I caught a snatch of a hockey game on telly recently. It was nothing like the game played heartily, lumberingly or miserably by girls at my old boarding school. Oh, how I hated hockey.
For a start we were always being beaten by other teams. No wonder, because it was a small school and you got into the team simply by being tall enough to wield a hockey stick. When we played each other it was blue against gold – and I bet it was the only gold any of us came near in the realm of sport.
Then there was the pitch. Instead of superturf we played on a patch of ground from which the cows had just been driven. Indeed, they were sometimes left in one corner of the paddock chewing crossly and glaring at the bunch of ninnies thwacking sticks about. The ground was covered in tussocks and cow pats and chopped into a muddy mess by countless hooves. I sprained my ankle several times on that pitch and made the most of it, wailing and hobbling, such was my misery.
The pitch was marked out with a series of drunken stakes by the school handyman. He had lost an eye in the war and wore a romantic if piratical eye patch, but he must have had something going for him because the school nurse got pregnant. They got married and lived happily ever after in the olde worlde cottage at the school gates.
The most notable difference between hockey yesterday and today is that in my day superglue hadn’t been invented. Today’s players can attach a hockey ball to the end of the stick in a way that seems miraculous. When they pass, the ball travels crisp and true and fast as a bullet towards the right player in the right place at the right time in the right uniform. That player immediately attaches the ball to the end of his or her stick until ready to pass it on.
The way I remember it is that somebody hit the ball and it leapt in the air sideways with a clunky sound. The sticks of two other people clashed in mid air while the ball rolled sullenly under a tussock. There would be a constant uproar from the crack of stick on stick, the thudding backwards and forwards of ungainly adolescents. Everyone on the field, and anyone watching from the sidelines, would go all “Angela of the Lower Fourth” shouting: Shoot! Pass! Tackle! Well done, old thing! Jolly good shot! Hard lines!
So embarrassing - what were we thinking of?