Saturday, 12 December 2015
I Prepare For Christmas
Last week, rather than going late night Christmas shopping, I went to watch my son play hockey. He has played ever since he was allowed to give up rugby, but before Tuesday last, I'd not made it to a game.
To reach the pitch at Lilleshall National Sports Centre I had to walk along a dimly-lit path. It was the irregular, precise percussion of ball on hockey stick, rather than a guiding light, which told me I was heading in the right direction. This sound is slightly higher, tenser, more intact somehow, than the sound of croquet ball on mallet, or cricket ball on bat.
When I joined the other three spectators on the sidelines, I was amazed. Under the brightness of the floodlights, 22 young men zipped around a perfect emerald surface, aiming passes which arrived at their intended destination. The speed the ball traveled was unbelievable, and occasionally painful. They took injuries in the stomach, on the back, all with little complaint.
These days, hockey pitches are made from synthetic turf. The one at Lilleshall, as you'd expect, is of international standard. It looks immaculate - level, smooth, flawless. Nothing like the pitches I learnt on when I attended South Hampstead High School in north London. This was a land-locked school with very little outside space: we managed one-and-a-half netball courts, but for hockey were transported in a navy blue minibus to Regent's Park.
The best thing about the hockey pitches at Regent's Park was the view of the mountain goats who'd occasionally appear on rocky outcrops visible above London Zoo's fencing. I think we sometimes saw camels too, but I might be making this up. In all the years I traveled to those leaden, lumpy pitches, I didn't play a single full game of hockey. We'd be sent to run up and down, round and round; we'd practise passing - balls flying off at angles; we'd bully off, dribble around obstacles; we'd play multiple games, in parallel, across the width of the pitch. I never got the hang of the rules, and now the rules have changed. There is no bullying off. Corners aren't corners, nor are they taken from the corners. The fiberglass sticks can be raised above waist-height, as long as this is done safely.
Watching my son bathed in light, strong, confident, shouting encouragement to his team from full back, I felt all a mother could hope to feel about her son. There he was, in the full flow of his gifts: youth, strength, vitality - masterful, and loved beyond measure.