Sports Day Without the Winning
It was Sports Day at Zara's school and I was rather excited about it.
"Knock 'em dead; knock em out of the ball park, knock 'em over," I said struggling to come up with some kind of Anglo American cliche that wasn't totally lame, and leaving her with a big knuckly high five as I scraped a couple of first graders I hadn't noticed off my fender.
Because for me Sports Day was a gut churningly big day. There would be qualifiers when the wheat would be separated from the chaff, as the teachers decided to find out who would qualify for the flat race, which comprised of running. Needless to say I seldom made it to the big one but a variety of other delights awaited such as the egg and spoon race, the obstacle race, the three-legged race and the sack race.
My primary school was a scary kind of place run by war veterans suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. Winning was everything because we had beat the Germans. Who do you think you are kidding Mr. Hitler and all that.
We'd beat Jerry at his own game and on his own ball park. But Lord did we pay the price. I still remember the contorted features of Mr Clutson as he twisted Witts' ears around his head.
"Witts," he growled. "I'm going to turn you off at the mains. Witts. When you get home your mother won't recognise you. Witts - she'll say 'how come your head is facing backwards?"
We don't really know what happened to Witts, although there's a rumor he was jailed for trying to blow up his high school caretaker by igniting his tractor.
So at the age of nine or thereabouts I was honorably admitted to the sack race which involved jumping to the finishing line in an old flour sack. I still remember the butterflies that kicked off in my stomach; and we were off and remarkably a great distance opened up between me and the other competitors.
In fact I romped home - I won the sack race by a mile.
I'd like to say this unexpected victory set me up for a lifetime of glittering achievements but the reality was I usually ended up in second place, although I had to pinch myself when a somewhat ordinary picture of Clifford's Tower in York wound up winning the junior photo competition at my father's place of work.
In later sports days I attained the dizzy heights of the flat race but I was always resoundingly beaten by a guy called Whitmore.
Then at high school when I made the team Whitmore was always there to beat me again. One night I spiked his coke with vodka, but he still beat me the next day, although it was a close one. The strange thing is Whitmore took up smoking later in life. If I tracked him down now I'd probably beat him over 100 meters.
The only drawback is the fact it would seem rather strange for me to track him down and challenge him to a race after all of these years, particularly as he's probably forgotten who I am. And what if he's in a wheelchair or has an oxygen cylinder? I'd feel like a bad person.
So, in the absence of Whitmore, I funneled my competitive spirit into Pookie. The empire, I told her was forged on the dank and formidable rugby fields of England in the winter when the blood and iron entered our souls.
In the summer cricket gave us a backbone and made us great. I omitted to tell her I was appalling at cricket - cue that moment when the ball is falling towards me; it's a key catch of the game. Everyone is hollering "catch" before the collective sigh as it bounces off my hand and onto the grass. Truth is the empire was long gone by the '70s and few people at my school knew half of the world had ever been pink.
When Zara asked what empire I was talking about I was somewhat stumped. I suppose we still have dominion over a couple of sheep in the Falkland Islands.
I was upbeat when I picked her up after school.
"So did you beat them? Did you win any prizes?"
"No. Nobody actually won, but we got prizes for taking part."
I was so disillusioned and deflated to hear this ideological politically correct claptrap, I had to get a larger bottle of wine than normal from FarmFresh.