So, back home in Britain everyone (by which I mean a few newspaper columnists, obviously) has been harping on about the lack of competitiveness in sports in state schools and how, basically, most state schools’ idea of a good PE lesson is when all the kids just, like, queue up to give some fat, blind kid in a wheelchair a beanbag and then he gives them a hoop and they hop to the end of the PE hall with the hoop in their hand and then at the end everybody gets a chocolate medal, just for having taken part, even – or especially – the fat, blind kid in the wheelchair.
Whereas all the public school kids – by which, now pay attention non-Brits, by which I actually mean really posh private school kids – all had to do these really viciously, violently competitive sports like rugby and lacrosse and they just, like, sweated a lot and it was really vicious and violent, plus afterwards they had to have a cold shower – icy cold water in this icy cold shower – coz they’d sweated a lot with their lacrosse sticks and that – and then there was all this gay sex and even then only the best got medals. For their House – they didn’t even get to take the fucking medals home. That’s what everyone’s been saying. By which I mean a few newspaper columnists, obviously.
Well, I don’t know, to be totally honest. High School PE lessons looked pretty fucking competitive from where I was standing – which was usually this tiny little strip of corridor between the showers and the changing room. We had a male PE teacher, and he wasn’t allowed to go down that tiny strip of corridor. So me and my friend Monique, we used to hide there and practise smoking and not do any running about and sports and that, coz that was anstrengend. She even taught me to blow rings like a caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland or something once. It was ace.
So, everybody in Britain having this nervous breakdown about how non-competitive PE lessons in state schools are has been getting me thinking. Because I went to an average state school. It was perfectly average. Our text books were normally older than we were, and our school playing field was slightly larger than a stamp, I’m sure there were a lot of state schools that were a lot better than ours, but I’m equally sure that there were probably a lot of them that were a lot fucking worse. Hey, Lady Mary out of Downton Abbey was in the year below me. How bad could we have been? But, still. I’m the state-schooliest of the state-schooly, and still, my education was a lot more – by which I mean A LOT more – competitive than most Germans was.
I never realized this until my Lesebühne got recommended for the Best Berliner Lesebühne Prize of the Year. What happened was these uni kids wanted to give somebody money for no reason – oh, sorry, I don’t mean for no reason, I mean, they wanted to give the Lesebühne people some money for being really good at writing Lesebühne stories and that. And all the Lesebühne people got really, really, really upset. Well, okay, not all of them. But about 90 percent. And not really, really, really upset. But pretty distraught. They didn’t act like a group of uni kids wanted to give us money coz they thought we were great. They acted like a group of evil bastards wanted to rape us in the arse coz they thought we were a bunch of cunts who deserved to be raped in the arse. It was really weird, to be honest.
“Don’t you think it’s really nice,” I said, gingerly, to one Lesebühnekollege, “that these kids want to give us money, as appreciation of our talent? Isn’t that nice?”
“Hmm,” he said.
“It’ll be fun, the prize ceremony, anyway, That’ll be a right laugh. There’ll probably be Sekt and a buffet.”
“Hmmm,” he said again.
“It’ll be so much fun,” I continued. “We can wear our nicest clothes – you can wear a suit, and I’ll wear a black dress. And if we win, we’ll get €700, and if we don’t win, we’ll have a load of free alcohol and a bit of free publicity.”
“Hmmm,” he said.
“Aren’t you looking forward to it?”
He looked at me and sighed as deeply as only a German can, especially when they’ve been asked whether they’re not looking forward to something.
“If they want to give me money, they can ask me for my bank details and transfer it directly into my account. I’m not going to go to some awards ceremony.”
I didn’t say anything for a while. I just gazed at him pityingly. Then I said:
“What happened at your prize ceremonies back in East Germany? Did the Stasi hand out the certificates? Was it really awful? Did the people who didn’t win get in trouble with the Stasi? Were your prizes, like, signed photos of Honecker? Was it really bad? Are you really traumatized? Do you not want to talk about it?”
My Lesebühnekollege did a mini-sigh then.
“This is nothing to do with East Germany, Jacinta. Prize ceremonies are nothing to do with German culture. They’re alien to us.”
“They’re not German?”
“Nope. Not for schools. They don’t have it in the West either. My kid who lives in South Germany, he’s never invited me to a prize ceremony. It’s just not normal. It’s not normal practice. And Sports Day. We don’t have Sports Day either. It’s all totally American. All that.”
“It is. It’s certainly not normal. And I’m sure it’s not good for you, either.”
Now, the thing is –I was crap at sport – but I was great at everything else. You shoulda seen my medals for French and German. My blazer was dripping with them. But the truth is, I’m not totally sure it’s been good for me, either. I mean, I don’t think I would have been that geschadet if they hadn’t given me those medals for being great – or if everyone had got one. To be honest, I think this competitive streak is basically the worst element of my personality. If I weren’t so competitive, I would be NICE, nice like how Pippa from Home and Away is. I am basically a nice person who is marred by competitiveness. But, fuck, am I competitive. I never let my son win. I have never let him win in his entire life. I always intend to, but then I start playing, and I can’t bear it. I can’t bear losing. The other day, I even cheated at Monopoly. Oh, God, I feel bad. I started out, all, like, oh, I’m gonna let him win this time. It’ll be over quicker, and we can go to the park. But then, really early on, I got Parkstrasse and that other blue one – the German Mayfair – is it Schlossallee? Really early on. So I just knew I could really easily win. And then I needed to buy new houses and he wasn’t looking and when I went to get my €200 for passing “Go”, I took a €500 instead.
You know what? I am sure that would never would’ve happened if I’d gone to a Waldorfschule.