(Author’s Note: This post isn’t particularly special in itself per se, however, it is a long one, and there are plenty of anecdotes in it, but anyway, I digress. Oh, and if there are any typos, please let me know, as at over 2,000 words, I’m bound to have missed one!)
It’s not possible to visit South America without playing football, and so that’s what I got up to last night with some of the guys from the office, in the form of an hour long four a side match at a small indoor stadium in the town of Nogales. At prep school, I discovered that football was not one of my talents, and in the decade that has elapsed between then and now, my prowess could not be said to have improved. As the match went on, the dismal skills of yours “might as well not have had legs for all the difference it would have made” truly became more and more apparent, and things weren’t helped by my difficulty in understanding various colloquialisms my teammates said to me, while out of breath, in a dialect of my third language. Add this to my rather impressive hand-eye coordination skills, and you’ve got a winning combination. The bloke whose job at the mine is to organise stuff like this came on to help our team halfway through, so we had one extra player, although seeing as I was worth about -2 players, our fortunes didn’t improve too much. It was a laugh, but I was rotten from start to finish, but hey, at least I’m consistent. However, at the end, we all got some excellent empanadas to eat, which was a nice surprise!
Unfortunately, my rather dismal performance is not just limited to football. Most sports are beyond me, well beyond me. While I am able to do stuff like play the bassoon, or write a sonnet (if suitable incentivised), sport has never been one of my talents. So let’s have a summary of my extensive expertise. Sit back, put the kettle on, and relax, for we’ve got a lot to get through!
We start off in the late 1990s, while I was at prep school. Most of my time there was spent playing football, my skills of which clearly need no introduction. Typically we were split into two groups during lessons, with one side wearing the home shirts of the school (a rather deep shade of maroon), and the other donning the away colours (maroon and white stripes). Often this was done on an ability basis, with the two groups being taught separately, and the stripes were usually worse (no prizes for guessing which shirt of mine was used more often).
Cricket was a sport that I played in the summer of prep school, under the excellent tuition of a (sadly now late) Mr. Johnston (who was liked by all, and an absolute giant – over 2 metres tall, which to an eight year old is huge). I’m not being sarcastic, he really was a lovely bloke, and was extremely patient, teaching me the rules of cricket and how to bowl. One game on a summer’s afternoon that sticks in the mind was especially memorable because I attracted the ire of my fellow fielders when I and JF (another friend), who were supposed to be fielding, missed the catch (and therefore allowed the other team to score about 10 runs), because instead of paying attention, we were sitting on the grass having a nice chat (probably about Pokemon, seeing as it was at its peak at that point). To be fair, it was a gorgeous summer’s day, and my school was in a heavily forested valley in the Surrey Hills. Idyllic doesn’t even begin to describe the scene with any justice (or rather, the scene before my friends conceded quite a few runs – although to be fair, my friends on the other team were delighted. Every cloud eh?).
I recall that after prep school, when I moved on to the senior school (yes I was educated privately my whole life, “haters gonna hate” and all that), football was abolished, and we went on to play rugby. Once more, this was not a sport that I was any good at, and the Saturday morning turnouts and pre-season training sessions were the bane of my life (and were very quickly abandoned, in spite of my mother’s attempts to bribe me with a cooked breakfast if I attended them). My father once said that he was very proud when he watched me “play” in the U12 C team match (we only had one fixture that year), in spite of me doing essentially nothing. After this introduction to the sport, the C team (who rather interestingly, with respect to the boys who’d been at the prep school, was mainly composed of former stripe wearers) was disbanded, and from Second Form onwards, we were reincorporated as a group known as the Legends (one of those delightfully sarcastic in-jokes that private schools love dreaming up). I never really had any affinity to rugby, although being in the Legends didn’t really help matters for two reasons. Firstly, we didn’t actually play any proper rugby, and secondly, most of our time was spent up on the hill fields, crawling through mud in the middle of winter, in the rain and gale force winds, wearing only a thin shirt and shorts. That’s often how it is with sport at private school, lots of doses of very cold weather and broken limbs – for my unfortunate friends at least, I was fortunately exempted from the broken limbs aspect of this (presumably owing to my attaching a greater importance to self-preservation than to any sporting awards). In fact several friends got frostbite once on a Duke of Edinburgh Gold Award expedition several years later, but that’s an anecdote for another day. Things didn’t improve much in the Spring Term, which was dedicated to hockey. Yes folks, I was a member of the Legends for that too, (as were most of the other rugby Legends too now that I think about it).
A couple of years later, I took up golf at the local club, and in spite of having weekly lessons for several years, never really managed to improve my game. After becoming a member, I was given the worst handicap possible (as was customary for new members), which I could then improve by playing in competitions weekly. Well, I was supposed to be able to improve it, although it’s somewhat difficult to improve on something if you can’t actually achieve the base mark. Yes, I never once managed to reach my actual handicap. The proverbial icing on the cake came when I was playing a casual game with a friend of mine (JS), who was much better at me than golf. We’d agreed to play medal, which essentially means you can’t abandon a hole. That was a big mistake. On my local course, the fifth hole is a par five, with a large lake breaking up the fairway. This lake was the recipient of a large number of my golf balls, so many in fact, that I ran out, and had to borrow some from JS. I eventually holed the ball, with a respectable score of 54 (funnily enough, my handicap was 54 too, although that was for the whole course…). It was after this incident that I invested in a lake golf ball retrieval device, and JS and I often only played the front nine, before spending the afternoon on the back nine, in the woods, scavenging lost golf balls, instead of playing the second half of the course. One occasion we did this, he accidentally concussed himself, went a bit crazy for a few hours, and subsequently got angry with a tree for “annoying” him, but, like the D of E frostbite story, that’s an anecdote for another day.
Once Fifth Form came around, there was much more freedom in the choice of sport we could do. Well aware of my limitless ability for failure, I elected at first to go to the gym. It must be said at this point that I despise the gym as a place. The atmosphere and environment I find highly unpleasant. So why did I choose it? Essentially for two main reasons, firstly, most of the Legends did as well (after four years together, we were loathe to split up, in spite of the Legends officially being disbanded at the end of Fourth Form), and secondly, it was an extremely easy way to be able to appear to be busy without actually doing anything (which is something I am good at!). Luckily, the staff supervising the gym were rather gormless gap year students, who, when they did finally notice a my penchant for laziness and came over to berate me for it (often with a self satisfied smirk on their face), could be dealt with rather easily by employing a few sarcastic rejoinders.
Sixth Form then came around, and I decided to take up épée fencing. This was a sport that I actively enjoyed, and was slightly better at than the others (not that the bar was set especially high – and, while we’re on the subject of bars, high jump was another unsuccessful venture of mine). It was a lot of fun, and you learn how to fight someone with a sword, which is pretty exciting, so Lower Sixth wasn’t too bad.
By the time Upper Sixth appeared, I’d had enough of enforced sport, having experienced it and been appalling at it for well over a decade by now, and so I contrived a plan to deceive the system. Essentially the way it worked was that at the beginning of each term, everyone signed up for a sport, and the list of names for each then comprised the register for each. Clearly it didn’t take a genius to work out that if you failed to sign up in the first place, your name would not feature on the register, and therefore you would not be missed. The plan worked perfectly, except once, when the staff conducted a year wide audit of who was and was not present, at which point my scheme was noticed (although the following week, and all subsequent weeks it worked perfectly again). Luckily for me, due to a highly unfortunate bout of amnesia by the head of Sixth Form (who, to be honest, could not realistically or truthfully be described as competent by any stretch of the imagination), my name was not entered into the detention database on the school IT system (although to be honest, if it had, various friends could have removed my name from said system anyway using a selection of nefarious means to do so, hence it would never have been an issue really). So instead of wasting time in the gym etc. I spent many enjoyable afternoons up with my friends (primarily ZKZ and KLL) who lived in the boarding house (being from Hong Kong and Guangzhou, it would have been rather difficult for them to have been day boys), drinking squash, eating biscuits, chatting with the matrons, and generally wasting time in a fun and sociable way.
I did however do some sport in the Upper Sixth, I wasn’t completely bone idle. Cross country was what I opted for in the end. I’m sure that it surprises you greatly to hear that, especially once I say that it was the least popular sport in the school, and one that was almost universally hated with a passion by pretty much every pupil. However, all is not as it seems. The bonus was that it was unsupervised. This meant, once you were out of sight, you were essentially free to do whatever you desired. So our plan consisted of running up the road and round the corner (until we were out of sight of the school), at which point we walked, chatted, and generally had a laugh. Once we’d entered the woods (at a leisurely pace of course), we spent the afternoon enjoying fun pursuits such as playing hide and seek. We almost went to the local pub once, which was down the road from the woods, but none of us remembered any money, so alas that plan didn’t come to fruition. Who was in this band of miscreants you wonder? I’m sure you won’t be surprised to hear that it was us boys who formerly made up the Legends.