Right. Let's get the joking over and done with. I am not in the fifth form. I am not currently wearing a very small kilt or a T-shirt with my name badly embroidered over one nipple. Neither am I speaking in the kind of voice last heard in Malory Towers. I am not, in short, some kind of overgrown freak who wishes she was still at school. I just like netball.
Why the whole netball/school problem exists is one of sport's great mysteries. Football seems to manage just fine. You don't get people asking Steven Gerrard if he's trying to recapture his youth by going for a kickaround - even if grown men do weep like children around him. Footie, though, with its enormous pitch, is obviously a fit man's game. Netball, according to its detractors, is a sport for people who don't like actual sport.
Of course, when played by reluctant teenagers more preoccupied with customising their games kit than with playing wing attack, netball is not the most physical activity - movement mainly being restricted to tugging on a bib and occasional weak-wristed attempts at throwing the ball all of, ooh, three feet. But played properly, it's an exhilarating, technical, bloody-hell-I'm-knackered sport. What's more, it is enjoying a popularity boom after being rediscovered by adults. There are now more than 60,000 registered players in almost 3,000 clubs across the country.
And I love it. In fact, when Manchester hosted the Commonwealth games and my sister somehow got tickets for the netball final and failed to invite me, I was sick with rage. Because, especially at a professional level, netball is awe-inspiring. Players can jump about six feet in the air and shoot standing on one leg with their back to the net. Forget about it only being a game for schoolgirls or weird women with no friends: these netballers are practically superhuman.
The most common misconception involving the sport surrounds feet: because, unlike in basketball, you're not allowed to run once you have the ball, it is often presumed that players must be lead-footed trolls unable to put three steps together before keeling over, gasping for breath. This is tosh.
What the no-running rule actually means is that when you receive the ball while making a break down the wing, you've got to scan the court, find a player ready, calculate the length and angle of throw, and release the ball - avoiding marauding enemy players - while in mid-air, halfway through your next step, before you put your original landing foot back on the ground.
How amazing is that? If you watch a decent player, she (or he, for a growing number of men are now taking up the sport - for fitness reasons, obviously) won't even take a break in her run; decent netball is a top-speed game with top-speed players. An excellent technical player is enough to make you (well, me) gasp in much the same way as others do at Cristiano Ronaldo's stepovers. Or did, before the winking thing.
Not that netball is without its share of foul play. Scratchy fingernails accidentally stabbing into vulnerable arms, balls "accidentally" thrown with extreme force into delicate faces, fingers trampled into jelly. There's violence to make Scorsese tremble. Twelve years after an angry goal attack left me with blood pouring down my face and a suddenly bumpy nose, I still have to peer over my glasses like some kind of lady Dumbledore - and not even a penalty for my pain. It's dangerous out there.
But if you think you're hard enough, it is worth braving the netball badlands. Running about at top speed means you're going to get fit. "Netball is a very aerobic sport," says Diana Carter, operations manager of Commonwealth Netball UK, which has about 300 teams in its London leagues. "Your heart rate rises and because it's a very stop/start game, you're doing some very explosive activity."
Naturally, some positions are more physically demanding than others (hands up who wants to play goalkeeper), but this is useful for people who are a bit out of shape and want to get fit gently. Not only will you work your arms and shoulders as well as your legs and improve hand-eye coordination, but - because clubs tend to train once a week for a couple of hours and then play once a week - you can also bring your technical skills up to scratch at the same time as building the fitness you need for a gruelling game.
"Netball is absolutely an alternative to going to the gym," says Diana Carter. "Put me in the gym and I'll go to the solarium for an hour. Put me on a netball court and I'll play all day. Because it's a team sport you've not just got your personal motivation, you've got your team motivating you as well."
Now there's a lady after my own heart: if I'm going to spend an hour going so red in the face it looks as if my head is about to explode, I'd prefer to do it in the company of other, similarly red-faced people who are egging me on, rather than gawping at me with barely disguised disgust. Even better, you get to have a nice team drink afterwards (well, think how many calories you've burned), which didn't generally happen after double PE.
Still, the moody teenagers do still have a point when it comes to netball: proper kit is truly horrible. But good news, ladies: according to Netball England, the days of the Aertex shirt and mini-kilts are gone. (We'll ignore a slightly worrying comment from the organisation's spokeswoman about "figure-hugging Lycra gym outfits".) The bib business remains, but think of it as extra support in the boob area.
Which leaves us with just the sport's reputation to overcome. At school, boys who were good at football were considered love-god heroes, their wispy moustaches and acne-ridden skin ignored. Girls who were good at netball were seen as, at best, hearty. So, in the spirit of ignoring the schoolgirl image of netball, I shall mostly be pretending to be Australian this coming season. Our Antipodean friends are altogether less full of bizarre hang-ups: netball is their number one game. And you won't find a navy-blue running knicker in sight.