THE MUSIC MAKER
Mr Callaghan's front gate always proved the most difficult obstacle to negotiate. No matter how much we practised, the nearby unkempt shrubbery never failed to hamper our progress and prolong the long walk home by at least twenty minutes.
Paul Moorhouse and I were thirteen years old and we'd devised this elaborate game whereby we'd take turns to kick a stone along the pavement, the objective being to be the first one to hit the next gatepost/telegraph pole/drain pipe on our route. The rules were as strict as they were complex, involving penalty points, time limits and technique restrictions. Thus, what should have been a forty minute stroll home from school became a sort of stone-kicking endurance test, taking anything up to two and a half hours to complete and frequently causing us to miss our tea, with fish finger sandwiches being the only thing left to eat by the time we got back. Another bonus.
Mr Callaghan was a kindly old soul and he once pulled up in his car just as I was rifling a hot shot past its intended target straight into his prize rhododendrons.
"What in heaven's name are you boys doing?" His incredulous gaze was fixed firmly on his besieged flower bed.
"Nothing, Mr Callaghan. It's just a game we invented. Your gate's worth fifteen points, you see." I think we lost him at that point and he beetled off towards his front door muttering something about hell and a handcart.
All of these memories came flooding back to me this morning when I heard about Sky Brown on the news. She has become Britain's youngest ever Olympic medal winner after claiming bronze in the skateboarding event. She's thirteen. A Japanese girl Kokona Hiraki pipped Sky to the silver medal. She's twelve. The gold medallist, Sakura Yosozumi, is also Japanese - coming in at a rather ancient nineteen years old.
It brings unbounded joy to the heart just to hear about these things and they inevitably make you reflect on what you were doing at the same age. If only stone -kicking had been taken more seriously as a sport all those years ago, you might well have seen me and Paul Moorhouse on the Olympic podium as youngsters. Who knows how things might have turned out after that.
Meanwhile, the mind boggles just to think about the hours those girls must have practised their skateboarding skills after school in order to become elite Olympic medallists.
I wonder if they have fish finger sandwiches in Japan.