After filling the car with bags of clothes, kit, and birthday cake on Friday, we set off late in the morning for a park just outside of Tewkesbury, in Gloucestershire. The girls rugby team our middle daughter plays for were staging their first ever tour – taking the team away for a weekend of rugby, bonding, and any other idiocy that could be summoned at a reasonable price in the middle of nowhere.
The journey took us through Oxfordshire – past signs for the town I grew up. It seemed strange, seeing local place-names I haven’t seen for the better part of twenty years. We were also reminded of something we didn’t miss about Oxford itself as we inched past the city in heavy traffic for an hour and a half.
After finally leaving Oxford behind, Tewkesbury appeared on road signs, and phones throughout the car got switched to various map applications to help us to the destination – like countless times before we had programmed the sat-nav in the car with the postcode – not the actual address. You only have to get that wrong a couple of times before you begin checking en-route.
We found our destination for the weekend, checked in, and then found the team members and their families that had already arrived – settling into two facing rows of wooden chalets. I say “chalets”, but they were more “wooden sheds with bunk beds and heaters”. Basic, but comfortable, great value, and perfect for our purposes.
Not long after arriving a coaching session was held on a nearby field with several visiting coaches putting the girls through their paces. Both of our girls kitted up – to my surprise – marking the first time our youngest had taken any part in rugby for at least six months. The way the rest of the girls took her under their wing (she was by far the youngest – turning 14 on Saturday – was wonderful to see) – they wrote her a birthday card, signed by the entire team, and also voted her “player of the tour”.
After the coaching session, we all headed back to clean ourselves up, and then set off in search of the main camp restaurant and entertainment building – a huge wooden cabin alongside a lake. The food was hearty, and tasted wonderful – being served to the queue of children and parents like a field kitchen of sorts.
After eating we shuffled through to the adjoining bar, and discovered we were not the only rugby team on-site – two other boys teams were present – one of which had arrived earlier in the day, and the parents and coaches were already the worse for wear. I get it – it’s a holiday for the parents and coaches too, but there’s a line you don’t cross while you’re in charge of children, and they crossed it mid-afternoon. By the late evening they were at risk of being reported by just about everybody in the room.
There was one moment where things might have escalated, but we (wisely I think) decided not to start anything. One of the drunk coaches fell towards our youngest daughter, who was sitting on the outside of her team-mates – causing her to recoil and scream out – which of course caused every parent in the room to stop what they were doing and watch. Thankfully nothing did happen – we spirited Miss 14 away, and she sat with us for the remainder of the evening.
Anyway! Enough about them – I’m not going to name the team because they’ve almost certainly had a written report from the bar staff filed against them – if not their own parents, who staged some kind of confrontation with their own coaches outside their chalets in the early hours – we didn’t hear it because we all fell straight asleep.
While all the mayhem was going on in the bar, a peculiar 60-something-year-old-man was running a Karaoke evening on the main stage – with various rugby players taking to the stage and singing hilariously badly. Our entire team took to the stage at one point and sang something entirely forgettable particularly badly too. When a Dad from one of the other teams took to the stage and actually COULD sing, it kind of ruined it for everybody else.
The next morning – having all drunk a little bit too much the night before, we all got back up for a cooked breakfast at 7:30am, and then a trip to Cinderford rugby club – a few miles down the road. I had a shower before breakfast, and got my first experience of the communal shower block, and the spectacularly cold initial jets of water. I hid in the corner of my stall while waiting for the water to not cause hypothermia, then quickly washed my hair before pulling my t-shirt and underwear back on, and running back to the chalet. My other half looked at me in disbelief as I burst through the door in my underwear, accompanied by an icy blast of air. The skies were blue all weekend, but the temperature regularly dropped to freezing.
We arrived at Cinderford a little after 10am, with a game scheduled for 11. Our girls team would be playing theirs, and then we were invited to stay and watch their first team play later in the afternoon.
Quite apart from the biting cold, perhaps the highlight of the first part of the day was watching the lone under-18 player on our squad face-off against one of the Cinderford girls that had been repeatedly warned for bad sportsmanship. Fingers were pointed at faces – words were exchanged – and the opposition player got sent off.
We lost the game, but the girls didn’t seem to mind – the under-18 that had stood her ground had attained hero status throughout the squad, and had really shown them the way in terms of standing up for their team. It was impressive stuff – I’m never getting into an argument with her.
In the afternoon we all huddled in the stands and watched the local first 15 play against Darlington. While most of the adults were busy watching a very entertaining rugby match, we kept hearing snippets of the under-15s conversations. Lets just say they were watching something, but it wasn’t the game. It put to bed – no pun intended – the myth that teenage boys are the only ones with sex on the brain.
After getting home, washing, changing clothes, doing makeup, and whatever else a group of teenage girls do, we all headed back to the camp restaurant for dinner, and started on the beer again. It’s going to take my liver some time to recover – I’m really not used to drinking any more. The “entertainment” was a guy playing guitar and singing all manner of hits very badly, and another guy sitting on a wooden packing crate equipped with microphones, hitting it to make a rhythm. I didn’t really mind their “every song sounds the same” drawl until they completely murdered “Free Fallin'” – the Tom Petty classic that was also recorded by John Mayer in possibly the best acoustic cover of anything ever. Their version sounded more like an angry tramp kicking a box in a mental asylum while ranting in a monotone drawl.
Thankfully the boys team coaches seemed much quieter than they had been the previous night – perhaps already aware that their club was in rather a lot of trouble.
On Sunday we had no games planned, but did have a mysteriously titled “Kangaroo Court” pencilled in for 10am. Following another cooked breakfast we all gathered between the chalets and the coaches appeared wearing judges wigs, with clipboards. One at a time the players were summoned to hear charges brought against them – everything from “being injured”, to “dancing on the pitch” were reprimanded. Our middle girl was accused of being a card shark in the bar (which she was). The girls were given the choice of eating a number of dry crackers in a minute, eating neat tabasco sauce, or eating a spoon full of dog food. Our girl – who normally plays front-row in the scrum – held up decades of tradition of front row players by choosing the dog food – then threw it up spectacularly, to cheers from all the players and parents (she was fine, and was laughing herself, inbetween spitting, and coughing).
Only afterwards did the coaches reveal that the dog food had actually been a disguised tin of beef stew.
Following all of the players being found guilty, a spirited game of rounders took place on the training field with both players and parents – for those elsewhere in the world, rounders is kind of a simplified version of baseball. Never has so little talent been shown by so many in such a short space of time.
Afterwards we found ourselves at a loose end for several hours, so we wandered into nearby Tewkesbury and explored the Abbey – a huge church that dates back about 800 years. It always amuses me when churches claim such heritage – invariably one small corner of their construction goes back that far, and the rest has been built no later than two to three hundred years ago – sometimes much more recently.
We wandered into the Abbey tea shop, and were quietly eating cakes and drinking tea when one of the elderly waitresses couldn’t help asking about our clothing. We had completely forgotten – while on-tour, all of the parents and children at the rugby club had been given green hoodies with the club badge on the chest, and a tour acronym stamped across the back. We were all sitting around the table in our bright green hoodies – we must have looked very odd indeed.
Finally – last night – after a roast dinner in the camp restaurant, we headed off for the final group activity of the tour – a game of crazy golf at a nearby shopping mall. It was a great way of relaxing after several days away with the team, and as I noted to one of the other parents while doing hilariously badly – not something that anybody could take too seriously without making a total idiot of themselves.
This morning – while eating yet another cooked breakfast (the third in a row) – I looked around the restaurant at a very tired group of parents and children. We were all ready to head home – and after half an hour re-packing the contents of the chalets back into cases, loading them into cars, and saying our goodbyes, that’s exactly what we did.
We’re home now. I hit the ground running when I got home – unloaded the car, cut the grass, and started the washing machine. My other half is uploading many hundreds of photos to the internet while I write this on the old iMac. I imagine these words will become a post at some point later this evening.
I think I can hear that the washing machine has finished.