~ Posted by Maggie Fergusson, March 27th 2013
"The apple never falls far from the tree." That’s the saying Andrew Solomon turns on its head in "Far From the Tree", his new study of parents whose children have proved a surprise to them.
In a modest way, I’m one of these. The odds against my having a sporty child were long. My school was small enough that almost every girl was in a team. Not me. In the summer term, during rounders, I was the deep, deep fielder, lying in the rough grass, miles from the action. One PE report read simply, "Heavy landings".
My husband was the same. After watching him for the first time on the football pitch, his father took himself off and drowned his disappointment in drink. So when it came to buying a house—one small daughter in arms, another on the way—we ignored the estate agent’s warnings that the one we liked was lacking in "outside space". We wanted inside space, plenty of walls to fill with shelves, and books. And that, we assumed, was what our children would want too.
I don’t know when it dawned on us that our younger daughter was different. She began in a small way, kicking a ball about with the boys at break time, and again on the street after tea. Then she became obsessed with the kit, insisting on regular visits to Sports Direct to hang out among the slimy tops and psychedelic boots. Copies of Match! began to slip through the letterbox alongside the TLS. Liverpool, she decided, was her team. She plastered her bedroom walls with posters of Steven Gerrard, and in the bath at night began to sing soulfully, to the tune of “Let it Be”,
“Steeeevie G, Stevie G, Stevie G, oooooh Stevie G…”
One afternoon, she came with me to a meeting about the Royal Society of Literature at the home of the biographer Michael Holroyd. His wife, the novelist Margaret Drabble, kindly engaged her in conversation—about football. Before I knew it, she was demonstrating a victory skid, proudly skinning her knees on their drawing-room carpet, T-shirt pulled triumphantly over her head.
But things moved into a different gear entirely last term when she became captain of the school girls’ football team. Wednesdays now meant a 7.30am start, armed with a high-energy drink, for “training”. Footballs ricocheted around the kitchen (not even an "eat-in" kitchen: the estate agent warned us about that too) as she honed her "skills". Her dream was to lead her team to victory in the Hammersmith and Fulham Mayor’s Cup; and last Friday (pictured) the dream came true.
Today, she and the team are at Crystal Palace, competing in the London Youth Games. Next term, they’ve been promised training from one of the Chelsea coaches. She seems further from the tree than ever; but the tree is proud.
Maggie Fergusson is literary editor of Intelligent Life and director of the Royal Society of Literature. Her recent posts for the Editors' Blog include How Edward VII lost his mistresses and Orkney's shortest day