Sports Day. Again! How do these schools events come round so quickly? Al, my effervescent six-year-old nephew, has just faced his second, whilst my son Felix, who cheered his small cousin along all the way, took part in his last at Primary School.
Al was a broadly gracious competitor. Losing is not his bag, but he has learnt to bear a modicum of disappointment and acquitted himself splendidly, with Felix running alongside cheering like a rowing coach.
I confess that by the time I arrived all Al’s races had been run. Remiss Auntie Kate. But Al was lined up as a spectator to watch the big kids, and for a small boy with finite patience and a carefully rationed concentration span, he watched quite beautifully.
And then the revels were ended, and it was time for picnics with parents. And Al charged across the running lanes to join the picnic bag, and also coincidentally, his mum and myself.
Al had not finished his running, though.
Because the great, vast circular running track was now vacant. Open to all comers, so to speak. No-one was going to stop anyone from running and running and running.
Except Al’s Mum.
His whole being was angled towards the running track. His legs were bent, his arms crooked in that runner pose, his very spirit yearned to be pounding the grass which, of late, his year six heroes had been pounding.
But his head – wisely – was still listening to his mother.
“No, Al,” she was saying. “We are eating our picnic. And that means we sit down and concentrate on eating. You can run on the track later.”
Al’s being could hear the siren song of the track. It was singing loudly. And alluringly. It remained to be seen whether it would drown out the voice of his mother.
He stood like a statue. “But I want to run. The track’s empty. I want to run round and round!”
But his negotiation was getting nowhere. “No, Al, ” my sister said, shaking her head firmly. “It’s time to sit down.”
Still, the statue did not move. The legs remained poised to shoot away like a rocket hero.
My sister sighed. Exasperated, she tried another tack.
“Look, Al: do you see anyone else AT ALL running on the track? It is picnic time. Do you see anyone else running round the track?”
It was a gamble: we could see that in retrospect. One not destined to pay off. For with the bizarre synchronicity which so often haunts the very young, events took an unexpected turn.
For from stage right, hurtling past the pushchairs, completely oblivious of mother or picnic or anything much else, a little boy bombed into vision, and tore off around the track.
Any tiny vestige, any wisp of self-control Al had left disappeared. Fate had intervened. Split-second life had spoken, and almost simultaneously, it seemed that fate had overruled his mother. Like a bullet out of a gun, the small blonde figure shot off and was soon a speck on the far side of the running track.
At which point, he got tired. And lay down for a nap.