Parenting, profundities and humour

Jolly Hockey Sticks… — September 8, 2018

Jolly Hockey Sticks…

Many moons ago, well actually 1983 but we aren’t counting really are we, I started Upper school.

My mum was generally quite an organised person. I always had sensible black shoes from Clark’s, how I hated those shoes. I had the requisite uniform. My lunch money was always ready every Friday in a little brown envelope. And such.

However on this occasion the extensive list of equipment required for starting year 9 had got the better of her. She had bought me weird canvas hockey ‘boots’ which came up over my ankles and had built in studs and little discs of plastic over the ankle bones. I had long blue socks, the pleated gym skirt and matching big pants in regulation navy. I had the artex gym top. But she had missed the vital words ‘hockey stick’…

Well that first day double Games was scheduled. Never mind, asserted my mum, my old stick is in the attic somewhere amongst the half used rolls of 1970s wallpaper and your dad’s model railway, I’ll just pop and get it. That wallpaper always came in very handy for covering school exercise books which was always the first homework of every subject in every school year. My large day glow yellow and brown flowers always stood out amongst the brown paper and the sticky back plastic. Only slightly mortifying…

So this was news to me. My mother had played hockey as a school girl. I had not come across hockey so far in my school career. We dusted off the stick and I was set.

It dawned on me about halfway through the walk from lunch hall to hockey pavilion that my stick looked slightly different to everyone else’s. And not only because the grip was non existent. No the end of the stick was an entirely different shape too.

(I feel I must pause here to make mention of the hockey pavilion. Pavilion is really a very grand word for what was essentially a shed perched on the edge of the fields. The shed had a very particular smell of mud and teenage boy. The boys and girls sides were separated by a very thin sheet of mdf which many a curious young man had gouged holes in, with, presumably, a set of compasses which were also on the kit list. It was wise to hang ones school uniform up and stand behind it to avoid giving a random 14 year old boy an eyeful. There was no heating. The showers (which we were forced to use unless the period register allowed one to be excused) were cold, the floor was filthy, the roof leaked. In fact the whole place was utterly horrific.)

Anyway I got changed, carefully, into the regulation kit and grabbed my stick.

We filed past the terrifying Miss Stocking. Miss Stocking was scary in a way only 1980s Games mistresses can be scary. I had come across Games teachers before. Only the year before in Year 8 I had had the pleasure of Mr Dover as my form teacher. He taught the boys Games and us, randomly, Geography. And he took the register and once, frighteningly, when I had plucked up the courage to bring flour and eggs to school on the last day of term for the very first time in an attempt to look cool, conducted the bag search which saw me in front of the headmaster getting the ‘very disappointed’ speech. Mr Dover’s method of punishing low level disruption during Geography lessons was to turn around at lightening speed  from the board where instants earlier he had been scribing something on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs or concentric settlement theory and throw his Games keys with the unerring accuracy of a frustrated professional rugby player at the offending child. I believe he only drew blood once.

Games mistresses were in a whole other league. Miss Stocking had terrorised my uncle at the school’s open evening when we had visited the school the pervious year to look around. Even now, 35 years later, he has ‘sweaty palm’ flashbacks to being pinned up against the wall bars in the sports hall whilst being interrogated about his sporting past. Which I don’t believe exists.

She flak flaked her way around her domain of sports hall and changing rooms with her nose in the air, her pristine gym skirt flapping and her long blonde pony tail swishing no doubt proving the centre of many a teenage boy fantasy, looking down her nose at everyone but the elite who could actually play sport. She was frankly awful. On so many levels. Inclusivity was not a word she knew how to spell. She barked, she demeaned, she sneered, she gave me a C3 in every single report for every single type of sport and wrote ‘could work harder’ every single time. She really needed a stamp.

As I filed past her that fateful day the words ‘You there!’  were screeched sneeringly in my direction (I don’t believe she learnt my name the whole 5 years I was there- even when she put me in a freestyle house swimming relay in my lower sixth after I had specifically told her I could not swim front crawl and I swam my leg in breast stroke)..

‘What do you call that?’.

Well the only reply I could conjure was ‘A hockey stick?’. She wasn’t best pleased. She proceeded to ‘explain’ that my hockey stick was so old it was the wrong shape. I didn’t dare tell her it had last seen use c 1960. She also told me that spectacles were forbidden on the pitch. I was mortified. The sniggering amongst the other girls was horrible. I wanted the floor to open up.

And thus began my hockey ‘career’. I played Right Half which seemed to involve being passed the ball after bully off and sprinting backwards and forwards an awful lot whilst being screeched at patronisingly by Miss Stocking. Exhausting. I hardly touched the ball. Mainly because I couldn’t see it or because it had bounced awkwardly off a divot made by the rugby team in the preceding lesson.  Occasionally someone would hit the ball hard enough that it made it further than a meter on the bumpy ground and it would usually bounce up and hit me on my unprotected shin, never once did it hit that small disc of protective plastic on my ankle bones. In the rain we would slip and slide on the mud, the built in studs offering hardly any grip on the slick surface as rain pelted our faces and left our perms dripping into our eyes.  As it approached Christmas we would run shivering in our artex shirts and gym skirts after balls which skidded haphazardly off the frozen pitch. I used to dream of snow the only weather condition that prevented play.  After an hour of this torture only the cold showers, muddy floor and peeping tom boys of the ‘pavilion’ awaited.

I hated it. With a passion.

Of course my mum replaced that stick the following weekend. It is not in my attic. I probably burnt it when I was allowed to stop playing after O levels. Ceremoniously.

Happily things have improved. My three kids all love hockey. They have been nothing but encouraged by their school, club and county coaches. The kit is amazing. The surface smooth. Spectacles are allowed. The game is fast paced and fun to play and watch.

Today Middlest played his debut match for his club’s Men’s 6s team with a bunch of inclusive older guys who are encouraging and welcoming giving him the benefit of their experience and valuing his contribution. The club embodies the word inclusive.

I wish my experience had been half of theirs’ for I might have actually enjoyed it given one iota of encouragement.

And by the way we now cover exercise books with stuff printed off the internet. Or not at all. I quite miss the wallpaper.




Inspirational… — March 19, 2018



Four years ago (when she was a tiny seven year old in Year 3) Youngest achieved a surprise victory in the Year 3 and 4 House Cross Country race at her school.

Well it was a surprise to us, maybe not to her.

We had no idea she could run. She has always been fit by dint of the amount of team sport she plays but we had not seen her run in a competitive race before.  At her previous school Sport’s Day races had involved bean bags and hoops.

The House Cross Country race is an annual mass start affair with the younger Years 3 & 4 racing over about 2k and the older Years 5 and 6 running around 3k. The whole school running together. From the best runners to those that struggle. All take part and give it a shot. Quite impressive.

Following her victory and liking the weight of the gold medal Youngest decided to set out to win all four of the races that she would take part in during her time in the Junior school. I distinctly remember her telling me as much on our way home in the car.

This seemed to me like difficult personal goal for a 7 year old. Leaving out the actual running even the time frame was daunting. Four years. And the fact that she didn’t actually ‘know’ how to run.

So I told her it would be tough. I told her that in Year 5 especially when she would have to race against the older and bigger children in Year 6 and over the longer 3k distance, it would be a tall order.

I tried to manage her expectations.

I shouldn’t have.

Today she achieved her goal with a fourth marvellous win in her last race in the Junior school. Not only winning the girls’ race but coming 5th overall against all the Year 5 and 6 boys too.

Mission accomplished.

My daughter never fails to amaze me with her grit and determination.

She doesn’t like running. She doesn’t like the time in her own head. Which can be a scary place. And yet she has dragged herself off to Park runs when time allowed between her other sport to hone her running skills.

Since that first year the weight of expectation has been heavy. Her own fear of failure huge. She is sick with nerves beforehand.

She puts everything out there on the field.

Runs against bigger and older children.

Trains. Tries. Visualises.

This is why I believe she can do anything she puts her mind to.

Talent is a small part of the picture.

Desire is a some of the battle.

Hard work is everything else.

My daughter is quite simply inspirational.

Omni, nom, nom, nom  — August 18, 2016

Omni, nom, nom, nom 

I honestly do not know what I am going to do with myself tonight. My husband and I have spent the last five or so evenings glued to our television set. Watching people hurtle around the track at the velodrome in Rio.

It is totally addictive viewing. A series of incredibly complicated race formats which all seem to have numerous heats and finals and incomprehensible rules.

Hugely fit men and women bursting their lungs cycling space age looking bikes that seem to defy gravity. Commentators talking about the power they generate as if they are each an electricity sub station rather than human beings.

Last evening I watched an 100 lap race where every 10th lap provided a sprint for points and more were available for lapping  the field.  Tactical doesn’t really cover it. And this was the last event of 6 in a kind of ‘hexathlon’ for cyclists. The Omnium. Our girl won gold. For the second time this week. Her and her fiance have 10 gold medals between them from various Olympic games. Wow.

The whole thing amazes me as does our team’s ability. Team GB are kings and queens of the track.  All ten members of this group of super humans has won a medal in Rio. 12 in all, 5 gold. It is truly mind blowing.

After the vastly enjoyable experience of living through a home games 4 years ago I didn’t think Rio would come close. We were lucky enough to get tickets in London. The event we watched, the 3m spring board women’s qualifying round, was almost incidental. The real thrill was just being at the Olympic Park.

The place was beautiful. Architecturally stunning stadia set off with amazing landscaping and planting.  Plenty of stuff for the kids to have a go at. Great shopping (gold Wenlocks all round for us). Wonderfully polite and enthusiastic volunteers. Mounted police allowing photos. Easy and efficient transport, the Javelin train was a highlight. Flags. Patriotism. And an atmosphere that I am unlikely to experience again in my lifetime.

We had the good fortune to be there on Super Saturday. We watched numerous gold medals being won, upon the water and on the track, on the giant screens set up in the park. We sang the national anthem repeatedly with thousands of others. The whole experience was deeply moving and awe inspiring.

We had to leave eventually. The kids were quite little (8, 6 and 5) and they wilted as adrenaline drained. It had started to go dark. We heard about Mo Farah’s 10k Gold on the train home.Everyone was sharing their stories of the proceedings, caught up in the atmosphere.

It remains one of the best days of my life. All the doubters and nay sayers were proved wrong. The Games and our team were a stupendous success.My children still talk about this once in a lifetime experience which we were so fortunate to be able to be a part of.

So Rio had a lot to live up to. I wasn’t expecting to be as bothered. We were away when it started but kept up to date with it on Portuguese TV and on the Internet.  We didn’t miss diving golds or gymnastic bronzes. Since we got back we have been glued to the screen as, yet again, GB athletes break records. And amaze.

We have been roaring at gymnasts, holding our breath during dives, watching spellbound as trampolinists flip and twist, trying to comprehend the fitness or rowers, gawping open mouthed at runners, jumpers, sailors, canoists, shooters, golfers and tennis and rugby players

In a world starved of good news it seems a welcome distraction. And these people are such fantastic role models for my children. Universally humble. Often shocked at their own success but proving that it is hours and hours of hard graft that produce results.

Some may argue that it is a waste of money, both state and charity funds, when the world is going to hell in a hand cart. But I disagree. These people deserve our support to put Britain back on the map of Olympic sport which frankly we have been absent from for far too long.

After London we jokingly said we should try to go over to Rio in person, so caught up were we in Olympic fever. We were only half joking.

Instead, after watching and loving it on TV, we already have vague plans to try to go to Tokyo in four years. The GB sporting steam roller shows no signs of slowing down and it would be great to be a part of that again. If we can pull it off I will pack a lot of Union Jacks.

And my pride.

Predicting the Future — June 19, 2016

Predicting the Future


So here in the UK there is, currently, a burning European issue. It is taking over the airwaves. Dominating conversations. Turning schools and workplaces upside down. Upsetting television schedules. Dividing households.

I am, of course, talking about the Euro 2016 football championships. The irony of the running of the tournament concurrent with our other burning European issue is not lost on me.

I am not a big watcher of football. OK let me rephrase. I watch a lot of live, muddy & cold amateur soccer courtesy of my offspring. But I am not a watcher of professional soccer.

I do partake of Match of the Day. I like its format. The condensing of the whole 90 minutes plus (how England rued and then revelled in that ‘plus’ in their last two games) of matches into small bite sized parcels containing all the good bits, punctuated by healthy doses of Gary Linneker and his side kicks. And who doesn’t think he is aging spectacularly well? It is that truly awesome hair. He looks better now then in Euro 96, despite his unhealthy obsession with deep fried potato products. So, yes, I like MoTD.

But generally during major football tournaments I am not involved. I like it best when the World Cup is taking place in a timezone which means that all the matches are on television in the middle of the night.

This time however I am hooked. And here is the reason.

Youngest’s football club is running a Euro 2016 predictor competition. The coaches sent out a fiendishly complicated spreadsheet for us to complete. It consisted of predicting not only the result of each match but also the score. 5 points for a correct score, 3 points for a correct result.

I ignored that e mail for several weeks until the impassioned pleas for participation to raise valuable funds for our tour next year to Butlins, Minehead became overwhelming.  (The whole Butlins, Minehead tour thing is there in my head. In the cupboard marked ‘Things I will not think About Until They Become Unavoidable’… Watch out for the blog sometime next April…I am sure at some point in his career Vardy went on tour to Butlins, Minehead. That is why I like him so much…)

So anyway we had a go. The kids were interested for about the first five matches. Then they went on the trampoline and shouted random numbers in through the open door in response to my random shouting of team names.

Clearly as non watchers of professional football we had no idea about the relative merits of the various teams. Except that we know some of the most famous stars, but even then we aren’t always sure which of the East European sides some of them play for. It got to the point where I was plucking results out based on such maxims as ‘We haven’t had a draw for a while’ and ‘Who knew Iceland even had a football team’. Etc.

So we sent off the spreadsheet. I wasn’t hopeful. We didn’t have the hosts and possible favourites even progressing from the group stages.

We did win the Best Team Name competition though. That was Eldest. The Cheese Ball Chomping Unicorns have clearly struck a chord.

We applied a wall chart to the, well, wall. We devised a method of filling it in to show the actual scores and the outcome versus our prediction. We were set.

The competition got under way. We got the opening match right. Pure fluke. Then came the Albania v Switzerland match, again correct. I got mildly excited and came in from the garden to watch the end of Wales v Slovakia. When Wales got that second goal I got even more excited, correct again. 15 out of 15. Ok so maybe we weren’t that bad at this predictor stuff.

The kids got exasperated at me wanting Wales to win. ‘That won’t help England’ they chorused. Then I explained that if we won we would take home half the pot, around  £250, and that new CR7s or other ridiculously expensive Nike football boots might be on offer. They started shouting at the screen too.

We settled down to watch England v Russia. I was quite happy with our one nil prediction. Yes England are playing better football than in, well, forever. But England are good at disappointing. I was sat there in a state of unbelievable excitement once the England goal went in. During the four minutes of injury time I was shouting at the screen-‘Just keep it out for 4 minutes’. Twenty out of twenty beckoned.

And then England did that thing they do so well. Snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. Well a draw but it may as well have been defeat, predictor wise. And no, Ian Wright, I don’t take comfort from the good football they demonstrated. Five points thrown away in the 92nd minute. And worse a lot of my fellow predictor players were even more pessimistic than me England wise and had correctly predicted the draw. How grossly unpatriotic.

Since then things have gone a little down hill. From top of the leader board to seventh at the last reckoning. Let’s face it Hungary v Austria? -no idea. And who knew about Iceland? I am not sure they knew themselves.

Still it was good whilst it lasted. And our early promise has probably improved my side line credibility, amateur football watching wise. That is if anyone has worked out who The Cheese Ball Chomping Unicorns are….

Round and Round — June 10, 2016

Round and Round


(For the avoidance of doubt this entry is not a homage to Spandau Ballet. Although I do love Spandau. So if that is what you are after jog on.)

So I may have mentioned before that my daughter is sporty. That is a massive understatement to be honest. She loves football and hockey and netball and running. She is quite good at swimming and apparently cricket. But currently we are in the rounders season at school.

Rounders is not her favourite. She is a good catch and has a huge throw. She can also run like the wind and so fields deep. But her batting is a bit hit and miss, often miss. I sympathise. At school I was not great at batting. And I couldn’t catch or throw either. Or run.

This year I managed to miss the annual ritual humiliation that is the Cub Scout Family Rounders Evening. I can’t remember why. Some fortuitous Governing Body meeting or ferrying task.

And so I didn’t have to go through those few seconds standing in front of a bowler wondering how not to make a fool of myself. Watching as hairy men slog the ball 100 meters into the bushes. And trying to field on the right of the batter to avoid having to make a crucial throw or, shudder, catch. Result.

Of course nothing is ever that simple. Just as I was basking in this narrow escape an e mail came through from school advertising Women in Sport Week. The Sports’ Department had decided to host a number of events for mums to attend. And one of those was a Year 4 Mums and Daughters Rounder’s match.

Of course there was no way Youngest was going to let me get out of this one. The temptation to humiliate her mother was too strong. A fortuitous emergency Governing Body meeting failed to materialise. And so today I rolled up at school to face the bowler. The fact that the bowler was only 3 feet tall should have made me feel better. It didn’t.

In anticipation of this event Youngest and I had been up the field with our rubberised baseball bat and a tennis ball to have a practice. We were both quite good at it, slogging them into the undergrowth. She reminded me that a rounder’s bat is much smaller and a rounder’s ball much harder and again smaller. Cheers love.

On holiday in Devon I roped everyone in to a match on the beach. With the aforementioned baseball bat and tennis ball. It went quite well until husband managed to hit a strolling man in the nadgers with a well placed slog. He was carrying a bucket of water at the time (the strolling man not my husband, although it might have been a good idea to handicap him in such a way before letting him loose with a bat) which cascaded all down his front. Woops.

So we had got a bit of practice in. I still wasn’t confident. That wasn’t helped by Youngest repeating repeatedly that her team were going to ‘thrash’ us. Competitive much?

Have you ever been ten pin bowling? I know this seems a bit off piste but bear with, bear with. I used to go quite a lot as a student. And here is the thing. Some games I could get strike after strike after strike. And some games I struggled to get above fifty pins. Often such games would be in the same session consecutively. And I have no idea why.

Well clearly rounders is like that for me too. Today after an entire life of never hitting a rounders ball I managed to score two and a half rounders off 3 balls. Astounding. I did run Youngest out whilst achieving the half. Woops. But it was a genuine mistake.

The mums were beaten 6 to 5 but for a bunch of ladies who haven’t played for twenty to thirty years (some of them are disgustingly young) we did OK. In the mixed teams Youngest and I also lost out again but only by the one rounder.

So credit due I think. Of course the only thing Youngest focussed on was me running her out. Not on my 2 and a half rounders. Which nearly killed me. The pitch is bigger than it looks.

I tried to explain to the offspring that in the scheme of things this feels like a major achievement to me. And perhaps with a bit of practise I might have been better as a child. Although it was probably just a ‘ten pin bowling’ moment.

Let’s hope the fixture doesn’t get repeated next year. People will expect things. Which is gently worrying.

And I already ache.




Be careful what you wish for… — November 26, 2015

Be careful what you wish for…

IMG_4405 IMG_4265

When my husband and I were deciding which school to send our children to one of our major considerations was the sports provision.

Eldest and Youngest are sports mad. And so we wanted to send them somewhere that would develop them further.

Middlest is not quite so keen. However it was still an important consideration for him too. In fact even more so.

I have the legacy of my own shocking memories of sport experiences at school. Of being labelled not good at Games within about 5 minutes of arriving. This was probably because I had glasses and was skinny. I actually quite enjoyed hockey and netball but the crippling embarrassment of always being picked last and having to sign the ‘period’ register rather marred it for me. It didn’t help that on my first day my mother sent me in with her old hockey stick. Not realising they had changed shape in the twenty odd years since her school hockey career. The fearsome Sports Mistress was not best pleased. I had blotted my copy book. And was probably the butt of staff room jokes for some time.

And so I wanted a school that would encourage Middlest even though he isn’t the best team sport player in the world. I wanted them to help him find a sport he liked and could carry on with in the longer term.

Eldest has taken full advantage and is regularly in the Rugby squad. It is a game he loves. Although he was dismayed by the new rules that do not allow him and his fellow forwards to contest a scrum. He feels he is going through the motions. I feel relieved.

Youngest gets to play and run and swim and generally do all the sports she loves. And so she does. Regularly.

And indeed the school have listened to feedback and this year are providing competitive fixtures for children ‘further down the list’. So this means even Middlest, usually happily adrift in the non-team sea during the Rugby term, is getting fixtures. He is not sure I should have been one of the many who provided that feedback. Although the match teas afterwards seem to help him get over it.

Middlest and Youngest have a minimum of four hours of Curriculum sport a week which even allowing for all that changing sees them active for at least three hours. It includes the team sport of the term, PE (variously cross country, racquet sports, gymnastics and athletics) and swimming.

Eldest clocks up just over three hours a week. He doesn’t have to suffer a weekly swimming lesson now he has progressed to Senior school. Youngest describes it as ‘pure torture’…. she seems to spend her lesson ploughing up and down in various contorted positions. Apparently it’s streamlining…

Along with that Eldest has at least two hours of club and fixtures a week. He would have another hour of Rugby on top of that but he has managed to get out of it to attend choir. Music is his other passion and he spends a lot of his time each week playing his cello and singing.

Middlest clocks up a further two and a half hours of extra curricular sport a week minimum. Including his beloved badminton. And Youngest’s tally is a mind blowing 4 hours a week. A mixture of hockey and football.

And this week on top of all that Middlest is in a Rugby match and Youngest has a swimming gala.

This half term Youngest would have liked to have fitted in an extra half hour of cross country running. Straight before football training. I put my foot down…

It is safe to say that I do not struggle to get my kids to the one hour of activity a day recommended by the Government. In fact they are well over this if you add in all the trampolining, family walks and bike rides, general running about and playground activities. No doubt Youngest will spend lunch hour today playing football on the playground.

Sundays remain a ‘day of rest’. For now. As Youngest progresses up the school she may have to switch from her Saturday football league to a Sunday one. To avoid fixture clashes. And that will mean Eldest may want to take football up again. As we will be doing it anyway. But for now I have my fingers in my ears pretending I can’t hear this…

Because the one major down side of all this opportunity is that our weeks (and I include Saturdays in that) are a complete bomb site.  And I feel weak. Both in comparison. And from the hours of ferrying and logistical quandaries and laundry and ‘encouraging’ from touch lines.

And I am never, ever going to Google ‘how too much sports affects children’…Ever…

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