialised for Radio 4 and it is clear to see that there has been a lot of routine comedy thrown in here to spice up what would ultimately be a very personal, but also quite bleak story. Okay, so the comedy is sometimes unnecessary and strays from the point a little, but it does keep the mood buoyant and the reader entranced. It's also very funny, so meanderings are to be allowed on this occasion. THE BET So does Tony succeed? I'm not going to tell you of course, that would completely defy the point of him writing a book about the whole sorry affair. What I can tell you however is that not only are the final results of the tennis interesting reading but there are a few dramatic twists which even Tony, our friendly travelling companion couldn't have dreamed up. All in all, its another ones of those books which you shouldn't read on the bus as the insane giggling will cause you to be ejected at the next available stop. It seems that Tony has found the bug now in his 'crazy bets' series, having now circumnavigated Ireland with a domestic appliance and challenged a national football team to a series of international friendlies. He is currently touring the country on the back of his latest bet, to have a top twenty hit anywhere in the world. A book is sure to follow, and I will be there ready to purchase it with bells on (Another trait which is liable to get you ejected from the number 24 bus I believe…..)
It's true what they say, travel does broaden the mind. Before we took flight around the world my reading habits consisted of a daily browse of the TV guide and the occasional NME. Backpackers, like students, have more time on their hands than they know what to do with (despite the fact that one of the wonders of the world is next door to the hostel!). With disposable free time you've got to be creative in finding things to do. More often than not there is volumes of reading material at your disposal. You could say that travel writing is the easy option for the lazy author. You don't have to think, just write about what you see or experience. But, when you get guys like Bill Bryson and Pete McCarthy flushing their experiences with sparkling imagination and humour the whole thing becomes a lot more than a descriptive travelogue. It helps if you are partaking of the same journey as you read but not essential. Tony Hawks comes from the same school as the above authors. He pursues his laughs like a rabid ferret, eeking out any shard of humour that could raise a tittle. Nine times out of ten he manages to avoid cliche and brings forth another nugget of satire. Perhaps his days of being a stand up comedian have provided the ammunition. He also has quite a few TV appearances behind him but is probably best known for his appearances on 'Have I Got News For You'. So how do you end up in a strange Eastern European country with a mission to beat its top footballers at tennis. Well, the same way you find yourself travelling the length and breath of Ireland with a fridge, you take on a bet dreamed up in the pub by your friend Arthur Smith. While the absurdity of such a bet would be lost on most of us as soon as our hangovers cleared, Hawks relishes the task. When you find out that the loser of the bet must strip and sing the Moldovan National Anthem outside a pub on the Balham High Road at
the height of winter you begin to appreciate his lust for victory. When Hawks arrives in Moldova he conscripts the services of Iulian, a native of Chisinau the countries capital, to get over the language barrier and to act as a guide in a country where public transport harks back to the early 20th century. Iulian, it turns out, is a dedicated soul if a little too easily resigned to the fact that his bosses task will be fruitless. His ability to remark on a situation with glibness is both a wonder and frustration to Hawks. It seems that Moldovans corner the market in looking brow beaten, which makes for a difficult time if you are a person looking for favours from the natives to achieve your goal. Moldova has hardly embraced capitalism (due mainly to high level corruption) and so achieving matters that go beyond the basics requires ridiculous patience. Playing 6 games of tennis with its countries footballers involves going beyond polite requests to do so. Once Hawks finds this out he does what any desperate man would do in the situation, he lies. Passing himself off as a BBC documentary maker he manages to breech the inner sanctum of the Moldovan Football Association. A long list of empty promises and an unfeasibly long neck eventually gets Hawks places, tennis courts to be precise. The laughs come thick and fast as Hawks runs several bemused Moldovan footballers ragged on the court. The players generall turn out to be pretty awful at holding a racket and swinging it in a way that would return the small ball at an angle that clears the net. Hawks milks the scene where one hapless footballer takes aim and fires a volley only to see it crash unsympathetically on his own head. Throughout his stay in Moldova Hawks is given a room in the home of a typicial Moldovan family. The family show an initial weariness towards the author and his misguided adventures. As time goes by,
however, a genuine warmth emerges as translation difficulties are overcome through geniality and helpful cross cultural exchanges. By the time it comes for him to leave it is obvious that everyone concerned is sorrowful As events on the tennis front begin to conspire against him Hawks has to make short sojourns to Northern Ireland and Israel in order to play the players he couldn't confront in Moldova. His desperation almost leads him to organising a Playstation tennis session with the players who are unable to compete on a real court. Such is the changeable nature of the Moldovan officialdom that at one point the authors aspirations rest on whether the teams hotel serve enough breakfast sausages! 'Playing The Moldovans At Tennis' comes complete with a bag full of characters. Hawks outdoes himself with his vivid descriptions of what can only be described as pretty drab personalities. He is also a master at wordplay and pulls comical revisions of well worn phrases from his experiences. At times you groan but his relentless style is addictive. His propensity to look at the funny side of situations despite the fact that failure seems the only real outcome is refreshing and uplifting. God loves a trier and it seems that he certainly holds a candle for old tone. At times Hawks can be whimsical (or pathetic depending on your mood) in the extreme. One example near the start of his trip has him presenting a round table (of the white plastic garden variety) to the King of the gypsies in Moldova who happens to be called Arthur. While many would have viewed the action as condescending it is taken in good spirits. While Hawks writing is witty the photographs that accompany them are drab. Pictures of each of his tennis adversaries with customary fake grin are hardly revelatory and little role in peppering the story with pictorial backdrops. The fact that they are in black
in white heightens the sense that Moldova has a long way to go to divert the hoards from the Greeks islands. Tony Hawks can be an engaging author, his writing style is saturated with self depreciating humour and wildly vivid descriptions of the situations he finds himself in. It's hard not to be taken in by his word play and imagination that truly adds colour to situations that were probably pretty mundane at the time. 'Playing The Moldovans At Tennis' works best if you read it in snatches. I got through it after 25 journeys to work and back. It kept me amused as other passengers sat bored anticipating another day on the 9 to 5 treadmill.
I brought this book just three weeks ago for my prize at school, and only two days after I've bought this book I already knew that I have made a good choice. This book is about how Tony got drunk and played on a bet (again) with his friend that he would beat all the Moldovan footballers at tennis. Of course, if you have read Tony's 'Round Ireland With A Fridge' then you would know what Tony's like- 'nothing's impossible in this world' are his words (even though he was drunk when the bet was made). To make his mission possible, he had to travel all the way to Moldovan, a small country which was once governed by the Soviets by himself. There his exciting journey and discovery begins... Tony is a really good comedian I have to say. In his books all kinds of emotions are expressed clearly and that readers get to understand him very quickly, so here I highly recommend his books. Oh, and by the way, even if you hate tennis, like me, you'll be charmed after reading this book- it's not tennis that Tony's on about, but it's 'if you don't do it, then you won't get it'.
The forfeit involves the loser singing the Moldavian national anthem whilst dancing naked on Balham High Road, something that both Arthur and Tony are keen to avoid. Playing the Moldovans at Tennis was written as the result of an extremely drunken bet, made with his friend, Arthur Smith after watching the England Vs Moldova World Cup qualifier. Arthur thinks he is bound to win because out of 11 footballers at least 1 must be some good. Tony, who was a talented amateur tennis player, bet his friend that he could beat the entire Moldovan football team at tennis and the ensuing story is about how he sets about trying to do it. After collecting the names of the footballers you would think it easy to find the team and then play them but this does not turn out to be the case. To begin with it is doubt-full that Tony will even get to Moldova because in order to visit the country you need an invitation from a citizen. Fortunately he finds someone to issue an invitation and a host family to stay with during his trip. The rest of the trip is similarly plagued with problems both bureaucratic and practical but despite this, and the few detours necessary to find all the footballers, eventually they are all (plus one extra) played and someone has to start stripping and singing. Moldova comes across as a place that has suffered greatly and the Moldovans seem to be a people who are resilient and make the best of what they have. Despite the bleakness of Moldova the book still manages to be funny and touching. I enjoyed this book because it is well written and therefore easy to read. Many different people are introduced throughout and I would have liked to have known a bit more about some of them. I do think the book could have been a little longer. Without doubt this book is worth reading because not only does it contain a myriad of information about Moldova, it also manages to be very funny with it.
Having just read Tony Hawks' first book "Round Ireland with a Fridge", I wasn't expecting to enjoy this, his second, quite as much as I did. It's entertaining; the kind of book you just don't seem to be able to put down, but at the same time gives a facinating insight into life in a country you would probably otherwise never know anything about. The book is the story of an insane bet made during the England - Moldova World Cup qualifier. Tony bets that he can play and beat each member of the Moldovan national football team at tennis, and it's a bet he certainly doesn't want to lose! His task seems impossible. Even getting permission to enter Moldova is not easy, and once there he finds it to be a cold, unwelcoming place, and an extremely poor country even by East European standards. This only makes the book more interesting though - not knowing whether the next player will refuse to play him, will beat him, and the eventual outcome of the bet. Who will be the loser, and face the penalty of singing the Moldovan national anthem, naked?!
Tony Hawkes either makes clever and considered bets which he knows are going to allow him to write money-spinning books, or he is completely mad. The second of two books by Hawkes, both with a similar premise. In the first, "Round Ireland with a Fridge" he makes a bet with a pal that you could hitch-hike around the circumference of Ireland with a fridge. The idea being that no-one in Ireland would find it all that strange. This bet is a little more outlandish. This time, Hawkes bets that he can beat the entire Moldovan fottball team at tennis (given that he is a very accomplished amateur tennis player). The book opens with details of the bet and then follows Hawkes on his travels. We learn how he had to get a government approved invitation to go to Moldova in the first place, and how he was given help and support in the form of a family to stay with while in Moldova, an office to work out of, a map-illiterate translator and navigator and the time of the generous Moldovan tennis players. Winning the bet isn't anywhere near as easy as either Hawkes, or the reader, assumes at the beginning of the book - and this has nothing to do with the tennis skill of the Moldovan football players. Hawkes comes up against obstruction after obstruction. In a country like Moldova, language is not the only barrier and people have far more important tasks to be getting on with than the frivolous job that Hawkes has in hand. Hawkes likes to believe that he brought a little sunshine and laugter to those he stayed with, worked with and had dealings with in Moldova. I imagine they were laughing incredulously rather than with joy or happiness. The book would have had a more rounded feel to it had we known, after having all the hardship described to us, that in some way the bet or the book was going to help the plight of Moldova in some way. If Hawkes is planning this, then he hasn't told his reader yet. This book is fun
ny, touching and bleak. The life of a Moldovan is not a happy or peaceful one. Their dreams only go as far as being able to earn a wage and then spend it on themselves. Their imaginations do not take them as far as wanting the time, money and freedom to make a bet such as this. Definitely worth a read.
This book is Tony Hawks' follow up to the hilarious "Round Ireland With A Fridge". Once again the premise is a bet between Hawks and Arthur Smith. This time the question is whether or not Hawks can play the entire Moldovan football team at tennis and beat them all. The bet in Fridge was a mere hundred quid. This time it's much more serious - the loser must sing the Moldovan national anthem stark naked on the Balham High Road. What a dreadful thought... In pursuit of this bet, Hawks travels around Europe. Even finding the Moldovans can be difficult, let alone actually getting to play them at tennis. The format of the book is similar to Fridge in that Hawks wanders round meeting strange people, doing strange things and making amusing observations. Moldova is a little known Eastern European state. Little known? I for one had never even heard of it. Before reading this book I honestly couldn't have told you whether Moldova was a country or a cheese. Hawks has a great knack for conjuring up people and places with a few telling details and by the end I felt that I knew Moldova well. Which is not to say that I liked it. It is a poor, insular little nation - you can't even get in to visit without a written invitation from a citizen. It "feels" grey. Perhaps in keeping with the miserable atmosphere of Moldova, this book is not quite as side-splittingly funny as Fridge. There are some very funny bits, however most of the humour is subtler - I certainly didn't laugh out loud this time. Another difference between this book and Fridge is the nature of the people Hawks meets. In Fridge almost everyone was cheerful, friendly and helpful. Strange perhaps, but nice. In Moldova almost everyone is dour and miserable. Understandable - would you rather live in Ireland or Moldova? Some of the characters are downright unpleasant and Hawks comes very close to fatally upsetting some powerful peopl
e. Whether Hawks is sympathetic to or scared of the people he's describing, he brings them to life vividly. Overall, this is an excellent book though not quite as funny as its predecessor. It's a light read that is also informative and in places very touching. PS: Yes, one of them does strip naked and sing - there's even a photo! ISBN: 0091874564
I was recently lent this book by a mate of mine who did tell me that it was a superb read - having read the synopsis on the back cover, I was somewhat dubious though, probably because the basic premise of the book is quite an odd one. To explain: Tony Hawks (a pretty well-known comedian and TV personality) is watching England play Moldova in a World Cup qualifying game with his good mate Arthur Smith (also a person you have probably seen or heard on TV and radio), and England are cantering to victory. Hawks muses on his sporting ability, more specifically on his tennis skills, and Smith cuts in with the comment that at least one of the Moldovan team is probably a good enough all-round sportsman to defeat Hawks on the tennis court. This discussion develops into a bet over a few beers down the pub, the upshot of which is that Tony Hawks agrees to meet the entire Moldovan starting XI from that match, wherever they may be, and beat them at tennis. Whoever loses the bet must dance naked in front of Woolworth's on Balham High Street, singing the Moldovan national anthem. What follows is an unexpectedly uplifting account of Hawks's journey to Moldova, and what could well be one Westerner's patronising view of a poor nation actually turns out to be a well-written and witty account of a man on a mission in a very foreign land. Although initially depressing (did you know the Moldovan government cannot afford street lighting?) the book provides a very amusing look at people, not least Hawks himself as the bet assumes more meaning over the time he spends in this former Soviet republic, and leaves you feeling that there is hope for Moldova and her population. And who wins the bet? Well, that would be telling...
This is Tony Hawk's second book based on the same premise,namely the pursuit of an outlandish achievement in order to win a bet.I have read "Round Ireland with a fridge" but only after picking this up at the airport bookshop(are flights deliberately delayed to help book sales?). Tony Hawks is best known for his appearances on "Have I got news for you" and other panel shows.He claims to be a comedian but smug commentater may be more accurate.The premise of the book is simple,Tony is bet by fellow comedian Arthur Smith that he cannot beat the eleven players of the Moldovan national football team at tennis,with the loser being forced to strip off outside Woolworths. To achieve that Tony travels to the former soviet state and harrangues the disinterested footballers into helping him win his bet.Much is made of the decrepit state of the country and it's little wonder that the locals have little time for our hero who would appear to have too much time on his hands. The story unfolds quickly and it's somewhat of an anticlimax that most of the players hav'nt played tennis before and are quickly dispatched on a single afternoon. A couple of players are abroad and this means more foreign travel(no doubt at the publisher's expense)including a trip to Ireland that gives the opportunity to plug the previous book.There is a cliffhanger of sorts and I won't spoil the outcome except to say someone gets naked-photos are included! The book is generably likable and it's an easy fast paced read.There is an annoying element of "I'm mad me" which seems laboured and some of the dramas seem too convienient to be true.On the whole a decent couple of hours amiably spent.
Playing The Moldvans At Tennis may not be as funny as Tony Hawks’ previous book (Round Ireland With A Fridge) – possibly because of the lack of visits to pubs – but it is certainly as good to read. This all came about after one of his friends, Arthur Smith, bet Hawks that he could not beat the whole Moldovan football team at tennis, the loser having to sing the Moldovan national anthem on Balham High Road – naked! All of this is made even more difficult as Hawks knows nothing about Moldova and even less about their languages – Romanian and Russian. He ends up visiting Moldova, Transnistria, Northern Ireland and Israel just to get 11 footballers to play him at tennis. A brilliant read for anyone – especially those who enjoyed Round Ireland With A Fridge – not only funny but showing us that life in Moldova is totally different to life in England.
Published by Ebury Press