June 25, 2005
it was supposed to be the highlight of the events calendar. for years, the school had been trying to break the developing and lucrative market of ‘dads who are at home on a tuesday afternoon, but find a reason not to attend’. over the past couple of years, the supremo of the sports days, bernadette ecclescake had struck many deals with the organisers and sponsors so that now the tuesday afternoon meet in north norwich had become a premier occasion. in reality, bernadette had become the controlling power of the event, making policy decisions on details such as venue, day, time, cake stall management, and even choice of footwear distributors. for years, participants had free choice over footwear and could change them as often as they liked, even up to the last minute, when mum suddenly turned up with a brand new pair of black and white adidas kicks. together with baxter moselyshoals, who was the chairman of the inter-norfolk schools association, bernadette had everything sewn up.
so, the stage was set for the blue riband event – the three-legged egg and spoon dressed up as a policeman through a hoop beanbag on your head relay. the crowds had gathered excitedly in the record breaking heat, their cool boxes and digital video cameras at the ready, beeping like some insane techno orchestra because mums and dads don’t know how to turn that beep off. there had been rumblings about the safety of the course this year, as they were doing some building work on the new sports hall at the end of the field, so the last corner needed to divert around a couple of old traffic cones over a bit of bumpy grass. in fact, yesterday, little ralph from class 3b had got a nasty chaff when he careened of the track at the last minute when he had spotted his mum with a mini milk out of the corner of his eye. some parents had slightly raised one eyebrow and muttered some stuff about ‘health and safety’ and ‘what bernie’s doing about it’, but all team members appeared to be present and correct. the excitement was building, the tension palpable, and nobody in the crowd was really noticing a number of heated exchanges in the sand pits. we’re english, we don’t notice heated exchanges.
10 teams had made it to the final. 10 teams of 2 runners, tied at the ankle, truncheons poised and footwear carefully selected. it’s customary for the finalists to be introduced on the crappy loudspeaker system that’s dug out of the store cupboard every year, so they all do a quick hobble around in front of the massed ranks of beaming parents prior to the real business of racing. I couldn’t help noticing that some of the finalists looked a bit, well, grumpy. they darted a look across to their mums, who were doing a kind of hand across the neck gesture, like they do on the tv when they want to stop somebody talking rubbish. in fact, more than half of the ankle-strapped youngsters looked like they really didn’t want to be there at all, which was odd, but maybe they were just nervous. anyway, the PA crackled the names as they passed and everybody in the crowd settled down to watch the big race.
then it happened. just as the finalists were making their way to the start line, suddenly, 14 mums appeared from nowhere and whisked 7 pairs into 7 waiting vauxhall zafiras and they shot out of the car park and off to Tescos. this bizarre scene took everyone by complete surprise and bewildered, we turned back to the start line to see 3 rather embarrassed pairs of finalists smiling apologetically on the start line. one of the bigger boys, michael surelyknackered had something approaching an evil grin on his face, which made us all do a collective gasp of horror. out of the corner of my eye, I could see bernadette ecclescake and baxter moselyshoals striding into the maths room, waving their arms in the air and saying something about shoe shops, but I couldn’t really catch it. and then the flag went down and the 3 pairs hobbled down the track, to some rather ugly scenes on the terraces. disgruntled child minders and dads who had actually turned up this time started throwing hobnobs and cheese sandwiches onto the track, nearly hitting michael on the flaps. the result was really neither here nor there, and most parents had gone home to tidy the garden by that point, but smarmy michael surelyknackered and his partner ruby barnacle hit the tape first. so there.
it turns out that this year, the rules had been changed and last minute footwear changes had been disallowed. a large number of mums with bulging shoulder bags had taken the matter into their own hands and boycotted the event as a result. they claimed that ‘sports hall corner’ was unsafe and they hadn’t brought any extra grippy trainers with them. there were attempts to reach some kind of compromise. they even said they would drive all the way back to sprowston to get the grippy trainers, but baxter said that wasn’t fair on the mums who had walked from earlham road with the correct backup footwear and that was that.
in the end, it’s sports days that are the loser here and it’s difficult to see how they will ever win back the stay-at-home dad audience in north norwich again. they’ve lost a crucial market segment through the inflexibilty and greed of their own little empires. stupid buggers.