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Headless Chickens….

I’ve been reading quite a few articles recently about mums and dads wanting to carve out more “Me” time in their lives to spend doing the things they want to do. I think the concept of time spent on a hobby, sport or other pastime is very important and, for some, literally a lifesaver.

It’s just that right now I’m feeling the opposite. I would dearly love to spend more time with the Man-Hog and the Mini-Pigs. Something that seems impossible to organise. It is not me separating myself off. No. It’s THE SCHEDULE.

Those of you out there with babies and toddlers experiencing the full-on 24/7 that comes with that territory are not aware yet of the subtle shift that begins to seep in at around 9-10 years old. We spend our kids’ formative years teaching them life skills, independence and self-esteem only to have that come and bite us right on the behind about 10 years into Project Parenthood.

With independence and confidence comes exploration and activity. The kids want to do, see, experience and embrace everything they can – in addition to all the activities they already do that we, as their nurturing parents, have arranged. And my local area, for a rural community, is surprisingly comprehensive in its variety of opportunities. So it is not enough that Mini-Pig Boy plays or trains for football three times a week already. Now there is rugby and, today, a vague murmuring of rock-wall climbing Saturday club. Mini-Pig Girl already spends as much time out with friends as she can (pocket-money and catty girl group arguments permitting!). Now she’s playing netball league (albeit at my instigation) and is out two nights a week minimum. She is also looking for Saturday work which will no doubt eat up a further day of the week that I then cannot spend with her. I can’t selfishly stand in the way of her earning her own money. She has Primark and Hollister Co. to support after all. Single-handedly it feels like! Thank goodness for quite hefty teeth braces still present in the mouth – at least boyfriends are not on her personal radar too just yet.

Man-Hog has started going to the gym a few times per week to coincide with the Boy’s football training. Consequently I have a giant toddler in the house again nodding off into his dinner plate and emerging, gravy-stained, to stagger up the stairs for a hose-down and an early night – the gym having sucked the life-force out of him. Between this and his plans to manfully prevent our 400 year-old house crumbling to a dusty heap while the woodworm point and laugh openly, he really is quite busy. I haven’t had Loose Women‘s entire lunchtime episode re-told to me in weeks. I am happy about that, by the way!

Me – well I’ve just come back from a weekend’s race-sailing. Not a weekly occurrence, I grant you, but a hobby that cannot be done within an hour’s session; that requires at least two days to achieve anything useful. I play netball twice a week, every week, and work 12-15 hour days with the commute. I’m not complaining about it, it is just how it is at the moment.

Besides all this, the Man-Hog and I still try to fit in an adult social life. Even more important in a country environment where effort must be made to meet up.

So we have had to devise THE SCHEDULE. A running tote of who will expire from exhaustion first. (My money’s on the Man-Hog – he’s out of practice and likely to fall at the first hurdle.) THE SCHEDULE allows our poor over-taxed neurons to work out who is going to be where and require picking up at what time. It has addresses and driving directions to sports fixtures all over Sussex. It has netball grids of all three teams playing league in Eastbourne each week. It also contained, up until last weekend, the days and times of England’s rugby World Cup journey. Hmph. Those slots have now been filled by domestic tasks and the occasional foray to the supermarket. Shortly, I suspect, it will have the times at which we may pee and sit down. I kid you not.

What THE SCHEDULE does not contain, nor seems willing to factor into its demanding little squares, is any family time. I miss my family. I miss having the Mini-Pigs sitting on my lap watching Thunderbirds on a Sunday morning. I miss sprawling on the floor with the Man-Hog and his Sunday papers munching baked doughnuts from the local village shop with a side order of calorific-guilt – so bad, yet so good. I miss little people bathtimes where many a fun moment was had with a kitchen jug and some silly string. I even miss the “I’m boooorrrreeeedddd!” whines of the recent summer holiday…..I know! Shocker! But at least we were together and bored. I clearly didn’t appreciate that time enough.

I could choose to curtail family activities that stop us spending much time together but I shy away from clipping their wings in these days of computer games, endless TV and potential childhood obesity. I could say no to shopping trips, sleepovers and playdates at weekends, but wouldn’t I just make myself entirely unpopular and the recipient of several gut-shaking door slams? I could cut the labels out of Man-Hog’s jeans so the size doesn’t upset him and force him to the treadmill; but wouldn’t such marital deceit be discovered eventually, inducing a crisis necessitating his dive into the nearest comforting Pot Noodle?

So no, I will not do that, For now, THE SCHEDULE, like a Cyber-Man on a completely incomprehensible episode of Doctor Who, rules the world. I am holding my breath and hoping that, in continuing, I won’t wake up in a few years and regret giving in to it. I hope family time will return, perhaps in a newer and even more fulfilling way, at some later date. Until then, I do have some nice nostalgic photos and a lot of netball trainers to console me.

What about you? Me-time or family-time: how are you making it work?

Umpire Strikes Back….A Bit Too Often

Netball – the beautiful game. I truly believe that, played properly, it is an extremely skilful, tactical test of mental and physical ability. Of course if you play it like me, it’s more like watching your one-legged Granny trying to hurdle over some over-filled skips but nevertheless, I strive to be better each time I play.

Tonight’s league match was a disaster in so many ways I have neither the strength nor the lightness of typing finger to go into all the reasons why we didn’t win. Sour losing grapes aside, one of the principal reasons was simply bad umpiring.

Our league is a friendly one and all the teams appreciate that the umpires are amateurs and only get paid a pittance for turning up each week. Most are good, fair and games proceed smoothly. What I cannot condone is the league using umpires who clearly aren’t ready, confident or knowledgeable enough to do the job properly.

The FA, RFU, LTA and England Netball all bang on about respect for the umpire; about not arguing with decisions made during play; about bowing ostensibly to someone who knows best. At national level, I can appreciate that certain standards of umpiring/refereeing are rigorously maintained allowing consistency and therefore fairness to prevail. Not so at local level.

Many a local league football game has a willing supporter “run the line” checking for off-side, fouls, throw-ins etc. Netball too relies on amateur umpires; hunters turned gamekeepers if you will. Decisions and interpretation are a lottery. Some of the ref or linesman calls made in haste or because of a fundamental lack of understanding are shocking.

What I cannot stand most of all is losing goals or points in a game to poor decision-making by the ref. It irritates me beyond belief. If you don’t know your arse from your elbow, don’t put yourself out there. I wouldn’t know the offside rule in football if it came up and bit me on the butt but then I don’t pretend to and I certainly don’t put myself in a position of authority nor would I unless I knew exactly what I was talking about. Particularly when youngsters are involved – confidence is a fickle thing and one bad ref or decision can knock a kid back. It still knocks me at my great age and experience, so Lord knows what it does to a player just starting out. My own son was ruled to have fouled a player during a tackle in the box, leading to a penalty kicked goal to the other side. It wasn’t a foul – that’s not me saying, that’s EVERYONE who was there saying – it was a poor and too hasty refereeing decision. Son was mortified at “giving” a goal to the opponents and has never forgotten it. He’s 11 years old.

Sports governing bodies have invented a neat “get out of jail free” for quelling anyone who is aggrieved by a bad umpire. At least in netball. It’s called the “dissent” rule. Basically you cannot argue against an umpire’s decision – that would be dissent. In a game with two umpires, you cannot appeal one ref’s decision with the second umpire (even though in tonight’s match she openly admitted afterwards the other ref’s mistakes) – that would be dissent. You cannot trip over your own feet, graze your knees painfully on a concrete floor and mutter “Ooh bugger!” to no-one but yourself in the ref’s hearing – that would be dissent. Well, I have another name for it. Utter bollocks!

Why are players not permitted to question a wrong decision? “Don’t argue with the umpire” is trotted out as a lame litany in response. “The umpire is always right” is another. Well, actually, no.

In tennis, since the advent of the Hawkeye system, the LTA have allowed players to challenge some decisions – this has resulted in many an unjust ref call being overturned. And rightly so. No more “Chalk dust!” screeched by fuzzy-wigged Americans either, thank goodness.

Rugby too uses a TV monitor ref if there is any suggestion that the linesman or ref is not 100% sure what happened. The system works well and above all is fair to all. Rugby players engage with the ref on decision-making, penalties are explained and, before instantly penalising, players are guided. It makes for better players and therefore a better game.

Football and netball lag behind in acknowledging that refs and umpires are not perfect. I’m not advocating a free for all by any means – slanging matches and open hostility are not what I am talking about. But surely brief common sense dialogue should be allowed? Are we all to stand meekly by while a bad ref dictates the outcome of our games, because to argue leads to a penalty or sending off for “dissent”? Are refs and umpires so intimidated by a simple comment or query addressed to them that they instantly reach for the yellow card for protection?

Respect works both ways. So does communication. Players (and supporters) would have more respect for a ref who allows sensible dialogue in a contentious situation than for one who holds his hand up and refuses to engage. Players like me get angry when bad umpiring leads to an unfair advantage. We should be allowed to question in such situations without fear of penalty reprisal. Otherwise bad refs will continue to ref badly without recourse for the impact their actions have on a game, players will continue to be frustrated by a dictatorship of pretty poor quality and the whole idea of a ref as an objective unbiased overseer of the game rules becomes a farce.

Rant over!

What do you think? Should refs demand respect from players, or earn it?