The stage was set. On the skiddy, tape-marked boards of Somers Town Community Sports centre, two armies slung missiles at one another, no soldier daring to cross the dreaded no-man’s land across the middle of the field. Many had fallen, victims to precise strikes or wildly-flung balls, that had arced over the battlefield and boinged onto people’s heads like springs dropped from eagles overhead. These soft thuds shook the body little, but twisted the mind with the sudden, awful realisation that you are ‘out’.
I was not out, however, having crouched behind larger, stockier comrades in the middle of the field, their eagerness to throw and claim the glory of victory keeping them squarely in front of me. I made no moves, nor did I have need to, for this was no battle for me. The prestige wasn’t to be mine.
The prestige would go to my companion.
It is a trope in weary fantasy novels, that a large, oafish individual protects and is directed by a smaller, nimbler ally, and I played the role of the sluggish oaf in this conflict. My leader decided which balls I ought to venture out of my fortress to catch, and which to leave to roll harmlessly by my side. It was this leader who would win the day, and be sung of in UCL mead-halls over flagons of snakebite long after their passing from this world. My leader was ready.
My leader was also a hat in the shape of a shark, with a big chompy mouth and a hollowed-out middle.
It did not perch upon my head as is its habit, nor was it resting upon my desk observing my moves as it does between battles, but was firmly grasped in my protecting arms. Each of its lips was wrapped around a hand of mine, so as I opened my arms to catch a ball into my chest, it would be my leader whose teeth sunk into the ball, whose body would become filled with its prey, and who would make the vital catch.
And so we waited. Waited for the prime opportunity. Then it came, but the ball was snaffled out of the jaws of victory by a shark-less pleb, one obviously ignorant of the history that would be made, and their impending place in the history books as the theft of glory. But then came another chance.
A floated ball – not too lofted so it was child’s play to catch, but not the kind of bullet that is uncatchable unless one is using an octopus hat – drifted towards our direction. Its yellow panels suddenly bright in the air, reflecting the shafts of light from the ceiling, and creating in interior sun in our hall, to illuminate the impending triumph. I scuttled to one side, staying low, not wanting to expose myself to potential sneak attacks too early; then I pounced, jumping into the air and leading with the Shark Hat, just pushing its jaws ahead of my chest slightly to reach the ball faster, but not far enough that the body of the shark would be too far away from the point of contact.
Then contact was made, and the Shark Hat retreated back into my arms, its prize fixed between its teeth; it was safe. It had made the catch. I lofted the hat, still grasping its prize, over my head, cheering that the hat had made a supercatch, to the adoration – imagined or otherwise – of the collected soldiers and on-lookers. The hat had made history, recording more supercatches in one session than its lethargic handler had in twelve months.
Bless you, Shark Hat.