Ruminating over endless squabbles on social media is making me jittery. Because news stories nowadays mean different things to different people; entrenched viewpoints and shouty disagreements muddy every conversation, and there’s rarely a calm consensus on what is actually true.
So I stop reading, put my phone down and go outside. Half a dozen tatty chewed-up tennis balls lie on the wet winter grass littered with twigs blown down by the wind. My silly soft dog Austin walks over to one and looks at me – he’s waiting to start the game we’ve been playing every day in lockdown.
He stands motionless as I approach the tennis ball, staring at it with pin-straight tail, his head down and spaniel ears flopping forward. I kick it, he runs as fast as he can and jumps, grabs it in his mouth and trots around proud and happy. Good boy. A moment later he drops the ball, sniffs a few things and then stares at another one, ready for the next round.
A different tennis ball scene played out in the movie I watched last night, the Kenneth Branagh adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Life of Henry the Fifth. Early in the play, the French monarch’s son, the Dauphin, sends a gift of tennis balls to England’s King Henry, ridiculing and humiliating him for his idle, leisurely youth. But Henry is already thinking about invading France, and the Dauphin’s gift sends him into a purple, warmongering rage.
“Tell the pleasant prince,” he growls furiously, “this mock of his hath turned his balls to gun-stones, and his soul shall stand sore charged for the wasteful vengeance that shall fly with them, for many a thousand widows shall this, his mock, mock out of their dear husbands; mock mothers from their sons, mock castles down, and some are yet ungotten and unborn, that shall have cause to curse the Dauphin’s scorn.”
So what are tennis balls – a fun game, a cruel joke, or reason to start a war? And who do I agree with, the Dog, the Dauphin or the King?