Hillie: small village survival expert, mum and writer.
Anna: Hillie’s local best friend and professional cake maker.
Mr Business-Jargon: very annoying business man on the train to Devon.
Ted, Toby aged 8 and Lottie aged 6, Hillie’s husband and children. Ben: Anna’s husband.
My Bygraves: overly competitive Headmaster.
Clare Carberry: (PFA-Parent and Friends Association Vice Chair) like Miami Vice but without the Miami or indeed the Vice unless you consider an over spend on bourbon biscuits with PFA funds a vice? David Carberry (a School Parent Governor) married to Clare!
Horsewoman: annoying local who rides a horse to school and lets it poo outside Hillie’s house everyday! Also Vice Chair of the Vertonbridge Horticultural Club (dictatorship).
The School Teachers; Miss Quick, Miss Lean, Mrs Baxter, Mr Fox, Mrs Jones and Mrs Smidgeon.
If you had chance to read last week’s post you’ll know that Anna and I had been on an overnight trip to London. I had had a meeting with Felicity Burrell of Burrell and Daw Literary Agents and now she was my new agent! The novel I had been writing – Twelve Days and the Thatcher had a chance….it might even be published!!! But right now there was a far more pressing matter – we needed to get back to Devon for Sports Day!
Anna and I made it back to Paddington Station with about three minutes to spare and legged it up the platform with our wheeled overnight cases bashing our ankles and grating a layer of skin off each time. We located our seats and found ourselves opposite a well embedded and heavily perspiring businessman. He was hogging the table with a myriad of businessy items – laptop, ridiculous leather-bound Filofax (who has one of those anymore?), nobby briefcase, piles of spreadsheets and a large packed lunch. He was also barking into his phone – annoyingly loudly to a bloke called ‘Phillip’:-
“Yes Philip but the underlying sales growth is not compatible with the strategy for this particular type of bleeding edge technology. I’m concerned we’re dealing with a burning platform here. I mean, are you confident that you have all your ducks in a row? I need to know we are both going the same way on the escalator here Philip. Lets not boil the ocean, call me back -I’m going into a tunnel”.
Poor ‘Philip’, he was probably thinking of ways he could make it all stop. Staple his head to death? Poison himself with photocopier toner? Paper cut his wrists?
Anna and I barely had room to put anything down because ‘Mr Business-Jargon’ had taken over the entire table area. We sat hemmed into our seats with our handbags crammed onto our laps. To make matters worse we were both feeling slightly worse for wear after the dodgy canapes (ahem blue denim cocktails) we had consumed the night before. When Mr Business-Jargon had finished chewing ‘Philip’s’ ear off on the phone he said hello to us. Anna, ever the sardonic, enquired with a saccharine smile, “are you sure you’ve got enough room there?”
“Oh yes thanks, I like to spread myself out,” he said, obviously suffering from a bad case of irony deficiency. He then proceeded to take the lid off his packed lunch and open up the contents. We were hit by a nausea-inducing waft of warm tuna sandwich, sweaty scotch egg and cheese and onion crisps. He also retrieved a yoghurt and nectarine from his tupperware container. “My dietician has told me to eat more fruit!” he announced by way of conversation. To be fair, his florid complexion did indicate that he might be suffering from gout and that a plant based diet might be preferential. After rustling and munching his way noisily through the smelly stuff he selected the nectarine. Toby (my eldest) had recently started calling nectarines and peaches ‘bum fruit’ on account of their appearance (being a bit bottomish to be fair) and so it had kind of stuck! When you’re 8 this is #hilarious.
Mr Business-Jargon’s nectarine looked a bit ‘gone over’ to me and probably only half an hour from a fruit fly infestation. Sure enough when he bit into the over ripe ‘bum fruit’ it squidged undaintily and spurted spectacularly before the juice dribbled down his chin and splattered onto his tie. I handed him one of my handy travel sized wetwipes from my handbag.
“I need strong coffee!” Anna huffed, inching out of her seat and making a bolt for the buffet car.
To add to the tedium the train seemed to be taking longer than it needed to. We were definitely behind schedule by the time we got to Taunton (in Somerset). The train idled in the station for a while and then we heard the train manager make an announcement over the tannoy.
“We regret to inform you of the delay to your service. The train will remain in this station until further notice. This is because Hillie Richens and Anna Thomas in Coach C seats 31 a and b (you know the ones – opposite the annoying businessman eating the bum fruit) need to get to their children’s sports day.”
“What did he say?” I gasped!
“The train is staying in this station because of technical difficulties, we’ll be here until an engineer has fixed it,” said Mr Business-Jargon helpfully through a mouthful of something. He had finished the slushy nectarine and had moved onto a luxury fatfree yoghurt and was spooning it creepily into his mouth? Another non train compatible food stuff! What was wrong with the guy. At that moment the train jolted as the airbrakes blew off and he slobbed a spoonful down his suit jacket.
“If you must eat yoghurt on public transport it might be worth considering a Frube next time,” I suggested irritably, passing him my last travel wet wipe.
Mr Business-Jargon, seemingly finished with eating inappropriate food stuffs started tapping away again on his laptop and shouting into his phone. He was back on the line mauling ‘Philip’ once more. I had a mental picture of the poor guy typing his resignation letter as they spoke.
Eventually the train lurched out of Taunton and we limped on into Devon. Stressed and travel weary with earache and handbag induced pins and needles, we arrived into Exeter St Davids nearly two hours late. Anna and I needed to hotfoot it back to the village quickly if we were going to see any of the kid’s races.
On arrival at the Sports Field (large unkempt area of grass next to a fishing lake on the edge of the village) everything was in full swing. The athletics track had been marked out for the occasion and the omnipresent mole hills, thistles and lumps of duck poo scattered the grass. The event was well attended by parents, grandparents and school governors who were sitting about on camping chairs and picnic rugs as the sun actually shone down for once. Anna and I wandered through the throng.
“Green bogey at 2 a’clock,” hissed Anna out of the corner of her mouth. Horsewoman was walking towards us in a snot coloured fleece, cycling shorts and trainers (obviously up for the Mum’s race then).
“Ahh Hillie, I see Lottie got a mention in the Paper! Deirdre and I were hoping for a two page spread on our ‘open gardens’….just shows….they’ll print anything these days!” Before I could come up with something (probably not cutting enough) Anna interjected with, “Lovely sour freen coloured fleece…….does it come in women’s?” Horsewoman supplied us with one of her best (and practised) scowls and stalked off!
The School PFA gazebo was swaying ominously in the breeze. There was an array of cakes to to buy (you donate the cakes and then we’ll sell them back to you at an exorbitant rate, all for the PFA!! 🙂 ) Hot drinks facilities were on offer and Clare (vice Chair of PFA) was ‘pumping the portable urn’ for Mr Bygraves the headmaster (that’s not a euphemism, she was making him a cup of tea). The headmaster was wearing a full three piece suit (shiny grey) with trainers! He seemed to be sweating profusely around the collar area.
Anna and I waved to friends – Babs and Lorelle and a few other Mums before locating Ted and Ben. Our husbands sadly informed us that we had missed all our children’s races. There were just a handful of kids finishing the high jump and a few more throwing foam javelins (mostly at each other’s heads). I actually felt like crying, but Ted (my hero) had recorded the kid’s races on his phone, so I could watch them at home later. I spotted Lottie in the distance who jumped up and began waving to me frantically, while Toby studiously ignored my presence because he was sitting with his ‘mates’.
It was just the ‘adult’ races left and as the last children took their seats in the shade I became aware that David Carberry (a Parent Governor, married to Clare – you know -Vice Chair of the PFA) had started a ‘book’ on the teachers race. He had written the names on the inside of his palm and was surreptitiously threading his way between the seated parents – flashing the odds at anyone game enough for a flutter! Interest mounted quickly and hard cash began to change hands!
David continued to fleece the parents who were keen enough for a punt while the women lined up for the mums race. The motley crew included Horsewoman who had removed her bogie coloured fleece and was jogging on the spot. I didn’t know many of the ladies in the race because my friends weren’t running. I had won the mums race myself the year that Toby had joined the school in Reception. Rookie mistake, I soon learnt my lesson when I was shunned and given ‘the evils’ at the buffet picnic afterwards. Mr Bygraves spoke into the whining tannoy system to announce the start of the race. On your marks, get set, go! and he fired the gun thingy that looks like a flare gun but just makes a good shooty sound! The Mums were off – in a blur of floral skirts, sensible jeans, Birkenstocks and ballet pumps as they bounded towards the finishing tape. They seemed to be negotiating the hurdles well (mole hills, duck poo and thistles). Horsewoman had made a good start and it looked like no one could catch her, but alas a particularly prominent mole hill was to be her downfall (literally) as she caught it with her left trainer and stumbled forward and then downwards like poo from a horse’s bottom. Everyone faux clapped the winner (a fresh faced sporty Reception mum) whilst I was clapping for other reasons………dot dot dot.
After the Fathers had raced, we got on to the main event – the Teachers race. Mr Bygraves the headmaster appeared to be walking strangely – like he was going to lay an egg or something, and then bent over three times to tie his already tied trainer laces. “You know what he’s doing!” said Anna sniggering, “the competitive old devil is trying to warm up without anyone noticing!”
Here is a the official listing of the runners!
There was some jostling at the starting line as the staff took their lanes. Miss Lean (sports teacher) was the only one to adopt a proper athletics starting postion on all fours. She was also wiping something on her navy gym skorts in disgust – I think she’d put her hand in duck poo. Mrs Baxter looked a little stressed and might need to be blindfolded up to the starting post. Mr Bygraves was clearly excited – foaming slightly at the mouth and at last all the teachers converged. Clare from the PFA was drafted in and looked terrified as she handled the gun that looks like a flare gun but just makes a good shooty sound. They were under starters orders, Clare pulled the trigger, and they were OFF in the Vertonbridge Village School Sports Day Teachers Race (Derby!)
Miss Lean shot away beautifully in first position. Mr Bygraves was hot on her hooves in second place, although he seemed to be somewhat constricted by his 3 piece suit attire. Mrs Baxter jogged behind unenthusiastically and appeared to be favouring her hip replacement leg, might she need to be pulled up? Miss Quick was being anything but ‘quick’ in her hot pink Juicy Couture tracksuit as she languished in the back of the pack. Mrs Jones looked uncomfortable in both her running technique and tight purple cycling shorts which had given her an unenviable wedgie. Mrs Smidgeon (Music teacher and lunchtime duties) may well have had too much sponge pudding and custard as she brought up the rear in her crotch-hugger leggings. But suddenly from no where Mr Fox the student teacher, who had had a shaky start, was gaining on the leaders fast! Miss Lean raced on undaunted in her navy skorts with go faster duck poo stripe and Mr Bygraves made the mistake of looking back at the advancing student teacher. Mr Fox put on a youthful spurt and whipped past them both on the inside winning by a country mile. Miss Lean took 2nd place and Mr Bygraves puffed in 3rd looking purply puce. Miss Quick was fourth and the rest were pulled up for lameness.
David Carberry did a little victory dance and started counting his stash of cash.“What are you going to do with your ill-gotten gains?” I heard someone ask David, who couldn’t help but look rather smug. Everyone had played it safe and bet on Miss Lean. No one had risked gambling on the unknown dark horse Mr Fox – and so the ‘Bookie’ had cleaned up.
“I’m going down the Pub of course!” he guffawed far too loudly.
“What ill-gotten gains?” demanded his wife Clare, catching the fag end of the conversation (and still brandishing the starter gun ominously!) Parent’s in close proximity backed away nervously as the story unravelled. Clare unwittingly pointed the start gun at her husband who instinctively raised his hands, dropped the money and revealed the ‘odds’ on his palm. On hearing the commotion, sweaty Mr Bygraves stalked over authoritatively (or tried to – it was more of a squeak in those trainers).
“David! how could you – and you a Parent Governor and everything!” gasped Clare, “Right! That’s it! I’m confiscating all monies on behalf of the PFA fundraising account,” she squawked indecorously.
“Carberry! My office-now!” bellowed Mr Bygraves.
More next week!
As you were.
Note to myself: the one about sports day!