DJ Taylor: Mrs Striver could profit by immersion in the pool, but Wendy doesn't 'do' exercise


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The Independent Online

Of all the spectators gathered at the Macclesfield and District junior swimming club's gala night, none is more vocal than Mrs Wendy Striver. In fact, the running commentary from her seat a yard or two from the pool is so loud as to reduce some of the other onlookers to a ruminative silence.

Encouraging, emphatic and sometimes well-nigh exhortatory, Mrs Striver's remarks are, naturally, focused on the performances of her 13 year-old daughter, Tamsin. "Come on Tammy… That's right! You can do it, Tammy. Come on, Tams. That's it, Tammy-girl." Sometimes Tammy-girl, catching sight of the mountainous figure in the front row, will give the wryest of smiles, but this is the only communication that passes between them.

It is occasionally hinted that Mrs Striver, who weighs nearly 16 stone, could profit by immersion in the pool herself, but Wendy doesn't "do" exercise. No, her energies are focused elsewhere, on nine year-old Charlie who, not that she wants to brag, is quite the niftiest little footballer you ever saw, but mostly on Tamsin, who now, catching the scent of this maternal solicitude, overtakes the girl ahead of her to clinch the 50m breaststroke. Mrs Striver is gratified but mindful of the other competitors and their sadly perished aspirations. "Such a shame for the others, isn't it, to come so far behind?" she soothingly remarks to the parent beside her.

As races not involving Tamsin come and go, Mrs S relaxes her gaze and indulges herself in a quiet calculation: about the forthcoming royal visit to her daughter's school, in which Tammy will feature as part of the welcoming committee, even if her mother has to send the headmistress a dozen emails a day; and the teacher who awarded her a C-plus for her Religious Studies project, an oversight which Wendy intends to complain about at the next parents' meeting. Oddly, there are staff at the school who don't seem to realise what a bright and determined, though shy and sensitive, girl Tamsin is, and Mrs Striver is there to tell them.

Back in the pool, the 100m freestyle has, alas, ended with Tamsin bringing up the rear. But Mrs S has a fail-safe rejoinder on these occasions. "I always think, don't you," she observes, "that it's the ones who come last who make the race."