Let me tell you a story. It’s about that photo up there. I took it just a few minutes ago. That cat has been hanging around the station for a couple of weeks. Today it got bold enough to wander inside and sit on my till. I gave him some milk, and he likes the attention he gets from customers. I reckon he’s going to become a regular fixture in here. Which is a good thing. Every station should have a cat. But the story isn’t about the cat. It’s about the photo in a more general sense.
When I was a very young boy, I really had no interest in football at all. Not playing it, nor watching it. But it was a compulsory activity at school, at least once a week. I would just stand around and watch the game, participating as little as possible, and having no effect on the match whatsoever. One day, aged about 6, the ball happened to come to me near the end of the game. I remember it so well. It was a tight game, the score was nil nil. I booted the ball towards the goal. Was it the goal I was meant to be booting it towards? I had no idea whatsoever. To my surprise – and everyone elses – it flew into the back of the net.
I paused to assess the reaction. Had I just been a monumental dick, scored an own goal and lost my team the game? No, it was the right goal. I was a match winner*. I had tasted glory, and I liked it. I was football mad from that moment on, playing every break time and whenever I had the chance outside of school. It turned out that I was quite good at football. Not good enough to make a career out of it, sadly. But good enough to be one of the first picks when we choose teams.
A month later, I was running around the school grounds. Three laps of about a mile each – cross country. I despised it. I walked at the back with the fatties, partially disabled and other assorted lazy tykes. We’d jog briefly if a teacher looked our way. On this day, we didn’t break into a pretend jog quick enough and we got shouted at. I wondered what would happen if I actually tried to run. That goal I scored had stoked a small amount of self belief. So even though the run was half way done and everyone else was miles ahead, I gave it a go, and I ran.
I stormed past almost everyone and finished third**. I was gaining fast on the two ahead of me when they crossed the line. Next time out, I ran from the start. I won, comfortably. It turned out I was better at running than football. I would regularly lap the entire field. I’d run for the junior team against other schools. And then sometimes run for the senior team too, half an hour later. Don’t get me wrong, I still despised cross country. But I really liked winning, and in a wicked turn of fate it transpired I was best at something I hated.
Throughout my school life, I was mostly uninterested during class. There were a few teachers who inspired me, but they were a rarity. I spent much of the time bored and scraping past. My area of greatest expertise was in finding that fine line between minimal effort and not getting into trouble. I played it safe. I still did well in exams, but my work always had the hallmark of an introvert. Not so long after the football and cross country ‘incidents’, I sat an English test. The instructions were simple – write a story. I had an idea. I was still in an inspirational mood. And I wrote. And wrote. And wrote more.
A few days later, our English class started. Our test papers had been read and graded. The teacher did not look happy. One by one, he held up papers. “Rubbish! This one? Even worse! You boy – I couldn’t bring myself to even finish this nonsense. A waste of my time and yours!” My classmates took turns at being ritually humiliated, one by one. I sat in terror awaiting my turn. The teacher, Mr Taylor, picked up another paper. “What do you think I marked this?” And he read the story out loud, from beginning to end. My story. I was mortified. I could not think of anything worse that could happen to me. It was one of those moments you want the ground to open up and swallow you.
The story came to an end. The silent pause seemed to last an eternity. For me it was a thoroughly uncomfortable pause than went on for a full ten minutes after it finished for everyone else. I feared the worst. “Well?” enquired Mr Taylor. The first review was positive. “Really good”. The second even more so. The third had my cheeks flushing red. But I still waited for the inevitable slap down. It didn’t come. The teacher shared my classmates sentiments. I had an A***. And now I was hooked on football, running and writing stories. It’s a shame I don’t still have that story. I could have posted it here, and dated it accordingly. I don’t remember the exact storyline, but it was about a snowman. Frosty the snowman’s English cousin, to be precise.
Perhaps you are wondering exactly how this inspirational month, from nearly four decades ago, relates to my photo? Well, it’s simple if convoluted story about how our life experiences lead to the present. You see, I remained thoroughly uninterested in school. I left at the first opportunity, which was prior to taking any qualifications. Which condemned me to a life of working in customer service. At best, to working on the railways. Happily, ‘at best’ happened. But those three ‘moments of glory’ during those school years stuck. Three things within a very short space of time that set my life on its path. I still love football. I still like running in organised events. And I still like writing. Which is why you are getting an explanation for the photo. I don’t do any of it for glory anymore. I do it, I guess, just because it’s what I do.
* I scored hundreds of goals at school. In the playground and on the football field. I could recount dozens of them in incredible detail. But I’ll spare you. But this had me thinking. My childhood memories are so much more detailed than far more recent memories. The events, the smells, the sensations. Is this the same for everyone? I know we absorb information much better when we’re young. Perhaps this is the explanation.
** I have the final lap seared into my memory. On the final lap, I emerged at the half way point between some hedgerows and could see the two leaders a quarter of a mile ahead of me. Curry and Taylor. If the race had been two hundred metres more, I’d have caught them. I can still see them looking over their shoulders at me as I ran them down on the final stretch. I still remember them talking at the start line of the next race, confident they’d beat me. And I remember the look on their faces after just a couple of hundred metres, as I looked back at them disappearing in my dust.
*** I got a B in an English exam once. I guess I was about six. It was the only time in my school life that I failed to get an A in that subject. It was the sole subject that I was consistent in throughout my childhood. Otherwise, my exam results reflected how enthused I was with any particular teacher. I really can’t remember who gave me that B though. I just know he or she must have been a dick.