When I was very young I was quite a round faced little fella, with no aptitude for sport whatsoever. At Maple Road Primary School, in Whyteleafe, Surrey, my abiding sporting memory is of standing alongside other unathletic specimens waiting for the football to come near us and praying, if it did, it would be one of the other misfits who would have to try and kick it away. In my memory it is always overcast, always November, always cold. Lisa Rieter’s latest flash challenge prompts these less than satisfactory thoughts (http://sharingthestoryblog.wordpress.com/2014/05/23/bite-size-memoir-no-4-sports-day/). Sport’s Day. They mingle with memories of equally cold and unsatisfactory afternoons spent watching my father play rugby. Is there anything less appealing than watching rank amateurs try and play sport? Especially when you are seven, don’t have the first clue what is going on, are frozen and wet and are fully aware that you are missing a first-rate cowboy film on the newly acquired TV.
What changed? No one thing but a confluence of events. I was told I ‘needed a hobby’ which was the answer to the ‘I’m bored’ moan back then. The Archaeologist, being something of a polymath, had so many it verged on the greedy. Dad tried to help by buying me butterfly net (such things were allowed back then) but even that was half-inched by you-know-who. That was the summer of 1967. That winter an England cricketer (Fred Titmus) lost his toes in a boating accident in the West Indies (he was one of Mums favourites – she was the cricket fan in the family) and I remember her dismay. The following summer had me moving to my senior school; a great time for reinvention. I listened to the Cricket with Mother and fell for a fat scruffy chap called Milburn who couldn’t run but hit the ball a mile. Suddenly I wanted to be that man. I had a hobby, a passion and a ridiculous love of sport. I haven’t thought about it for ages but I know I was deeply p****d off at the time when the hobby that had been bequeathed to me – bug hunting – was taken away. In retrospect it did me a major favour – it pushed me in quite another direction and for that I’m grateful. Thank you, Lisa, for triggering such belatedly fond memories. This is my story… At seven I hated school sport – too fat, too slow. Mum knew better. Cricket was her love which she shared. I practised alone, catching at first, for hour after hour; then it was an old chair leg as a bat. I dreamt and sweated. At eleven, at my new senior school, my size got me an audition – prop in their rugby team – I couldn’t run, catching was still rudimentary but I was world-class at leaning. I changed school again, at twelve, when Dad’s job had us move. ‘Do you play cricket?’ ‘Yes sir.’ They picked me for the first game and I went mad, scoring 47 runs. Oh frabjous day! Move the clock on, to 18, and I’m captain of cricket and vice-captain at rugby. I have a self-confidence that comes with belonging. I kept playing both sports until my ankles told me ‘enough’ as I approached 40. The secret of my success? Practice, never give up, embrace reinvention and lie convincingly. Perhaps that’s why I became a lawyer?