Clare Mackintosh

The se­cret sur­vival kit for school sports

Cotswold Life - - INSIDE - Clare Mackintosh con­tact @claremack­in­t0sh www.claremack­in­tosh.com

If I had to pick a favourite child, it would be the one whose hob­bies are firmly lo­cated in­doors. An all-day gym­nas­tics tour­na­ment isn’t nec­es­sar­ily my pre­ferred way to spend a half-term Wed­nes­day, but at least it’s warm(ish) and dry.

For the past few years week­ends have been spent stand­ing in muddy fields watch­ing foot­ball (Satur­day morn­ing) and rugby (Sun­day morn­ing), um­brella an­gled side­ways against hor­i­zon­tal rain, while small peo­ple run up and down af­ter var­i­ously shaped balls. I have no par­tic­u­larly af­fec­tion for ei­ther sport, and lit­tle un­der­stand­ing of the rules, ren­der­ing me wholly re­liant on my fel­low sup­port­ers (it is al­most en­tirely dads at foot­ball, and al­most en­tirely mums at rugby – I have no idea why).

“Pass it, pass it!” they shout. “Pass it!” I echo, a beat too late, like the Cor­po­ral Jones of the ju­nior sports field. I leap from my seat as the game ends, clap­ping wildly and nod­ding sagely – jolly good game – only to dis­cover it is only half-time, and the pint-sized play­ers merely chang­ing ends.

Suf­fice to say, Satur­day and Sun­day morn­ings are not the high­lights of my week. Oh, of course I love to see my chil­dren giv­ing it their all (as­sum­ing I can find them – I once spent two hours cheer­ing on the wrong pitch, while my own prog­eny scored 100 yards be­hind me), and I do my level best not to give any hint that I might be there un­der suf­fer­ance. I take enough lay­ers to guard against the cold, re­mem­ber a flask of tea, pack snacks to al­le­vi­ate the bore­dom…

Last week­end I brought out the new­est se­cret weapon in my arse­nal: the tini­est wire­less ear­phones, to be hid­den be­neath my woolly hat. Like the TV trope of the dad who lis­tens to the base­ball game dur­ing his daugh­ter’s pi­ano recital, so I stood faux-in­no­cently on the touch-lines last week­end, my hat pulled firmly over my ears, and a brand-new au­dio­book on play. I am a rel­a­tively late adopter of au­dio­books, ini­tially find­ing it im­pos­si­ble to con­cen­trate. I would fall asleep, or drift off into a chain of thought that had noth­ing to do with the story be­ing read to me. I must get that wash­ing in… Grad­u­ally I re­alised the key was to be oc­cu­pied to pre­cisely the right de­gree: sit in a chair and lis­ten to an au­dio­book, and my mind will wan­der. Peel pota­toes, and I’ll lose my­self in the story. Thus, au­dio­books are now a con­stant com­pan­ion when­ever I’m cook­ing, do­ing house­work, tend­ing the gar­den, or walk­ing the dogs. Where oth­ers in the gym are plugged into Pump it up, vol­ume 74,

I am lift­ing weights to the sooth­ing ac­com­pa­ni­ment of Kate Atkin­son’s Tran­scrip­tion.

Au­dio­books feel like a gift – bonus read­ing time that would oth­er­wise be wasted. Why do one thing, when you can do two? And – more per­ti­nently – why stand in a muddy field in a si­lence bro­ken only by an in­com­pre­hen­si­ble That’s a knock-on, surely? from a neigh­bour­ing spec­ta­tor, when you can make a start on The Seven Deaths of Eve­lyn Hard­cas­tle? And so last week­end I switched on my se­cret ear­phone, feel­ing ev­ery bit like an MI6 agent, and set­tled into both the game and the story.

The min­utes flew by, and even the rain, find­ing its way past my um­brella and down the back of my neck, failed to dent my en­joy­ment. I had over­come my big­gest par­ent­ing chal­lenge yet. I looked around the rugby field, at all the other par­ents who were giv­ing very cred­i­ble im­pres­sions of ac­tu­ally en­joy­ing them­selves and won­dered if they, too, might be pack­ing tiny ear­buds. Round about chap­ter four, the match fin­ished and 12-year-old Josh lum­bered to­wards me, cov­ered head to foot in thick black mud. “Well done, dar­ling!” I said en­thu­si­as­ti­cally. “That was ab­so­lutely mar­vel­lous!” He eyed me sus­pi­ciously. “You’ve been lis­ten­ing to a book, haven’t you?” What? How was this pos­si­ble? I was ev­ery inch a Sport­ing Mum. I had the brolly, the boots, the hat and scarf… Sur­rep­ti­tiously, I checked to make sure my ears were still cov­ered; my phone stashed in my bag. There was ab­so­lutely noth­ing to give me away. And yet… Josh’s dis­ap­proval was un­wa­ver­ing. I dropped the pre­tence, and fished for my tiny ear­bud.

“How did you know?” I asked meekly. “Easy,” Josh said, mak­ing for the car. “You looked pleased to be here.” Some MI6 agent I turned out to be.

Com­ing soon, Clare’s col­lected Cotswold Life col­umns in aid of the Sil­ver Star So­ci­ety at the John Rad­cliffe hos­pi­tal, who sup­port fam­i­lies ex­pe­ri­enc­ing high risk preg­nan­cies

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