Magazine article The Spectator

It's Sport That Really Matters in Life. Now Where's My Surfboard?

Magazine article The Spectator

It's Sport That Really Matters in Life. Now Where's My Surfboard?

Article excerpt

What a glorious sporting summer it has been so far. For some the highlight will have been Andy Murray at Wimbledon, for others that nailbiting first Test against the Aussies. But for me, none of this comes even close to matching the joy, the exultation, the triumph of the moment on an Atlantic beach a few days ago when our hot young female Portuguese surf instructor took Girl and me aside to comment on our morning's performance. 'You, Poppy, and you, James, are both good, ' she said.

That's 'good' as in the exact opposite of 'bad'. Indeed that's good, quite possibly, as in - though she didn't actually express this verbally - 'You are the most amazingly naturally talented beginner surfer it has ever been my privilege to teach. I can't believe you are nearly 48 years old. You have the body of a young Spartan, the agility of a cheetah, and the sticking power of an ibex on the wall of that dam in Italy that was all over the internet recently. Give it another couple of weeks and we'll have you tackling that 100 foot wave just up the road from here in Nazare, easy.'

Mind you, I think it's lucky that she didn't state what she was clearly thinking, because had she done so my heart would have burst on the spot with pure delight. This is one of the curses of being born a not-especiallysporty person - one of the curses of being human, now I think about it: the talents you all too often crave most are the ones most furthest from your reach.

For example, never once in my life have I spent even a fraction of a millisecond wishing I could be better at English. I'm not saying I'm the new William Cobbett meets George Orwell meets H.L. Mencken and PJ O'Rourke, necessarily. But I've rarely found writing much of a problem, let us just say. So little trouble do I have with my literary facility, indeed, that I quite despise it. If I weren't so maddeningly OK at writing, I occasionally torture myself, then I might have ended up in a job that pays a living wage.

My progeny, I've been appalled to discover recently, suffer the same curse. When their school reports came in, I was genuinely upset by how well they were doing in English. 'Why can't you be good at something sodding useful like maths or physics, ' I asked them. (There is a counterargument to this.

That English is the most important subject of all. Have I written that one yet? ) 'And what's the point of spending all that money on your education if you're just going to end up like your parents?'

Luckily, Girl doesn't want to be an author or a ruddy journalist, she has just told me. …

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