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Saturday, 24 November 2012

Good, Sports! - Part 1


Another 'nostlgedy' tale from Crutches for Ducks 

No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease,
No comfortable feel in any member--
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds,
November!
(Extract from November by Thomas Hood, 1799-1845)

To which might usefully be added “No chance of getting off sports due to rain, fog, sleet or snow”. 

I used to have great hopes of November.  I must have been one of the few children who would get up on a school day and look out of the window in the vain hope of finding particularly inclement weather.  I was usually disappointed.  This wasn’t because I loved sloshing to school in sleet or snow or fumbling around in fog.  It was purely to do with outdoor sports.  In fact, on any other day, my heart was gladdened by the autumn sunshine.  It was just on those days when we were due to be out on the sports field that I irrationally hoped for freak weather.

I have mentioned before that I was not one of life’s keen sportsmen in my schooldays.  This is not to say that I disliked all sports.  I didn’t mind basketball much and I could quite tolerate badminton.  Even five-a-side football was just about acceptable, provided it was in the warm, dry environment of the gymnasium and not the wet, cold, muddy grimness of the playing field.  To enjoy mauling around in mud you really need to really enjoy the game you are playing and I really didn’t enjoy football.  Thinking about it, I didn’t really care for cricket either, but that’s another story.

I learned, fairly early on in my school life, that there are those to whom sporting prowess comes naturally and there are those who are not really safe to be let out on their own.  I fell into the latter category.  If you threw a ball to me, I would instantly be caught in a dilemma – should I catch it, and risk hurting myself in the process, or should I stay still and leave well alone?  Unfortunately, my infant brain usually tried to do both things at once and the end result would be that of someone in an advanced state of rigor mortis trying to shuffle a pack of cards.  I was all fingers and thumbs and attempting to be there, but not be there, if you know what I mean (which explains my antipathy toward cricket).  Therefore, in the pecking order of sporting ability, at the top would be those who were playing in the school team and their acolytes, and these would have the bulk of the P.E. Teacher’s attention.  In the middle would be those who were able but not particularly skilful, who still enjoyed a kick-about and who might reasonably hope to play for the team someday.  And then, at the bottom, there was us.  By ‘us’ I mean those who were too fat, too inept, too bone-idle or too crippled by some chronic condition, to ever play football to a level that would not be regarded as laughable by right-thinking men and women.

Considering this, it occurred to me that the term ‘P.E. Teacher’ was something of a misnomer in my day.  You see, thinking about it, I cannot recall actually being taught anything by the series of people who held this post.  I can remember being humiliated and ridiculed, I can remember being shouted and yelled at, I can remember a figure in the far distance displaying his own prowess against ‘the boys in the team’, but I cannot remember being taught anything in all my years of what was laughingly called Physical Education (not that I’m bitter in any way, of course).  I suppose, if I’m going to be fair, we must have been taught how to carry out neck-springs and so on in the gym or else we would all have been in wheelchairs by now, but when it came to football etc., I can’t remember ever being shown any techniques, strategies or even rules!  The assumption always seemed to be that these were somehow automatically passed on to every male (and it was just males in those far-off days) via mother’s milk.  Indeed, it often seemed that way, as all of my friends seemed to instinctively know the rules of football and cricket and so on without any input from the P.E. Teacher.

You can find Part 2 of this story here - Good Sports! - Part 2