I don’t think I’ll ever forget the day, on a slightly soggy August afternoon, that I crossed the threshold of the school shop. It was a bit like Harry Potter’s first time in Diagon Ally, full of weird and wonderful things that I’d heard of, but never quite believed in – kilts, skorts (more on them later), trunks, tuck boxes … and lacrosse sticks.
Lacrosse, to those who don’t know, is a sport that originated in North America – I do believe the Native American tribes used it as a substitute for war to settle inter-tribal disputes. It’s still fairly popular in the US, as far as I know, but over here in the UK it’s rather been relegated to a thing them posh types do when we’re not out drinking tea on the cricket lawn or mercilessly hunting down innocent foxes with packs of baying hounds.
It’s also a very weird sport. You only have to look at the sticks to realise that much.
Those of you who remember way back to when you first read St Mallory’s Forever! may recall a few of Abby’s ramblings on the sport. Abby, however, comes from a world where spending your Saturday morning chasing each other up and down a field after a flying rubber ball is a perfectly normal affair – she’s known the rules since she was about seven, and started having to play the game in P.E.
It may surprise you to know that I, however, had no such knowledge of the game when I was first flung head-first onto the pitch to play against a worryingly competent contingent from the local state school – not even a rudimentary what’s-where, or any sort of assurance that I’d even know which way up the field to run.
It probably won’t surprise you to know that lacrosse very swiftly became one of my least favourite things in the entire world. Particularly, after a few games, extremely chilly practice sessions, and bruises un-numbered, when I began to realise just how scary it is.
Lacrosse, as I said before, is a weird sport, and thus it has rather a lot of rules. The picture on the right here is of a boys’ team in America. Doubtless you’d be impressed at the care taken to ensure they all wear proper headgear and rudimentary padding – a neccessity, you would think, given that lacrosse is a (usually unintentionally) contact game featuring a 13-a-side team, theoretically boundless pitch, and focusses on a small, solid projectile flying through the air at speeds occasionally matched by the Red Arrows.
You’ll probably notice, too, that it’s sunny. Lacrosse is a fairly versatile sport – any muddy old field will do, so long as you’ve a couple of goal posts at the end of it – but summer, on the whole, is preferable for such excursions of sporting prowess.
I now invite you to throw all these conceptions out of the window, and observe the picture on the left.
This is what lacrosse looks like to my memory – in fact, the player in green is, in fact, a girl I spotted once or twice passing down the corridor when I was in the Lower Sixth.
Padding? What padding? Nah, a mouthguard will do you just fine! And who cares if the pitch is a bit frozen – it’s November, of course it’s going to be a little chilly! What’s that? You’re cold? Suck it up! Your parents spent money on those wretchedly overcomplicated skorts, you might as well get some use out of them! Anyone caught in more than three pairs of thermal leggings will be made to run laps until the paramedics arrive!
Alright, alright, maybe I’m being a little overdramatic. Basically, what I’ve been trying to get at, is that anything – a sport, a word, a way of speaking – can mean any number of different things, depending on its treatment and execution in different environments. I never liked lacrosse, and retreated at the first opportunity to make a half-decent defensive player for the third-rank hockey team at the first chance. Perhaps this might have, just a little, coloured how the sport was portrayed in the book.
But, unless you played lacrosse yourself, you’d never have known that, would you? If you had your own experience, you’d have taken my death-mongering as the symptom of one who’d been smacked in the face one time too many, not as any sort of verifiable truth.
The moral of this little horror story, I suppose, is to say that experience, personal or cultural, can count for a lot in one’s understanding of something. A vague point, perhaps, but relevant. After all, it was only through the co-operative union of mine, Miriam’s and Mark’s experiences of life and publishing that St Mall’s came into existence at all.
However, for all I may rant and rail and waggle my fingers like some hyperactive Cassandra lookalike, I have to admit that my experience with lacrosse was valuable. It taught me about what sort of world I had come into in getting myself enrolled in this school, in this country, with these people, and the sort of values that lay behind the game – though I shall maintain until the day I die that “fair play” stepped aside to admit “homicidal inent” the instant the referee blew the starting whistle.
Sometimes, you never know how useful a seemingly pointless experience is until you’ve had it. Rather like this post, I suppose.
But seriously. Look at those sticks. Just look at them!
~ Charley R