Sorry for banging on about it, as anyone who knows me knows I have been lately, but I just cannot believe that last weekend I threw myself into the sea and swam three-quarters of a kilometre and then ran all around the southernmost part of Sentosa Island for five whole more kilometres. Dressed in a tri-suit. And no one paid me, I paid them.
If you had ever told me, in the past, that I’d be doing something like this I would have spat my tea up my nose. I am the person who, aged 15, hated sports so much that I forged my sick notes and went home, went for a walk, did that morning’s washing up, even agreed to take part in some dreaded voluntary service – something/anything rather than motivate my skinny little body into doing anything sporty. Sporty girls were that generation’s mean girls. Sporty girls shouted at us on the netball pitch when we shot the ball off over the wrong net or watched it drizzle away into the bushes. Sporty girls yelled at us as we chatted about our favourite new 45 on the far reaches of the outfield (well, EXCUSE me, but we were trying to have a converSATION, thanks). No. Sports was for sharp girls in white socks with lithe, bendy bodies and boyfriends in the year above. Give me a packet of Bourbon biscuits and a cup of Sainsburys Red Leaf any day (or, sadly, 10 B&H, but that’s a whole other story and not a proud one).
Anyway, when it came to voluntary service, we (my partner in crime was my best friend, a girl who hated the S word even more than me) were sent back to our much-hated primary school, stuck in the two bottom infant classes and told to take over while the ragged teachers staggered to the staff room for a fag. We preferred watching the school guinea pig pee itself on the reading mat, rather than join our team mates on the netball courts.
One day the children had a black paint fight. I was happier tidying it up with wet newspaper than puffing up and down Parliament Hill on cross-country, or standing on some cold sports field, or getting bussed out to the Lea Valley like convicts only to spend the entire afternoon tipping canoes over while we sat in them (whose stupid idea was that?). Me and my friend would do anything, I tell you, anything rather than do any of the above. I personally would have signed up for extra maths. I would have retaken my history O Level mock exam. A.N.Y.T.H.I.N.G. We had an unspoken agreement that you lived and died by the bunk-off note, and after a while we started bunking off voluntary service, too: first person to get the kettle on and put the flame under the pancake pan was that afternoon’s winner. I think that’s when I really fell in love with The Kinks’ Face to Face album, as that was the LP I most recall bunking off to, back at mine, munching pancakes while the needle crackled.
And now I do duathlons. ‘What next?’ asks my sister (who also regularly asks me, in all-caps: WHAT HAVE YOU DONE WITH MY SISTER?)
Well. Our soccer moms’ group has started a little training regime on Wednesdays while the kids do their practice. I’ve banned it up til now but I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to have a kickaround. There’s a nice-sounding 5k next month that I’ve already signed up for. I got a bike last weekend for Christmas and today I wobbled all the way to a friends’ house for lunch and back again. Doubt I worked off the wine but it was a nod to health. There’s talk of proper swimming lessons, which would help if I ever signed up to a swim event again, since the worst bit of Sunday’s race was being churned around like an odd sock in a washing machine while I puffed up and down with my ‘old lady’ breast stroke as all the other white-caps sliced through the waves with their sporty front crawls. There was a clue in the category title ‘Sprint’ that I might have to go faster than my current Blue Rinse speed and I suppose I could do with learning how to go a bit faster, and how to do it properly.
I think it’s not that I hate and loathe sport or can’t manage it, I think it’s actually the opposite: I share the deep-seated competitive gene that my mother had and that my sister, I suspect, might also have. Tucked away in the recesses of our emotional motherboard is a small switch dialed for all eternity to ‘GAME ON’. (My sister hates board games for the very same reason, though she would argue that she just hates board games). Once I understood, for instance, that many of the mums at the sports day hoop race some four or five years ago had actually cheated their way to the finish line (apart from second-to-last me), I was back bigger and better next year and from then on I either won or came second year on year. And don’t say it was ‘just’ an egg and spoon, I owned it and you can’t take that away.
I feel sure that this brief hiatus to my rounded, sedentary lifestyle will retreat, once I am back in the UK, along with the rest of my tropical pool-blue memories. I hope it doesn’t, and I’m gluing all the ribbons into a scrapbook just to make sure I really earned them. One day I might even take them to my friend’s house and get her to put some pancakes on. Or maybe, as my sister suspects, I really have been stolen by aliens seeking lazy cake-lovers to populate a planet that needs people to bake the best ever buns, while sporty replicas get put on earth instead? I’d be a great choice for the baking if so, though of course I’m not competitive about it at all.
PS I’d like to thank my trisuit, which I borrowed, and which not only kept it all in but looked rather good in the process. I’d also like to thank the friend who lent it to me. And finally I’d like to thank the random men who, every now and then, would bark out: COME ON ANZA! Only halfway round the run did I remember that I’d borrowed a suit that had the ANZA group logo all over it. They were such a nice bunch, I might even consider joining up.