When I was growing up, school sports were run on very clear gender lines. Boys played football (that’s ‘soccer’, for any Americans tuning in) and rugby during the winter and cricket in the summer. Girls played hockey and netball during the cold months and then switched to rounders after Easter.
Occasionally, though, we boys would end up playing rounders, too. I am not quite sure why this would happen, although I suspect that it would be when there was a shortage of staff and girls couldn’t possibly be expected to play cricket.
Which is how I came to be hit in the eye by a rounders ball. If you have never played the game, the balls are made of leather, slightly smaller than a tennis or baseball and slightly softer than a cricket ball. When they hit you they don’t hurt that much, unless they somehow get you in the eye.
The incident was fairly innocuous. This is no tale of being hit by a wildly inaccurate pitch. Aside from anything else, the rules of the game dictate that the ball is thrown underarm, which would make a blow to anywhere a lot less painful.
On this occasion, I was fielding in the outfield – I do nor know why, as I was a damn fine third base – and the ball was hit towards me along the ground. I knealt down to stop it, in a proper cricket fashion, turning my left side to the ball and setting my left leg as a barrier in case it slipped through my hands. Unfortunately, what actually happened was that the ball hit a stone, bounced up and hit me flush in the eye as I bent down to meet it.
There was pain. There may have been tears (how easy would it be to cry out of an eye you couldn’t open?) and there was consternation. I was led from the playing field to the school secretary’s office and thence to sit on a chair in a corner of the school hall.
The last bit I have never understood. Quite why I had to be kept in a large room with no-one in I do not know. I had a black eye, not bubonic plague.
Lunch time came and went. I sat there like a circus freak whilst the other kids ate. I was even told off by my form teacher, Mrs Higginbottom, for getting up and walking along the side of the hall to relieve the boredom and to demostrate that I wasn’t sat there as some kind of draconian punishment.
I remember, dimly, that there was a problem getting hold of my parents to come to collect me. I also recall that this was one of the occasions where I had been told something about Mum being out, but hadn’t taken it in at all and so wasn’t able to inform the school that they needed to call someone else.
None of which should obscure the fact that I did have a lovely black eye. Fortunately there was no long term damage. In fact, my family were at pains to point out how lucky I was as my Uncle Allan had had a similar accident with a cricket ball and needed to spend time in hospital as a result. You were never allowed to feel sorry for yourself for long in our house.