Avon Schools Cross Country is one of the few winter gigs that gets me out and about.
Because Lesley is one of the two organisers for Avon Schools the house has been full of the paperwork for a couple of weeks. The four districts take it in turns to organise events and some are better at it than others. This year it was Bristol and the two aging superstars of school athletics in Bristol - Ken Holmes and Pete Jakobek - have great difficulty in getting PE teachers to turn out. Actually, it would be truer to say that they find it impossible. This seems to be a result of government policy towards sport in schools and the appointment of people who are supposed to be responsible for running school competitions. Talk about unintended consequences!
After scanning weather forecasts anxiously for days in advance, the omens for Saturday weren't good. And in fact, early Saturday morning was a nightmare - cold, windy and raining. Mention must be made of the people who turned out at eight o'clock to set out the course. Dave and Marilyn Palmer are the genuine article when it comes to athletics superstars. All weathers and they turn up over and over again for this pretty thankless, but actually very difficult, job. Dave knows ever inch of Blaise Castle and where runners can go and where they can't, so if Dave says the woods are too dangerous to run, they you can bet that they are.
As it happened, about the time that Lesley and I turned up and the course builders, who included Simon Thompson as well as Ken and Pete and other helpers, came into the clubhouse looking like drowned rats, the rain eased off and eventually stopped. By the time of the first race, the sun was almost trying to come out. So although it was cold and extremely muddy underfoot, the morning turned out a darned sight better than we had a right to expect.
Perversely, I quite enjoy my part in all this. I stand there looking at my watch at ridiculously short intervals; answer questions from parents who don't know what the heck is going on; try to stop parents from undressing their offspring when there are still ten minutes to the start; explain why I'm not using a gun to start the races; chat to fellow officials and generally pass the time pleasantly enough. Usually I can count on at least one senior boy turning up to run wearing an iPod and I have to tell him to get rid of it. This year - not one.
Next the South West Schools event, also at Blaise. Bigger races, starting pens, a bigger degree of how's-your-father - but I bet there will still be parents who don't know what the heck is going on.
I'm writing this early because my sister tells me that mother's condition has deteriorated rapidly in recent days, so I'm going to go up to Oundle to try and lend a bit of support.