Back when I was a grown up, and not a mere dishrag of a person sporting light wounds (thorny bushes … stranded tennis balls), I coulda been a contender, I coulda been someone. (Well, so could anyone, I’m reminded by The Pogues).
I “worked with” (by which I mean lunched, drank, bobbed around in the background) names. You know, people you might have heard of, from Michael Caine to Ken Livingstone to Bob Flowerdew. Being a lip curling iconoclast, I naturally saw through the lot of them. Well, not Anthony Hopkins, what a sweetie, sigh.
Now I am reduced to boy-handling, dog-handling and glaring at the hoover – not much love lost there: it’s sullen, claiming under-use; I’m sullen, claiming the opposite.
I seem also to have accrued quite an impressive crop of enemies, from the already mentioned Mrs Playmobil and Nasty Troll Goat Woman to, in a quick shuffle around, the biggest of them all, the games teacher at F10’s school.
Here I can but quote the mad old Nan in Catherine Tate. What a bladdy cow. Fack me.
My own PE teacher was a terrible old bag – my mother had her, too. Two generations of non-optimum sports people occluded by the same sneer, scared rigid by sturdy thighs ‘neath a flapping skirt. Cold indifference and a belief in their legs must be something they learn at PE college.
Now, you know me, moderate and easy-going to a fault. And I would really rather my children were never picked for anything sporting, since being selected lands you as parent in a particularly nasty nest of anxiety – need I but say “goalkeeper” to any other mother out there? But F10 was selected, for the rounders, and was thrilled.
Normally the after school conversation goes something like this:
Me: Howdy, F10. Good day?
F10: Yeah, well, no.
Me: Oh, anything happen? (my maternal antennae casually a-frisk for Moments of which I Need be made Aware)
F10: No. Well, I scored.
Me: At lunchtime? Great!
F10: Yeah, it was nearly a hat trick actually.
Me: So you scored twice?
F10: No. Once.
With the day despatched, there’s then the happy trudge home through the field, a small paw slotted into mine, Lolly stuffing her snout into dubious damp patches of long grass. But this time there was the joyous news from F10 that he had been picked to play, and the cry of glee when he told me, his reliving the experience three, four times, all but broke that shrivelled little walnut I’m stuck with calling a heart.
So we go to the tournament and there I’m not best pleased to see that it’s presided over by Vile Bag Cow Teacher. What a slappery trout that creature is, unfit to be in charge of dogs (though I wouldn’t quibble if she insisted I hand over the lead). She hates me. My chum Mrs Northern Posh, whose child was treated badly by her last year, asked me to go to the headteacher with her, in protest. She knows me to be brutal (she kindly calls it articulate) and anti-bullying of any sort, and felt too wobbly to go it alone. In assisting a friend, I got my own card marked.
During the first match F10 and his classmate C10 are both subbed. Someone has to be, this is fine: 11 kiddies, 9 places; I’m mellow with this and it gets it over and done with. Although, it goes without saying, that if our team has to lose, it’s quite pleasing that they lose heavily. Bad luck everyone! Well played! Better luck next time!
Actually, I’m wrong, apparently they come second. “That’s silver,” the father behind me says. I shoot him a look.
F10 plays match 2. They lose again, though – can I be the only one to notice? – by a narrower margin than the first match.
We all remark on how enormous the children are from the other schools. The boys have beards, the girls maternity bras. F10 stands a head shorter than everyone there. He flicks me the thumbs up, his enthusiasm already the stuff of nostalgia, and readies himself with confidence for match 3, cavorting with the others.
But which foul creature is this with her clipboard? Why, it’s VBCT. Yippy-doo. She consults her notes. God? Aren’t the few facts already seared onto her small rabbit dropping of a brain? Seemingly not. She confers with her Sour Sidekick who nods the nod of the executioner. At one with the pain she causes.
F10 totters my way, his face a riot of suppressed tears. C10’s lower lip trembles. Subbed again.
The other children jump around heartlessly, fit with the confidence which the permanently selected find their due.
Hope then comes in the unlikely form of a stout lass, bearing another school’s colours, staggering over, “Not playing 4 girls,” she splutters.
F10 is reprieved.
2 girls are plucked from the squad and told to sit out. Yes, shifting arcane ruling dictates that while some games demand a patronising quorum of 4 girls, in others they can be kicked to the kerb. They sit and make daisy chains and talk about horses.
We win the game. Small stirrings of that odd emotion ‘triumph’ stir in my unimpressive bosom.
The final game, game 4 beckons. VBCT is surprisingly on the ball, attributable to the fact that there are no male PE teachers with whom she can flex her dismal flirting techniques (believe me, not a pretty sight). Her stumpy finger follows the little list of names, her lips moving as she struggles to read.
“Right, year 5, same team as game one,” she says.
She throws me a look, rife with fat spite. “Just rotating everyone,” she says. Although this is exactly what she is not doing. F10 crumples. C10 looks like he might give up and die on the spot. He clutches his asthma inhaler as alibi to his exclusion.
In the long run, it doesn’t matter, it’s petty. But if they’ve been selected, they should have a go, and a fair go. Otherwise resentment breeds (lessons given here). It’s not a nice thing to see, this ritual process whereby one or two children are always singled out despite being of much the same standard as the others. It is divisive and humiliating. For the parents as much as the child. At secondary school, one thing. Not at primary.
Had the tournament meant anything I would have understood. Had it been a Cup match, ditto. Had the other kids not dropped endless catches, botched throws, cocked up on making it to second, I wouldn’t have said a word. But, hand on heart, though he wasn’t the best player and he might not be a Rounders Ronaldo, F10 sure as anything wasn’t the worst. Bang slap in the middle. C10 was one of the best. VBCT must really hate his parents.
What’s a mild mother to do but go and concoct a wax doll? If it’s stuffed into a short skirt, possibly clutching a clipboard and smirking, would anyone really judge me as it burst into glorious flames?