Saturday, 3 January 2009

Let's talk sport.

For the purpose of this blog, let us quickly and relatively painlessly go through the motions. I won't beat about the bush, at least not just yet, though habitually that is what will happen eventually. I have virtually no knowledge of International or County cricket, I did go to a prep school many moons ago, I did play it, I was a fairly decent bowler in my pre- teens and I had a full set of cricket whites and I loved the shoes. I have almost zero knowledge of football either. It does help at drinks parties though, to be able to connect with your fellow man on a shared piece of sacred turf, comparing wins and defeats, discussing the attributes of the players, the vagaries of the British weather as regards to play, happily number crunching over a few cold beers. And here is my downfall, for whatever reason, or whoever neglected or failed to make sure that a full grounding of sports knowledge was included as an integral part of my upbringing, here I am at 41, a social cripple of the male species unable to touch base at the most elemental level in the Universal crucible of sport. In little groups of pigeon footed men I have curled a clammy paw around a glass of wine whilst nodding and shaking my head with much conviction, hoping that my thin disguise will hold. It's hard to find anyone who cares a jot about the planet Kandor and where New Krypton is heading?, what is Alura's next move?, will she use some of Brainiac's technologies against Superman and Earth's assembled army of Superheroes? All will unfold in two weeks! Sorry, it slipped my mind for a moment, we were talking sport weren't we? In my early school days I played Cricket, Rugby and Tennis. The cricket field was a short walk from the school and so we trouped off along the road by foot in crocodile fashion, dressed in our cricket whites. On one occasion our headmaster spun his shiny brogues to the edge of the curb at the sight of an oncoming hearse, following suit we all stood facing the road. Under stern instructions we removed our caps and so the hearse slowly passed a long line of boys, heads bowed, caps pressed against our chests in a show of respect for the dead. Whatever was on my mind at the time, one thing is for certain is that my attendance on the cricket field was a reluctant one. During the next couple of hours I would be putting all my efforts into avoiding being at the receiving end of the cricket ball. This hard leather weapon could easily inflict pain as far as I was concerned, so I would bowl and duck if necessary, opt for a deep fielding position and pray for a lack of activity, pass the time chatting, watch the girls play tennis on the courts behind or absentmindedly scan the short turf for Pied Wagtails, this being something that I was far more interested in anyway. On the rugby field as well I tried to avoid contact with the ball, preferring instead to make half hearted attempts at tackling. Possession usually ended with the biggest lad in the school pile driving you down into a slurry of mud and ice, and you could always tell which of the boys sucked at sport, they stood around on the field with their hands pulled half way up inside their sleeves, laces loose and trailing behind them, marbled legs purple with cold and a mud streaked frozen grimace on their face which said, "Please make this stop!" The changing rooms were no better as they usually consisted of a small cluster of concrete huts in the middle of a field with communal showers. Clouds of steam, wet socks, a stench of Wintergreen ointment and the off chance of being towel whipped waited for you at the end of an uncomfortable hour of sport. The best bit for me was the bus ride back to school, as the warmth slowly crept back through my bones a series of Horse Chestnut branches would thud and crack against the windows and roof on the upper deck as the bus jolted through a series of overhanging trees. I wish I could translate the foreign language of sport and converse fluidly in its eloquent tongue, but faced with a copy of Wisden, the bible brick of cricket, its mustard yellow dust jacket staring back at me from the shelves and floors of guest toilets up and down the dale, all I see is a need to be proficient in at least one sport. So, 2009, for me will be a baptism, the year I cleanse my soul and wash away all my sins and transgressions and pick up again the only sport I ever enjoyed. No it just isn't cricket. What lies before me is an empty court, a tennis racket and the chance of a few free tickets to Wimbledon, and yes, I am serious!

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