Thursday, 4 October 2012


Blogging about joining a gym reminded me of PE lessons at Bede Grammar School, Sunderland during the early 60's. 

Bede was a very traditional grammar school with high standards and regular use of corporal punishment. In my first year as a small nervous eleven year old I remember getting caned on my left hand for the crime of spelling wrongly the name of a composer the music teacher had just dictated to us. Teachers wore gowns, clouds of cigarette smoke poured out of the staff room when the door was opened, and PE teachers were bastards, Or so my admittedly fallible memory tells me. No matter, if I get anything wrong, my old friend Barry, whom I've known since the age of eleven, probably since our first day at Bede, will let me know.

We got PE twice a week in the gym which, by today's standards, was a bleak and basic affair consisting of wall to wall wall bars, hanging ropes, mats, and a couple of things you jump on or vault (if you can) over (see above). As you might gather I was pretty crap at PE. For one thing I couldn't touch my toes. One day, the teacher, a thug named Ellis, decided he'd make me touch my toes by getting me to bend over and force my arms down by pressing on my shoulders. Because of his limited knowledge of the subtleties of anatomy, he didn't realise I couldn't do it because I had short tendons behind my knees and it was just physically impossible for me. Luckily he gave up before something in my legs tore. 

The gym got a new piece of equipment, a trampette (a miniature trampoline) designed to help with vaulting over the horse. Ellis was the first to try it but didn't read the instruction manual (if one had come with it). He charged at the trampette, jumped on it with all his weight which resulted in him sailing completely over the horse and landing flat on his face. Alas I am reporting this second hand as I wasn't there to witness it. Alas.

Needless to say, I and all the other kids with an athletic ability comparable to mine weren't his favourite pupils. Climb ropes -I'd get a few feet off the ground and give up. Forward roll -well, yes I could actually accomplish that but anything more complicated was pretty much beyond me.  I do remember eventually managing to vault completely over the vaulting horse but it was a close thing.

There were physical activities other than PE, however, which fell under the dreaded category of Sport. To be honest, even though I wasn't much good, I did quite like playing football. I was usually one of the last to get picked and usually ended up as a back. Never in goal as with my short sightedness it was a case of 'what ball where?'. My experiences of cricket provided me with the basis of a lifetime loathing for the boring game. Then there was cross country running which consisted of three laps around both football pitches, up a bank, around the rugby pitch, down and back to the football pitch, repeat with increasing breathlessness. 

And then came a surprise some time in my thirteenth year. My class was running in heats to discover who, if any of us, were good enough to qualify for the school athletics sports day. I was in the heat for the 100 yards with about ten others and much to my surprise and that of everyone else, I found myself shooting past people and winning the heat. The next heat was the best eight (I'm making these numbers up, I can't remember) of the class. Ahead me was Eddy Algy the class athlete who glanced back at the pursuing field and was shocked to find me hot on his heels and he had to up his pace (which he did easily) to avoid an embarrassing defeat. He gave me some respect after that. So I was about the second best in my class at the 100 yards dash. Nothing else mind you, being short, stocky with flat feet and no stamina aren't the best characteristics for a runner.

Once I got into the 6th Form it was easier to avoid games, though I once did let my best friend of the time talk me into playing football with the rest of the class. I have to say I didn't make a pigs ear out my role as a back (defence as it's called now -is it?). When I was put in goal for a while, my friend told me I showed great bravery diving at the booted feet of my classmates to stop the ball going in. When it came to saving a penalty, however, it was what ball where.

Post Script.

After I finished school I went to Ormskirk teacher training college on the windy south west Lancashire plain where I fell in with a bunch of enthusiastic fell-walkers (I'd got a taste for fell-walking on  holiday the previous two summers) and also swam a lot in the college pool, even played badminton now and again. It may have been the fittest time of my life. But sport or gym, forget it.

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