It’s 9.30am, Saturday morning, and I am standing bare-legged in a muddy field: hard, cold rain pelting my t-shirted shoulders, icy wind blowing a gale up my skirt.

In one hand, I carry a long stick with a net on the end, while the other is in the grim clasp of the opponent I’ve been instructed to shake hands with. “Hi! I’m Clare,” I introduce myself, brightly. “I’m pretty rubbish at this; in fact, the chances are strongly in your favour.” She looks at me warily, like this is some kind of distraction technique – but by the end of the game, I’ll have managed to convince her. Though I loved playing, turned up to practice religiously and enter into every game with gusto, I was – and still am, I suspect – genuinely bad at lacrosse.

I can’t run very fast – being by nature more of a long distance girl – and the art of running, holding a ball in my stick and cradling it (a strange motion in which you wiggle the stick from side to side) at the same time eluded me. I could almost catch the ball – but when it comes to ball games, almost-catching doesn’t get many goals.

Fortunately for the school, I was in the B team – which in some schools would be an esteemed position but at St Helen’s meant losing most games and winning, by total fluke, just a handful. On one memorable occasion we lost three games at a tournament just because we forgot which pitch we were on.

We were, in short, a shambles – but man, did we have fun with it. Pressure off (if we turned up, we’d exceeded the school’s expectations) we were free to enjoy the game for what it was: a means of meeting mates, getting some fresh air and exercising with a common goal loosely in mind. If the goal was reached, it was a bonus: if not, we’d still worked out, mucked in and had a laugh in the process.

Free of the pre-match nerves, we enjoyed both the coach journey there, with its banter and colourful energy bars; and the ride back, where our ‘post match analysis’ consisted of raucous re-enactments punctuated with laughter. We enjoyed ourselves: a feeling which those who are good at team sports can often miss out on because the pressure’s on and if they mess up, their team mates point the finger, shout angrily, or talk about them behind their back.

Taylor ball

These are the joys to be found in a team sport when you stop worrying about how well you’re playing, and start asking why you’re playing. Yes, you’re playing to win – but unless there are lives or great prizes at stake, aren’t you playing for something more?

Of course, it is not just ‘the taking part that counts’, as with all things you get out what you put in, and there’s honour as well as more exercise in trying hard. But stop (not on the pitch, obvs) and look at the game as a whole and you will reap rewards so much more more satisfying than cups, trophy shields and goals.

You’ll be stronger: not just physically (though being able to stand up to your brother’s pretty great) but mentally too. Exercise and fresh air works wonders for the brain as much as for the bod, releasing chemicals which make you feel good (endorphins) and improving memory and performance. Besides, it is character building, persisting in something you find challenging – even if (in fact, especially if) you are used to being top of the class in everything else.

Most people give up activities they aren’t very good at. But the funny thing is, it’s often in doing the stuff you’re not good at that you find other strengths. One B-team mate’s insistence on hitting the ball round the field rather than carrying it in the stick brought her to hockey; my flat inability to reach any speed higher than steady jog is what lead me to cross-country running; and of course, there is always the possibility that you might get better at the sport itself. Many of our B team ended up in the As.

I didn’t. Even now ball games elude me. But the memories of our floundering on the pitch, and the fits of giggles afterwards – they’re still strong. Honed by hilarious defeats, our team’s sense of humour equipped us with one of the most invaluable life skills: the ability to laugh at ourselves.


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Image: Diary of a Wimpy Kid

First part-time jobs are a scary but important leap into the unknown world of adulthood.

We all have a similar story, which goes a bit like this:

You spot a pair of heeled ankle boots on the Topshop website that you simply must own. So, you ask mum or dad to buy them and rather than simply saying ‘yes, but only if you wash the dishes for a month’ or ‘maybe, if you hoover the car and mow the lawn’, they put down whatever they are holding and ask you to sit down. At this point, you know it’s serious. They then proceed to tell you that if you want nice things, you have to work for them – it’s time to get a part time job.

The injustice of it, eh?! You are their beloved child; how can they demand such a thing?! You work hard at school all day and now you’re expected to work during your precious free time?! Humph.

But take comfort in knowing that we all have to do it and we all hate it and we all begrudgingly take that first step into life as a grownup like we’re wading through treacle.

Washing up woes

My first job was working as a Kitchen Porter.

There I was, aged 15, surrounded by a kitchen full of angry men who shouted at the waiting staff and piled hot, greasy, stained pots and pans in my two trusty sinks. I was TERRIFIED and boy was I slow.

It was my duty to clean the kitchen; wash, dry and put away anything that went through the sinks; take out the bins; and sometimes – if I was lucky – help prepare the food. My pot washing partner in crime was an elderly man called Victor and, even with arthritic hands, he’d wash ten pots in the same time it took me to tackle just one.

On one very memorable evening, I pressed my foot down on the pedal of the bin to throw in some rubbish. I had not realised that a fancy, meaty terrine was placed on top of the bin, and I watched in slow motion horror as the opening lid propelled the terrine into flight. It landed in the sink, causing a huge splash in the soapy water. The chef was not happy.

Suffice to say, I lasted one summer there.

Worst waitress in town

A year later, my friend kindly got me a job as a waitress at the golf club restaurant she already worked at. Wearing my crisp white shirt, black skirt and smart pumps, I felt like this was the job I was destined to do. I’d be a waitressing whizz like Rachel from Friends, Amelie Poulain, MJ from Spiderman and Sookie Stackhouse from True Blood.

But guess what? Yup, I sucked.

I was nervous and shy around guests, jealously observing the other girls who seemed to laugh and joke with them so naturally. I hated getting up on a Sunday morning to serve hundreds of heavenly Sunday dinners, knowing that my mum’s homemade one was waiting in the oven at home. And one time, while topping up teas and coffees, I dropped a tea cup and a plate on an elderly woman’s head. HER HEAD. I can’t even write that without wincing at my younger self. Thankfully, it was empty and she laughed it off.

I was mortified once more, and didn’t turn up for my next shift.

So what did I learn?

Working in that kitchen taught me that we all make mistakes. Sure, I ruined the terrine but who on earth placed it on the bin in the first place? The chef, that’s who! And he was probably kicking himself hard for making his own mistake of placing it there. Even today, I find typos in my published work or accidentally send emails to the wrong person – but no one really cares, because these things happen to everybody, so go easy on yourself.

The guilt I felt about not calling and speaking to the golf club manager about quitting still plagues my dreams to this day. It was really not cool that I chose just not to go in to work my next shift. I paid the price by answering the phone the following day and having one of the most awkward conversations of my life with the manager, who was not very happy with me. It’s so important to treat employers and colleagues with respect and to communicate with them properly, even if it’s an uncomfortable conversation that makes clipping your granny’s toenails seem like a more appealing option.

I also learned from both jobs that you can’t be great at everything, and there’s nothing wrong with that. You have to give different things a try to find out whether or not it’s for you. After failing my attempt at being the world’s greatest waitress, I soon find myself working in retail and I continued to do this throughout university. I now work in a completely different area, but it’s the experience of all those previous roles that got me here.

And now for the most important lesson…

There’s nothing quite like holding a payslip in hand and thinking ‘I worked really hard for this’. And the feeling that makes it all worthwhile, is slipping into those boots and strutting around the bedroom knowing that you made this glorious moment happen for yourself.