With Caro away on a charity cycle ride, I thought I’d regale you with a few tales of my own attempts to raise money for charity. I’m really not that good at it.
I was lucky as a child. Every house I lived in came with a good sized garden for me to play in and, for most of my youth, I lived in a house with a large playing field behind it, too. Because we didn’t have a car I walked or cycled almost everywhere and of course I loved playing sports. As a result I was always fit, if not particularly athletic.
That last part changed when I fell under the wing of the despotic Mr D’Almeida when I was at school in New Zealand. I didn’t realise what a difference his madcap obsession with fitness training had made to me until I had been back in the UK for a few months. I managed to get onto the school cross country team and even into the county team, but I always assumed that was because of a lack of competition. It never occured to me that I hadn’t really done any training, certainly not of the sort Mr D’Almeida would approve of, for six months and yet had still finished ninth in the county trials even though I didn’t at the time own a pair of running spikes.
The realisation came when we had the school cross country race at the end of the winter. I overheard John James, a boy whose athletic prowess I had always admired from the time we were at junior school together, tell someone else that the winner would either be me or John Lawson. Lawson (known to me as ‘Percy’ because of his reluctance to reveal his middle name, other than it began with a ‘P’), was small and wiry, the ideal build for a cross country runner, and had made it through to the national team trials in the past. To be compared to him in the same breath was a revelation and made me realise that I had gained something of a reputation as a runner*
That obviously carried on for the rest of my school years, even though I gave up any pretext at even semi-serious running when I was 16 after starting to suffer shin splints, because just after I turned 18 I was asked to run a marathon.
I was in the Upper Sixth at the time and the school had decided to put in a staff team for the local race. One of my fellow students, another fine natural athlete named Gary Payne, was asked to run with them, but about a week before the event it was realised that, at 17, he wasn’t old enough to take part. A call went out to find someone to take his place. As soon as Mrs Wilkinson, our form tutor, read out the message, someone mentioned that I was old enough and could do it. Under pressure I tentatively agreed.
But there was a frown from across the other side of the room, where the Lower Sixth half of the form were. It came from a girl named Kirsten Rogers.
Kirsten was another I had been at school with since I was 8, although she was a year below me. I had had a massive crush on her and her friends since first realising that there was some point to girls, a crush only made worse by the fact that she was a very fine runner who often competed at the same events as me**. She came over to me afterwards and we actually had a very sensible conversation about whether I could possibly train for a marathon in such a short time. After that, and some thought overnight, I decided not to do it. This may be one of the first times I allowed a woman other than my mother to talk me out of doing something stupid!
*I came second. John Lawson and I were a long way ahead of the field from very early on, but I made a naive tactical error that I still think about today and he won.
**Not helped by the fact that, in those days, a schoolgirl’s athletic outfit seemed to amount to little more than ‘running in your underwear’