The man looks around the train at the haphazard rabble who have just got on. We’ve taken up all the free seats at one end of the carriage, trapping him and a young woman in our midst. He takes in our over exuberance, the piles of backpacks and (most importantly) the large stack of brooms. There are house brooms, cobweb brooms, a large red wooden one with a spray of sticks (nicknamed The Red Barron) and various Halloween-style witch’s brooms. The man looks at us.
“Excuse me,” he says “But do you mind if I ask where you guys are going?”
“To a cleaning convention,” someone replies.
We all fall about laughing.
Astute reads may have guessed that this group of people are not, in fact, a collection of cleaning ladies and men. We are the Newcastle Quidditch Team and we are on our way to Sydney for the first major tournament ever to be held in Australia- The Quafl Cup.
Later in Sydney we crowd together to take a group photo.
“We’re not tourists!” yells Eli at any passers-by who care to listen.
“No,” I say “We’re an elite sports team.”
This provokes more laughter. We don’t look like a sports team. Which doesn’t change the fact that we are.
The next day, in the pouring rain we assemble on a field at The University of New South Wales. Technically speaking I don’t think we are allowed to be on this oval. (I mean what? We were totally in the correct and lawful place the whole day.)
It was never really decided what the Newcastle team would call ourselves. Officially we are The Hunter Horcruxes. Unofficially, Neville’s Bitches of Newcastle. But I think most people came to know us as WHAT?
The name Newcastle What had been raised several weeks earlier and discarded. Somehow it becomes our war cry. A member of the team would yell “NEWCASTLE!” and the rest of us would chorus, in reply, “WHAT?”
After a while people catch on and randoms start yelling the name of our home city at us to get the reaction.
There were many highlights during the day.
Rain dripping off my tea-cosy and into my hair while Bludger reefing the first game.
The moment the clouds first parted to reveal a chink of blue sky.
The Snitch climbing onto the second storey of the building and threatening to jump. The Seekers, taking this has a joke, going up the stairs to corner him.
The Snitch astounding everyone by actually jumping from the second storey, into a hedge and immediately leaping up unscathed.
The rather difficult to describe flying-thumbs-up-bro-fist that Oods made a thing, despite my instance the previous day that it would not (absolutely no way) become a thing.
Rachel trying to interact with the Tom Milsom look-alike, just so she could say she had.
Jenny trying to convince Hudson to use his long distance camera lens to take pictures of attractive players on other teams without their knowledge. Hudson refusing.
Ollie becoming the unofficial first aid man for the tournament.
Hudson chasing a rouge helium balloon across the field and catching it to much applause.
Oods and Hilary running behind our opposition’s goal and Rick-Rolling them.
Our best game of the day is against The Australian National University. The game is close. The ball flies back and forth across the field. We sub on and off rapidly as each player gets tired or, in one case (Celeste), is elbowed in the face. I scream encouragement and support and sometimes just noise. At point I yell Jenny’s name at such a high pitch that I’m not even sure I’m yelling a word anymore. One of ANU’s Chasers is unstoppable. The only way to prevent her scoring is to ram her off the field as soon as she enters the Keeper’s zone. I’m not even on the field for very long and I manage to violently tackle her numerous times. When the snitch runs into the open the score is still close enough that anyone could win. Its all down to who catches him. Standing behind the goals, I’m more tense than I can ever remember being about team sport. The Snitch stumbles. Joe, our Seeker, acts fast and grabs the tag. All the emotion of the game comes crashing down on me and I realise I’m close to tears. We all rush at Joe, leaping on him like they do in football movies. For a moment, as the voiceover would say, we are invincible.
We don’t win the tournament. We win three of our five games but the large margin in our match against The University of Western Sydney pushes us into fourth place. No one really minds. We’re tired and sore. The day is almost over. We played well. That’s all that matters.
You know how sometimes you encounter someone and it occurs to you (often with very little justification) that you’ve got things in common. You want to walk right up to that person and say-
“Hi, I think maybe we should be friends.”
But you don’t of course. Because that isn’t how life works.
On the train home as we tell bad jokes and riddles to try and remain conscious, I realise that most of these people fall into that category. And without this weekend (and all the training that came before it) I might never have got to know them at all.
Quidditch has been almost unbelievably important to me this year and Quafl was no exception. I got to spend this weekend with an amazing group of people. No, we won’t sit around braiding each others hair and talking about our feelings. But sometimes we might end up at Ood’s place and play board games over enthusiastically. Or just smile when we pass each other at uni.
I’m really glad that I’ve got to meet them. And I’m proud to have played my little part in the team. Its been worth ever bruise.