280 women playing netball // 29 May 2012

I have never seen anything like it before. This must be what a culture shock feels like.

280 women are prancing across 20 netball courts, acres of spandex flying, garish streaks of colour flashing across the pock-marked surface like an unsettled rainbow vomiting.

Tippy-toes and wobbling thighs, high ponytails and, inexplicably, socks pulled up. A gestapo-like pasty teen – or is she old enough to be a student? – has come ’round checking every set of fingernails, clipper poised, ready to swoop on an errant talon.

Bibs are being exchanged, hair bobbles fixed, visitors wrapped in mothballed anoracks, sit on camping chairs, surrounded by crops of plastic water bottles. Come on girls, they shout at the fully-grown women.

The umpire on my side of the spectacle has her shrill whistle attached to her stubby fingers like costume jewellery with an Olympic twist – no school marm-y loop around the neck for her. She waves her arms erratically, jumping into the throng when things heat up. Her alarming call blends into a din of 39 other whistles, squeaking away, never resting.

All I can think about is a cup of tea which fails to materialise from the excuse for a canteen. No tea or coffee today, the bored-looking lady says. I panic and buy an everlasting iced bun, the kind that, thoughtfully packaged in its protective atmosphere, would survive the apocalypse.

The score is 44 – 27. The Alexandrias have pissed off their opponents and, with a stroke of impressive efficiency, unwittingly pissed off two other neighbouring teams too. Tempers fray. The league ubermensch is called, her bleached hair sitting atop her wobbling head like a clump of cropped hay as the Mean Girl with the blonde bob gesticulates wildly, calls someone a potential danger and stomps off. A counter-attack citing temporary mental illness is flung back at her. She almost had an anxiety attack, thanks to you.

It’s feeding time at the Meadowbank courts, and I have arrived, sticky-fingered, just in time.

My safari into netball will remain just that.

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