I played rounders last weekend and it was tough. I am not the player I once was. It was really sunny, with a good breeze, but I suddenly felt mortal and it wasn’t nice.
We were down in Cornwall in some house, sucking up respite from the daily horseshit of living in the capital. We walked along the coasts, balanced on cliffs, threw ourselves into harbours and devoured crabs like they were chocolate. By night we drank down the local ales and Jägermeisters before climbing into our beds and dreaming simple, wholesome, Cornish dreams. But the centrepoint was always going to be the rounders. And I couldn’t wait. Because rounders is my sport.
CDG blew her bugle on the Sunday and the 12 of us marched to a meadow. Dehydrated and slack-faced, we lined up and picked teams. I was picked early because I was doing stuff with my eyes that implied I would be an asset. Some of the men had their tops off and their chests gleamed. Two teams formed. A dead-eyed hatred of the opposition quickly fermented. There was a fun edge to it all, of course – tons of bare feet, one of the lads wearing a skirt – but mainly, yes, hate. We broke into our formations, and we stood in the meadow, and it was glorious and I grabbed the bat off one of the girls so I could get us off to a good start, and the game commenced.
When I was younger I would regularly play rounders. I had a canvas sack full of it. Cricket stumps, a selection of tennis balls and a policeman’s truncheon that my old man had stolen in his teens. That was for whacking the balls with. The amount of home-rounders I’ve smacked with that truncheon! And as the summers roll past, so the truncheon gets dug out, and the truncheon gets polished, and from one year to the next, I find myself stood on the batter’s square, facing down some kind of ancient uncle or bloodthirsty niece, clutching my truncheon and surveying which area of the field to whack into. I have a sexy authority when I do this. That’s just me stating a fact.
There was no truncheon in Cornwall. Just a cricket bat, damaged by having just been used as a mallet to drive stakes into the earth to imply bases. I clutched this bat and I visualised where I would whack, and the sun beat down and the breeze got under my skirt and Gaby looped the ball towards me. But Gaby’s a cheat and it was impossible to hit because it was too high or too low or about right and this happened three times and there was nothing to be done and I was out and then I sat down and drank beer. Dismal. But I’d right my wrong in the field.
It’s horrible to feel yourself becoming worse at something, especially when it’s rounders. In my head I’m still as good as I always was. I think I always will be, in my head. I’ll be teeing off at 80, still visualising swishing my truncheon and the ball sailing beyond the horizon. Still picturing myself waltzing round the bases, flicking my hips at the opposition. Licking my finger and touching my arse. Goading. In my head. It’s outside of my head where the problems start. In the meadows.
Later, Gaby was batting and she skied one. It was coming right down my throat and I knew this was my chance of redemption. Take the catch, throw the ball up in the air and go and dance lavishly in front of Gaby. Ten years ago, I’m catching that and I’m making her life a misery. But now I’m having doubts. I’m not thinking straight. I’m thinking I might spill it. And you have to be 100 per cent focused in rounders. And, also, you can’t be half-thinking about whether you should be wearing a skirt more often.
We waded back to the house and my captain put her arm round me and said I shouldn’t blame myself for our humiliating loss. CDG had made homemade cloudy lemonade out of homemade cloudy lemonade she’d bought in the village, and ice. I drank, we laughed, I cheered up. But it’s hard. When you’ve played bad rounders, it’s hard. Secretly, I am glad summer is over.