Category Archives: September 2012 Posts

The underdogs

“Come on girls, show us what you’ve got!! Don’t let her get past you, Anna! Jump higher, Erin, HIGHER!!” Gasping and dripping sweat, we race madly around the netball court, desperate to show what we can do. We run, we throw, we shoot, we defend; we work our guts out. It’s a redundant investment of energy as we’re all assured a spot on a team, but we’re eager to do our very best.

Netball 1988: Kate, Inece, Colleen, Kelly, Anneleise, Mandy, Tina, Simone, Sharon

It’s 1988 and the selection for the Saint Augustine’s netball teams is taking place. Seven players make a team so with eighteen girls we’ve got two teams – allowing for a couple of spares. The four notorious netball mums are here … along with their cut-throat competitive streak.  They form the selection committee and screech at us from the sidelines.

We finish displaying our netball prowess and inelegantly slurp on sliced orange quarters, the juices dribbling down our gawky eleven-year-old faces. We wait for the verdict; which team will we be in?

The selection committee whispers together, occasionally nodding and jotting on a notepad.  After fifteen minutes the “Queen Mum” gathers us in the centre of the court.

 Marie: Thanks girls. Good work. We’ve decided the two teams so listen carefully. Team 1! Beth! Angela! Sheree! Belinda! Erin! Anna! Rebecca! Jane! And Monique!

The popular, the pretty, the prize-winning and the perfect are all present. And all four daughters of the mothers on the selection committee are in this team.  I look over at Claudine who smiles knowingly at me. There’s supposed to be an even distribution of skills on the two teams, but it’s glaringly obvious that one team has been composed of winners and the other of losers. This is the Alpha team.

 Marie: And now Team 2! Kate! Inece!  Colleen! Kelly! Anneleise! Mandy! Tina! Simone! And Claudine!

The “other” team.  The Scraps. The unsporty, the uncoordinated, the uncool and the unattractive ….

Both teams are allocated a coach. Sheree’s mother (slim, pretty Tracey) will coach Team 1. Overweight, frumpy Sharon will coach Team 2 …. from her wheelchair.  Belinda smirks at me.

The twenty-week netball season commences.  We play our first game. And win. Only we don’t just win, we slaughter Dawes Road Primary 42-3. We play our next game.  Haslem Street Primary.  And win.  36-3. We play the “Alpha” Saint Aug’s team.  And win.  We play Tongala, Merrigum and Girgarre.  And win.  Within six games we are undefeated and the team to beat.

Kate’s Dad (in the blonde wig) and my Dad (in the brunette wig)

The combination of our team is inexplicably magical. The odd-ball bunch of misfits fits.  Kelly, as Goal Attack, rarely misses a goal.  Me, as Goal Defence, rarely lets one through.  Sprightly Kate, Inece and Tina flit about the court like nimble pixies, getting the ball to where it needs to be and preventing it being where it shouldn’t.

For nineteen weeks we train every Tuesday and play every Saturday at the local outdoor netball courts.  We win every game.  Then comes the big day; the Grand Final.

One-by-one we arrive, greeted by Sharon.  Her two slobbering rottweilers are dressed in yellow t-shirts – our mascots.  We’re relaxed, not an ounce of tension among us. We’ll win, we know.  But we aren’t arrogant.  We’ll have fun. We’ll laugh.  The games never really matter to us – we just enjoy ourselves.  We’re a mixture of adolescents and pre-adolescents, but while we play netball we’re all joyful, uncomplicated children.

We hear a crowd roar with laughter from a distant court near the car-park.  There are sixteen courts with a game taking place on every one …. so literally hundreds of people look over at the commotion.  I see the cause of the ruckus and with horror immediately look at Kate.  Jesus Christ –our fathers have come dressed as cheerleaders!  Complete with skirts, wigs, balloon-boobs and pom-poms!  Kate and I are both mortified … but even we have to admit it’s funny.  And we’re all caught up in the alchemy that has taken place this season.  The losers are the winners.

And the Grand Final?  We won that too.

Afterword

It was tremendous that our success defied expectations, but I always felt sorry for the other team.  They were, almost without exception, an equally nice group of girls and it must have been difficult for them to have experienced the horrible feeling that accompanies the failure to meet expectations.  Individually, most of them went on to be exceptional netball players during their teenage years.   I guess it’s just another example of how the performance of a team isn’t always about having the most skilled or talented people, but about how they function together.

After the afterword

Since writing this, I’ve been contacted by a few people from school (including some of those who played netball with me – both in this team and others). One sent me some photos so I’ve decided to add them!

Anneleise, Kate’s Dad, Colleen, Simone, Kate, Inece, Tina, Kelly, My Dad, Mandy

Kate, Sharon, Mandy, Tina, Colleen

The game in action!

Kate (C), Tina (WA)

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Gabriel, my angel messenger

I’m back in London.  I’ve completed my first working week.  It’s Friday afternoon, 5:15pm.  I exit the building and wait for the pedestrian lights.  Peak hour traffic is everywhere; bicycles, cars, taxis, buses, vans, motorbikes.  The city noise attacks me.  Never mind – I’ll soon be in the sanctuary of my flat.  My tired eyes scan the other nine-to-fivers and slowly lock on one cyclist.  I cannot believe who I’m seeing.  Gabriel Lopez … my Spanish boyfriend from 13 years ago.  My first boyfriend in London.   I impulsively add to the volume of the metropolis.

GABRIEL!!  GABE!!!!”  I scream, with my hands cupped around my mouth.  The people standing on either side of me jump.  I want to speak to him.  I HAVE to speak to him.  I run into the bustling traffic and make it to the middle island.  He’s metres from me, but I can’t get to him.  He stares straight ahead and I see he has earphones in.  His light turns green and he cycles onward.  Damn it.

I pull my phone out of my bag.   He’s not in my “contacts” but he sent me a text last year.  Which one of the unnamed numbers is he?!  I drop my phone.  Shit!!  I pick it up and find a number that ends in 748.  That’s it!

He won’t answer, but I’ll leave a message for him.

Gabe (hesitant):  Hello?

Me (frantic):  Hello!  It’s Simone!  Are you wearing a blue shirt and beige trousers?

Gabe (still hesitant):  Yes ….

Me (still frantic):  I just saw you cycle right by me! 

Gabe (laughing loudly):  And where are you, Sorceress Simone?

I explain my location and he cycles back to meet me for a drink.  I run up and forcefully hug him.  We both say nothing and laugh.  We hug again.

Back in the nineties Gabriel and I had a very brief relationship (for want of a better word).  We were colleagues and, a year after our fling stopped, all employees were made redundant.  Seven years went by without contact until I ran into him walking in a local park.  Since then we bump into each other about every two years, in random places.  For me, he’s become an emblem of good luck: I only ever see him when I’m happy.

We first met three weeks after I initially arrived in London, full of youthful optimism and buoyancy.  Now, it’s exactly three weeks since I returned to London and I’m full of mid-thirties confidence; refreshed and ready for Round Two in the Fight of Life.

Aside from our chance encounters I receive one email or text from Gabe a year, but our spontaneous catch-ups are always warm and, due to the longevity of our friendship, comfortably familiar.

Friday is no different.  And, after more than one drink, we become nostalgic.

Me:  So who are you in contact with from our old work besides Paul?

Gabe:  No one, really. I’ve not seen Charles since our work leaving do (he pauses).  Octopus Charles.  Remember him molesting you at the work leaving do?

Gabe smiles and looks at me.  My brow furrows and I look upwards; my thinking expression.  Something’s registering in the far corner of my mind.

Me (finally speaking):  Yes.  Yes I do.  He sat next to me on the bus and kept touching me … or groped me or something … it’s vague … I remember that when we arrived at the venue he pushed me against a wall, but someone pulled him off me.

Gabe:  That was me.  You were drunk and he was being a prick.  I’d seen him on the bus and you clearly didn’t want his … um affections, so he had to fuck off.  You know he hasn’t spoken to me since? 

Me (pausing before quietly speaking):  I’m really sorry that I don’t remember.  Thank you.    

Gabe just shrugs and smiles.  I’m touched and feel retrospectively guilty; not remembering this incident symbolises how I took him for granted.  Gabe’s the reason I owned numerous Vespas; after freezing to death on the back of his motorbike to Cardiff I was addicted (but realistic enough to know that I wouldn’t be able to master a big bike!).  He’s also the reason I learnt Latin American dance; I couldn’t bear the constant humiliation at the Spanish and Brazilian clubs we frequented.  And Gabe’s now my emblem of good luck … or good times … good something anyway!

The evening ends.  We part and don’t say we’ll contact each other or catch up again soon.  At some point in the next two years we’ll see each other … and I’ll be happy.