It’s been a spectacular sporting week. For me, I mean. Finally, appropriately somehow, I’m perched casually but respectfully within Porthmawr Surf Life Saving Club’s inner sanctum, with what amounts to a Lifeguard’s view of Whitesands beach, Pembrokeshire. I’m at the back, effectively of the lookout, aware of the sun and the bright, cold blue sea, easing towards me, the water loaded with belly-boarders and squealing kids and further off my son cruising the surf on a banana-boat of a longboard. It’s a scene that has an epic, quietly stirring quality – like some finale, perhaps.
This may be just ‘cos it’s Friday(?) Or it may be that my energy, drained to nil following an extraordinary and outstanding week, seeps out to the horizon. Whatever, let me tell you what’s been happening.
Spent 3 days up in Aberystwyth in my capacity as coach to a (junior) regional cricket team – perhaps it’s best if I don’t specify entirely. Smallish boys, possibly sleeping away from mum and dad for the first time, playing competitive/festival cricket. Individual rooms – six along my corridor, six with my colleague. Parents and guardians are typically staying locally, but not in fact allowed to dorm with their children, who ultimately finish up 2 or even 3 to a room. (Sweet!) Perfectly acceptable if functional rooms, with bistro style and quality grub – and loads of it.
Our cricket was a real success, the lads playing with the heightened focus of those energised by a) a challenge b) an adventure c) a shit hot coach. However, two meals in – that is, after a packed lunch and then the evening meal Monday night, certain foodie issues have arisen.
When I say foodie I’m not talking Otto Lenghi. I’m talking (only) relating to food in a conceptual way rather than anything qualitative. Because food appeared to exist in theory for these hungry young boys, but not in practice. They failed to eat; or they certainly failed to eat meals.
Instead, even when gently encouraged by myself to think about re-fuelling sensibly for the next bout of sporting combat, the lads chose snacks. Make that ‘snacks’. When presented with an actually pretty decent turkey salad sandwich, plus apple, crisps and mid-range drink (by this I mean faux-healthy fruited water rather than total shocker) they chose crisps only. When presented with bistro-quality nose-baggings at evening meal – following a 35 over per innings cricket match – including several good and undemanding opportunities for mid-range healthy eating they typically chose only chips, or chips with the plainest lump of meat available, most of which was soon discarded. At every meal salad, broccoli, carrots, peas were present, but like the girl at the school disco with the allegedly smelly knickers, they remained tragically and notably unpicked. On every occasion mum or dad was actually at hand, the following conversation would he heard
Ya hungry, I bet?
You telling me there was nothing, nothing you liked?
Go and get yourself something…
Cue the tinkle ping shlapp of a vending machine and the arrival of… fanta/coke/fruit shoot plus lion bar or equivalent. Meanwhile I had feasted on pork loin with noodles, plus salad plus (because it was free) coupla roasties, brocc/carrots peas and fruit salad to finish. Or, okay, carrot cake.
After evening meals, football; we ventured out onto the nearby astro-turf to further entertain our 12 tired but by now increasingly vocal players. They ran around like maniacs for two further hours, pretty much. (I meanwhile, more heavily loaded, adopted the Baresi role, bringing magnificent and clinical order to the otherwise skeletal defence). They were weirdly greedy goal-hangers.
On returning to the University dorms, a calming game of charades had to be abandoned before ear drums were actually burst. They’d gone utterly mental, these kids, with tiredness and excitement, yes, but as I live and breathe the clear and unanswerable truth was they were beyond hyper with setts of sugar rushes, with additives, with non-food crap. I have never seen wild, wide-eyed looney-toonerdom so up front and obvious. On two consecutive nights, even with a deal of coaching the alternatives, these boys were hysterical.
Arguably I should have set out my stall on this one a tad earlier – the sophisticated away team notion that suggests look, listen and learn you Rooneyesque plebs. But I am no health fascist; I don’t know enough to be a complete bore on this one. And yet even from the point of view of a gastro-dunce I am compelled to risk the following, especially given that these kids are in fact budding elite sportsmen.
- What gives? How can these kids get to this food-free place when they and their parents have gotten and are getting a reasonable lump of education on food issues?
- Have they really been allowed to by-pass fuit and veg? Really?!?
- At what level should I be intervening?
- Is it already too late?
- If our real sporting talents – all of these guys are decent, one or two are close to Wales level cricketers – are this shockingly bad at ‘looking after themselves’, what does this mean for us more generally?
- Should we knocking their parents heads together?
- How do we pay for the hysterical fatties of the future?
We had a wonderful time at the cricket festival – we even had Cardiff and the Vale on the rack. The kids were fabulous company, they tried their hearts out, I am so proud of every one of them. But Jesus, when it comes to eating, things go weirdly, weirdly wrong.