This is always a sore time of year for me. Once, longer ago than I really like to consider, I played shinty for the University of St Andrews.
Shinty, for those who don't know (probably most people), is a sport played mostly in the Highlands and on the Islands of Scotland. It's a stick and ball game, frequently described as field hockey without rules. It does have rules, but not very many. If you get hurt, and lots of people do, it's generally considered to be your own fault. The pitches are huge. Camans (shinty sticks) are made of wood and are wedge shaped at the business end. Shinty balls make a pleasing whistling noise when you hit them hard. It's thought to be a progenitor of both golf and ice hockey.
I didn't play very well, but I made up for it by drinking hectolitres of beer on their behalf. That's one of the joys of sport in higher education - lack of athletic ability is easily forgiven for drinking prowess.
I'm fitter than I was then. I drink less and smoke zero. Depending on how happy my legs and joints are, I run 28-35 miles a week. And so, the first weekend of May, I look forward to playing in the annual old boys match and sixes tournament in St Andrews. Sixes shinty is much like rugby 7s for five-a-side football, except for that it's 6 players on each team.
It serves as a reunion, a general booze up, and an opportunity to play a huge amount of fun, dangerous, sport. There's also a large number of middle aged men doing a lot of 'back in my day' grumbling, which is always good for a laugh, if you're into that sort of thing. Most folks aren't.
What it also serves as, is a reminder of just how much the years and the mileage take their toll. By the end of the two days, my joints, bones and muscles shrieked in symphonic discord. Any part of my body left untouched by the sport was amply shattered by the colossal hangover. This year was tamer than some. There were no fights and nobody set their rental car on fire. But it left its mark nonetheless.
And so, battered by attempts to recapture the remains of my youth, this week has been spent in pursuit of my future. Job-hunting and book-writing have already polished away most of the memories of pain, discomfort and aches. I know I had them, but I don't really feel them anymore. Writing about them now seems dishonest; memories that actually linger to touch are those of fondness for old friends, the unmatchable deliciousness of the first pint after a day's sport and the hope that it's not a whole year before we all meet up again.
If it is a year, though, no doubt I'll dive right in with both the shinty and the beer, the joy of reunion blocking out entirely the memories of aches and realisation of age. My muscle memory is short, and quite selective. It's quite happy to forget the pain.