When I was having dinner with friends in Amsterdam a couple of weeks ago, I had to explain how I’d acquired a big graze on my elbow. I said I’d been knocked off my bike on the way to what was going to be my very first beach volleyball lesson. After the initial questions about the accident (caused by a pedestrian crossing the road without looking, grr), one of my friends said: “I’m mainly shocked that you were going to play sport involving a ball, Anne.”
I hadn’t really thought about it, but she was right to be amazed: when we were at school together, I was pretty much the most un-sporty teenager you could ever encounter. I loathed PE. I was always the last to finish races, I couldn’t do rope climbing and my complete lack of hand-eye coordination meant I was hopeless at ball games. In one memorable incident, after a course of girls-only self-defence lessons, I was the ONLY one unable to karate chop a piece of wood in two with my hand. I even came back after school to try again, before finally admitting defeat and sloping off like a loser with a bruised hand.
In subsequent years, I haven’t exactly turned into a sports freak. Out of some vague desire to get fit, I had a brief dalliance with the gym when I was at university (I always felt out of place, looking like a sweaty beetroot after five minutes of physical exertion). I owned a road bike for a while, before I faced up to the fact that I was fucking terrified hurtling down busy roads with my feet fused to the pedals. I started running a couple of years ago, and have bouts of it where I drag myself panting along the seafront to the end of Hove Lawns and back. I do usually feel better after I’ve done it, but I’m not really interested in running faster or longer or anything. And I get shin splints. In summary, me and sports is an uncomfortable union if any.
Despite this, for some reason I watched people playing beach volley in the sand pit on the seafront and thought ‘that looks like it could be fun’. Back in June, I tried it for the first time at a friend’s birthday and kind of liked it. I was shit, of course: I missed almost every ball and the ones I did hit, I either knocked so hard they ended up three courts away or so pathetically they ended with a sad thud in the sand by my feet. But, I did lots of running and jumping and crashing in the sand and it was fun. So I decided to try it out.
I finally managed to book myself onto a class in late August after being unable to make them for a variety of reasons including social engagements, being away and classes being booked up. So when I landed on the tarmac on West Street, my first thought was ‘shit, now I won’t be able to try beach volley’. That was before I started crying, before you think I’m some sort of stoical tough nut. There’s nothing like sitting on the pavement being asked your age by an off-duty policeman, who has called 999 for you completely unnecessarily, and saying “34” in between sobs, to make you feel like you’re really getting somewhere in life.
Anyway. On Friday night, I finally went to my first beach volleyball class! Yes, it’s now autumn and it’s going to get cold and miserable soon but what the heck. Was I shit? Yes. Did I resemble a sweaty beetroot after five minutes? Yes. Do I give a fuck? No. Well, maybe a little bit. But I’m going again next week anyway.