6. This Non-Sporting Life
I did not like sport. At Christ Church, I only played sport formally once. That was when we were taken to Dunstall Park Race-Course and Hughie Cunliffe, who’d just come back from defeating Hitler, showed us how to play Rounders. Well, his version of the game, anyway.
` He forced somebody to be “back-stop”, and chucked the ball as hard as he could at the poor pupil who he’d forced to hold the . . . cudgel? Stick? Bat? He never told us its name. The back-stop was hit a few times, as was the bat-holder. And very few batters hit the ball. If they did, Hughie Cunliffe would tell them that it was a no-ball and that they were out.
The use of force by Sports Masters was condoned at The Grammar School, too, of course. But, at WGS, it was not only condoned but encouraged.
We had to join in games of cricket, Soccer, and The School Game: Fives. Fives never caught on as an international sport nor even in the Olympics where Synchronised Swimming seems acceptable. The game involved two – or, if I remember properly, sometimes four – players (which always seemed to include one Master) banging a wooden ball against the three walls of the court. It was a little like a cross between Real Tennis (if I knew what that was) and Squash – only the players hit the ball with their leather-gloved hand. I never played Fives.
Only the lads who were any good were encouraged to play in properly supervised games. The object of that exercise was to provide players for The School Team in whatever sport at which they were good.
Those who weren’t naturally gifted athletes and sportsmen were relegated to go and play self-supervised down at the Valley Pitch, away from Moreton’s Piece, the main playing-field which could be seen from nearly every part of The School.
The Valley Pitch was a cold, wind-swept place, even in Summer. And – surprise, surprise – it was there that I spent most of the sports periods. My knees often trembled with the force of the gales which blew against them as I wore my short trousers.
I could, I think, with encouragement have learned to play Soccer reasonably well as a full-back. I did, in fact, do quite well at cricket (perhaps because we were allowed to wear our long-trousers). I was a steady, tail-end, stone-walling batsman, and a medium-pace spin bowler. I developed a tricky ball which seemed to fool the batsmen fairly often.
However, there was a stigma at being assigned to the Valley Pitch. We were even dubbed “The Woggy Wanderers” – an appellation which smacked of racism which, decades later, became an un-PC way of doing things. Then, Britannia still more-or-less ruled the waves and “We” still clung onto the vestiges of Empire.
Apart from these team-games, there was also “The Gym”. I hated that with a hatred never equalled anywhere in my life. Shorty Robertson, a Scot, was Games Master and he really enjoyed making us do things which we would never have tried in real life. I dreaded the leaping up the wall-bars and trying to walk along the adjustable beams. Playing “King of the Ring”, where we were encourage to chuck all the other lads off the big mat, was too cruel for words.
And the sheer Hell of the sweat-stinking changing rooms after each of these tortures – team-games or the gym – was something I shall never forget.
I do not like sport. It is not difficult to imagine why.
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