Written by Annie Caulfield


Just for fun?

Annie Caulfield thinks she might quite enjoy sport and games if it weren’t for all the rabid competitiveness. This Girl Can? Great. But This Girl Can’t Be Bothered.

Picnic gone wrong

Illustration by Claire Jones.

“Don’t worry, you’ll pick it up quickly, it’s just a bit of fun,” my friends said, inviting me to go sailing with them.

The sun was glinting on the sea; there was a brisk snap in the breeze… But I have learnt that there are several things nobody on Earth does just for fun: assemble flat pack furniture, chiropody, or any kind of sport or games.

People you’ve known to be light-hearted, devil-may-care types for years, will lure you into their shiny boat on the sparkling sea. They’ll promise you laughs, exhilaration and rum at sunset. What will happen instead is you’ll get drenched and everyone will start barking orders at you as you find yourself strangled with ropes and impaled on a hook. Finally you’ll be screamed at for not concentrating and spoiling it for everyone else.

Never mind an activity with potential for death by drowning like sailing; I’ve been screamed at for failure to concentrate in Buckaroo. Not a sport? Try telling that to the people who roared at me for putting Blu-Tack on the prospector’s bucket. I thought such blatant attempts to cheat would amuse adults playing a game for five-year-olds. But no, there were people at the table who really cared if they won or lost.

I’m making these points as if someone out there might agree with me. This is silly of me, because experience is teaching me that my limited competitive spirit is just not normal. People start in with sports or games and become transported back through the evolutionary cycle, to a time when we were all clawing and scratching in the primordial swamp to be the first one to grow legs.

I’d probably have been left behind then, too. I’d have been that lump of cells, lolling about in the ooze saying, “Why’s everyone shouting? I thought you said the evolving was just for fun.”

“Buckaroo isn’t a sport? Try telling that to the people who roared at me for putting Blu-Tack on the prospector’s bucket.”

Time and again I’ve been at a summer picnic and somebody wrecks it by suggesting a game of rounders. We’re in an idyllic setting, bellies swollen with many tiny snacks, people are chatting and laughing – but they’re all getting uneasy, feeling they’re frittering their lives away in non-competitive activity.

I say, “No, I’m happier just sitting here.”

In fact I’d be happier just sitting there giving myself a bamboo manicure than playing rounders but no one ever believes me.

I say, “But I can’t hit the ball and I run like a hobbled camel.”

“It doesn’t matter about that,” they cry. “It’s just for fun!”

They go on and on.

“If you really promise me it’s just for a laugh,” I say.

“Yes, yes, we promise,” they lie.

And there I am: tricked, miserable on the outer field, getting screamed at for missing the ball as it flies past me.

Then everyone starts to turn on each other, arguing about who’s out and who moved the cardigan marking second base. Soon followed by someone throwing the bat down, swearing, flinging themselves on the picnic rug and refusing to play any more. Or they stand at the sidelines shrieking that they’ve never liked any of us and they’ve slept with everyone’s partners, twice. Then they stomp all over the profiteroles, take away the picnic rug, which is theirs anyway, and they are going home now, so there.

“The real purpose of sports and games isn’t to bond people; it’s to reveal their true characters. Where’s the fun in that?”

Not only do they provoke violence at the time, but sports and games also ruin friendships permanently. How can the profiterole stomper ever be welcomed back into the circle of friends? She may say, “I didn’t mean it and I was making it up about the partners.” But there will always be that shadow of doubt, caused by her, the rounders-cheating slut.

Similarly, when I pass my sailing friends heading off towards the marina in their bright coloured outfits, they pretend they haven’t seen me. They’re terrified I’ll ask to come out with them again and I’ll start hurling hysterical, tearful abuse because they’ve yelled at me for not reacting fast enough to some near-capsize incident. They feel my behaviour in the boat revealed something about my character that’s feckless, uncooperative, cowardly and irrational. They don’t want to be my friends any more.

There’s the thing, the real purpose of sports and games isn’t to bond people; it’s to reveal their true characters. Where’s the fun in that? Think about the times you’ve been shocked to find an apparently trustworthy friend hiding title deeds in Monopoly. Caught in their ruthless cheating, they’ll kick over the board, weeping, telling you how much they’ve always despised you…

So this is my advice: I am the only person to involve in sports and games if you really just want to have fun. And I’m not playing.

Sadly, Annie died in November, 2016. Please consider donating to the Macmillan tribute fund set up by her sister Jo Caulfield in Annie’s name. https://macmillan.tributefunds.com/annie-caulfield

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Written by Annie Caulfield

Annie Caulfield is a dramatist, travel writer and broadcaster. Originally from Northern Ireland, she lives in London or a Spanish cave. www.anniecaulfield.com