It is imperative that you excuse my son Rory from taking part in outdoor sporting activities: rugby, soccer and hockey are entirely out of the question.
As an educationalist, you will appreciate that certain pupils have ‘special needs’. Few, if any, have needs that are more intensely special than those of this gifted, sensitive and deeply intellectual boy.
At this critical stage of Rory’s development, exposure to the rigours of the sports field could trigger an irreversible physical and psychological disintegration.
Naturally I wish to support the school’s sporting ethos. Rory’s consultant and I are eager that he should take as much appropriate exercise as possible – swimming, for example.
With this in mind, I am considering making a donation of £1.75 million to fund an Olympic-sized heated pool.
I feel sure, Headmaster, that you will have no difficulty in complying with my request.
L A Keegan (Mrs)
It’s lunchtime on a granite-cold January afternoon and, regrettably, my mother has once again failed to write this letter. So, barring a lucky outbreak of bubonic plague, it looks like I’m going have to face my fate: I’m sentenced to rugby.
Boys are heading upstairs to get changed. I stall, extending my piano practice by five minutes: Scarlatti (Grade 1) needs me. By the time I get there, the dorm’s deserted. I rush into my kit, clatter downstairs and check the team lists, ranged in hierarchy from the Olympus of the First XV to the grungy depths of my team – the Junior Scraps.
I huff and puff up the hill and along half a mile of pavement to the Scraps’ prestigious twice-weekly venue in a rented-out farmer’s meadow.
Despite my inaptitude for team sports, I’m not too bad at running. At least it warms me up and gives me time to prepare for the challenge that lies ahead. I am about to exercise the power of my will.
Raising an eyebrow, Mr Carter (cords, duffle coat, college scarf, bobble hat) checks me off his list. I take my position – full back (where else?) – and the incomprehensible ritual begins.
‘I am invisible. I am invisible. I am invisible.’ As I murmur my mantra, my breath forms arctic cloudlets. And it’s working. A confusion of boys is doing something violent in a steamy blur at the far end of the field. Stay there, guys.
Gradually the combination of wind-chill and mental exertion numbs me into submission. Rooks flap up from the skeleton trees, black splodges on a moleskin sky. The two white aitches tower impassively over us – twenty-nine true believers, and one just-visible heretic.