Recently I did something I’ve never done before: I watched my first live rugby match. Actually, forget the live – it was my first rugby match of any kind.
A city centre stadium would not normally lure me away from our cottage fireside on a chilly Sunday afternoon, but I was subject to a force of nature: Hurricane Laura, aka my nine-year-old daughter.
Laura had been taking part in a tag rugby course at school, run by an outreach coach from Bristol Rugby Club. Always keen to try a new sport, Laura threw herself into the game in a style all of her own. Rather than jostling competitively with the other children, she trotted round picking up the tags as they were dropped, politely handing them back to the players who’d lost them. She does like things to be tidy.
At the end of the course, the Rugby Club kindly gave a free match ticket to every child who had taken part. Ah, those outreach folk are smart: how many junior school children are likely to go to a rugby match unaccompanied? Consequently every child’s family had to buy at least one adult ticket. As the match fell on a Sunday afternoon, when most families like to do something together, most of the rugby-playing children had more than one parent in tow. One little girl even took her grandparents and baby brother too.
And so it was that on Sunday afternoon, with woolly hats, thermos flask and gritted teeth, we dutifully took our place in the stands. (Stands? What’s that about? Why not seats? I thought rugby was meant to be a civilised game.) Our spirits lifted a little when we spotted the stadium’s cafe selling piping hot pasties. Well, rugby does burn off a lot of calories. But to my surprise, I soon found myself distracted from my pasty by the game. This I did not expect.
As the match got under way, I discovered that it was like watching ballet without music, in which all the ballet dancers are on 6,000 calories a day. Although the players had legs like tree trunks and the physical resilience of a tank, they had real balletic grace. As they surged across the pitch, entirely focused on seizing the ball, their raw power reminded me of lions hunting gazelles on an African plain. Actually, it was more like lions hunting lions. I especially liked it when, for some reason I did not understand, a smaller player was pitched up above the scrum, half leaping, half hurled into the air. The only damper on my enjoyment was worrying about whether they’d hurt themselves.
By half time, my grasp of the rules was still slim. It was a breakthrough moment when I realised that the total on the right of the scoreboard was not the second team’s score but the number of minutes that had been played. No wonder the team I’d thought was losing was looking so cheerful.
As the game drew to a close, I looked down at my daughter. She had spent the first half playing on the steps with her friends, before sharing a portion of chips with them at the interval. For the whole of the second half, she had been completely engrossed in a sticker book, neatly dressing up dolls in foreign costumes. The closest she’d come to watching the match was getting the autograph of a man in a bear costume serving as the home team’s mascot.
But never mind, I think she got her money’s worth for her ticket.
This post was originally written for the Tetbury Advertiser (December 2012/January 2013).
If you enjoyed this post, you might like these other ones about my daughter’s attitude to sports:
With Christmas still a month away, I’ve been resisting my daughter’s requests to put up our decorations this weekend.
The festive season doesn’t start until December, I tell her. No matter how many “Buy One Get One Free” or “3 for 2” offers we see, now is not the time to buy crackers, tinsel or wrapping paper,
In any case, we already have lots of Christmas decorations stashed away in the cellar. Once we’ve turned our kitchen calendar to its final page, I will bring them back upstairs. When I do, there will be plenty to go around.
Then, at the zoo today, she suggests we buy a plastic reindeer. We really do not need another reindeer. There are whole herds of them in this house, in various shapes and forms. We have more reindeer than Santa:
a large cuddly one with light-up antlers the colour of traffic lights
a small plush that looks like it’s leapt out of a Babycham advert
a Playmobil team of reindeer, complete with sleigh and Santa
a bristly creature made of bundles of sticks
a family of small straw reindeer that stowed away in our IKEA trolley
How many reindeer does a girl need, for goodness sake?
But then again, for how many more Christmases will my only child be treasuring these childhood trappings of Christmas?
This morning she had a playdate with a friend. Together they retreated to the playroom and all fell uncharacteristically quiet. I asked her afterwards what games they had been playing.
“Oh, we didn’t really play,” she replied vaguely. “We just sat around and talked for a long time. And we flicked through the Argos book to look at Christmas presents. She’s getting an iPod touch.”
With a twinge of melancholy, I recognised that this will be her last Christmas in single figures. Then we’ll be on a slippery slope to the teenage years, when her wish-list is more likely to be clothes and make-up rather than cuddly toys and games. Playdates will be supplanted by sessions experimenting with make-up and biro tattoos of boys’ initials.
That is of course as it should be. If she’s still requesting cuddly toys when she’s fifteen, I shall be worried. But I’m in no hurry.
And so on this afternoon’s trip to the zoo, I find myself positively encouraging her to bring home yet another a small plastic reindeer.
My mother tells a tale of her first expedition as a newly-wed to buy groceries at The Oval, the little parade of shops in our home town of Sidcup, Kent.
It was the 1950s, still about a decade before the newfangled concept of supermarket shopping shook up Sidcup with the arrival of a tiny Safeway complete with – wait for it – an on-site milk bar, which seemed the height of sophistication at the time. At The Oval, by contrast, the shops and their clientele were small enough for every customer to be known individually and to be greeted formally by the shopkeeper.
So on entering the butcher’s shop that morning, my mother was not surprised to hear the butcher call out a cheery greeting to her mother-in-law. She turned around, expecting to see her new husband’s mother standing behind her. But of course, my grandmother wasn’t there: my mother had just forgotten for a moment that now she was married, they’d both be answering to the same name. She’d been promoted; she was a grown-up.
I had a similar butchers’-shop moment myself this afternoon. I was sitting at my computer, typing away, when I became aware of a rustling at my shoulder. My daughter’s playdate was standing behind me, quietly surveying my muddly desk. She’s a sweet girl, cheerful and well-behaved, so I didn’t mind stopping work for a chat.
“Well, here’s something that’s cool!” she said.
“What’s that?” I asked.
“I’m the friend of someone whose mother writes books,” she said brightly.
I sat back in my chair.
“Oh, that’s nice!” I said. “Do I know her? What sort of books does she write?”
She fixed me with an old-fashioned look, the sort that says “adults aren’t always as smart as they’re cracked up to be.”
Then I followed her pointed gaze to my own book, published last month, a copy of which is now propped up on display at the edge of my desk. For a moment I’d forgotten I was an author. My goodness, I’ve been promoted too. Happy days!
If you liked this post inspired by my hometown, you might also like this one:
Although few women were active in the front line of the Great War, there can’t have been many who lived through it who were not affected personally, either emotionally or practically. The women in my family were no exception. Here are the stories of three of them.
Raised in a Welsh coal-mining village, my maternal grandmother Peggy was one of nine children. Born in 1913, she was just a baby when war broke out. Her oldest sibling, Johnny, was not old enough to join the military legally, but so eager was he to enlist that he lied about his age. You could do that in those days: there were no computers keeping tabs on everyone’s personal details from the moment they were born. If recruitment officers had any suspicions about an applicant’s age, they were likely to turn a blind eye: their job was to sign people up.
But lie Johnny did, and when he was killed in France in action, it must have broken the hearts of his mother and sisters, and probably many girls in his village too, judging from the charm of his sister’s son who I met when I was a child.
Although Peggy was too young to have strong memories of the war, she grew up surrounded by her family’s grief and bereavement for its lost son. Their grief was compounded when her father was killed in a coalmining accident. They were spared from poverty only by her mother having the previous week been persuaded by “the man from the Pru” to take out life insurance. With so many children, she was not sure that she could afford the premium, but the insurance man kindly offered to pay the first week’s installment.
I’m sure this dual loss forever shaped her attitude to her menfolk. For a start, she named her first son Robert John, her maiden name having been Roberts. I used to wonder why she spoiled her husband and two sons so much, waiting on them hand and foot, never letting them help with the washing up or other chores. She even did all the DIY tasks herself. One morning, when I was a teenager, I watched her pour milk dotingly on her husband’s cereal, and wondered at such unnecessary indulgence. Only after her death did I realise that she was still dealing with the loss of young Johnny and her father. She treasured her men, because she wasn’t confident how long they’d be with her. (To be fair, she was very indulgent to the girls in the family too!) It might also help account for why that side of my family is very matriarchal.
Peggy died when I was 22 and she was much too young, just 69. Ironically, her beloved husband outlived her by five years.
My maternal grandmother Lily was born in Rotherhithe, East London in 1900 – a year full of promise for the new millennium. A teenager during the Great War, she was a clever, level-headed girl, winning prizes for recitation, a much-admired skill in those days before television and radio. Lily’s father was killed in a docklands accident when she was just two. Her mother remarried when Lily was about 9, to a Cotswolds man who had come to London to join the police force. After leaving Grey Coats school in Westminster, Lily learned shorthand and typing at Pitman’s School in London, where one of her teachers was engaged to war poet Rupert Brooke.
One day in about 1915, she arrived home to find her street cordoned off following an explosion at the nearby munitions store, Woolwich Arsenal. Unable to find her mother, Lily presumed she had been killed. Later that day, Lily was found running, hysterical, through the streets, by a policeman who recognised her as his colleague’s stepdaughter. He took her back to the police station to be reunited with her stepfather and they eventually found her mother safe and sound.
It must therefore have been especially hard for the adult Lily when Britain declared war on Germany, two days short of her son’s (my father’s) seventh birthday. She and her three children were immediately evacuated to Todenham, near Moreton-in-Marsh, where her stepfather had retired to live with his second wife. Lily and her children stayed there for about four years, with my grandfather visiting when he could at weekends. Having been turned down for military service due to poor health, he had to stay in London, working as a clerk in the City. His part in the war was to serve as an ARP Warden in the evenings – near Woolwich Arsenal. How difficult it must have been for Lily, fearing for her husband night after night, as she had done for her mother.
I was extremely close to Lily when I was a child and we spoke of anything and everything, but she never talked about the war. A wonderful mother and grandmother, she was content with her family and her peaceful lifestyle, and never liked to venture far or often from home. But in a different era, without those life-changing traumas, she might have had quite a different lot. Intelligent, witty and observant, she had all the right qualities to be a wonderful teacher, writer, broadcaster, or many other professions. Such missed opportunities, such unfulfilled potential are significant overlooked side-effects of war.
Lily died aged 72 of a stroke, when I was 12. I miss her very much.
Like so many working-class women of her generation, my great-great-aunt Edie had no career choice but to go into service. A tall, handsome woman, she told me that she was constantly admonished by the butler to stand up straight: “Edith, be proud of your inches!”
When working as a cook in a large, wealthy household, she fell in love with the chauffeur. They were lucky enough to be able to afford to marry. But it was not long before war broke out, and her new husband went off to be a soldier.
This happened so soon after their marriage that he had not yet informed the authorities that Edie was his next of kin. Consequently the dreaded telegram reporting his death in France was sent to Edie’s mother-in-law, who rushed round in distress to blurt out the news without thinking of breaking it gently. He had been blown apart by a shell. There was no body to bury. So profound was the shock that it caused Edie to miscarry, so she did not even have their child to console her. She returned into service and never stopped loving her husband.
“There have been others that would have had me since then, but no,” she told me simply, when I was a child. “No other would ever do.”
She went on to live in virtual spinsterhood with her older sister Becky. I’d liken her situation to going into a convent, were it not for the fact that Becky, who never married, sported bright red lipstick till she died. A few years later, Edie, then in her 80s, died still bearing her soldier husband’s name.
The decision not to marry or remarry after the Great War was involuntary for many women of Edie’s generation, because there was a serious shortage of eligible young men – the result of so many war deaths. Some women married outside of their peer group. Lily, for example, married a man aged 5 years young than herself, unusual even by today’s standards. Others consigned themselves to remaining single. At least, unlike the young men, they were alive.
This article was originally written as a contribution to the 1st Hawkesbury Guides’ excellent exhibition in Hawkesbury Upton Village Hall on Remembrance Day 2012. The Guides are pictured on the right of the photo here, along with the many villagers who attended the Remembrance Day service by the village war memorial this morning.
(This new post is about a great idea for encouraging good behaviour from children in school: Golden Time)
For many children at our village school, the highlight of the week is “Golden Time”. Doesn’t the name sound alluring even before you know what it is?
Golden Time is a brief period every Friday when the pupils are allowed to do what they like – from playing on the computers to drawing pictures to curlng up with a good book. It’s a treat they look forward to all week as an antidote to their hectic schedule. It’s also an effective motivator for good behaviour, as staff may dock minutes from each child for misdemeanours. To allow naughty children to reform, the slate is wiped clean each week, everyone starting with a full score of minutes every Monday morning.
Attending a parents’ meeting in the classroom when my daughter was a new Year 1, I spotted on the whiteboard a list headed “Golden Time” with a number of minutes against each child’s name. Several other mums were as aghast as I was to see there were no numbers next to our children. What on earth had they done to lose all their time? Hesitantly, I asked the class teacher who smiled and shook her head.
“Oh no, Mrs Young, the numbers there represent the minutes those children have been docked!”
Phew, my daughter was a good girl after all! My relief was palpable.
One recent Friday, all the girls in her class emerged from Golden Time with their hair in beautiful fishtail plaits, courtesy of their kind teacher. Next week, they were wild-haired from a lovely session of crazy, headbanging dancing.
Either way, they were happy, contented and effectively rewarded for being good all week.
I just wish there was a Golden Time for grown-ups. Or maybe there is, and I’ve just lost all my minutes for bad behaviour.
Hmm, must try harder…
This post was originally published in the Hawkesbury Parish News, November 2012.
If you enjoyed this post, you might like this one that harks back to my own behaviour in school: