Wednesday 8 April 1987

…Last PE lesson this term today – last basketball lesson, last gymnastics too.
Because of this, everybody was messing around, especially the 4th years.
[Our teacher] got cross.
He said: “It was a sad note to end the term on,” but it’s not really the end of term
so he got that wrong.
He also said: “With a sour taste in my mouth…”
Afterwards he went off in a sulk and ran round Southfields Park by himself
goodness knows how many times…

I’d have treated such an admonition with more gravity were it not related to sport. But going off in a sulk is always a bad move on the part of a teacher. It subtracts, not adds, credibility. Especially when it culminates in behaviour that, to our 11-year-old eyes, seemed slightly loopy.

Tuesday 31 March 1987

…[Our teacher] grabbed me and Edward this afternoon and virtually
threw us into the staff room.
He gave us a talking to about sport and our attitude.
He said he wanted to be fair with us.
The results are that swimming will be made a lot easier – we won’t have to be in
the top group anymore.
However for PE we are now going to be expected to help teach the infants
as well as doing our usual lesson.
That increases PE to THREE HOURS A WEEK!
How is this fair?…

Imagine my fury at being compelled to do this, and just days after moaning that the rest of my class gave the impression that all they wanted to do was play sport. Yet here was I getting landed with more PE, while the rest of my peers just carried on as before!

Worse – my “attitude” was supposedly to benefit from helping five and six-year-olds learn to catch a ball.

Had I taken the long view I would have wryly accepted this silly arrangement, knowing it would all be over in three months when I left primary school for good. But I wasn’t good at the long view 25 years ago, and instead merely raged inwardly at having mounting attention drawn towards my inadequacies.

Naturally, none of this improved my “attitude” towards PE one bit. I’d been doing it for seven years and still hadn’t found a sport I was a good at. Surely I’d suffered enough?

Tuesday 24 February 1987

…Had to go to Beaumanor Hall for a sports day.
I absolutely hated it.
When I arrived at school to get on the minibus, everyone pushed me off because
there wasn’t enough room.
I had to get a lift 10 minutes later with Mrs Williams.
I didn’t mind – I knew it would make me late to start the sports.
But when I arrived they were waiting for me and for some others who
had been chucked off the minibus.
The first activity was indoor hockey – I rated it 2 out of 10, the two things being
I could clout people over the head and play James Bond during it.
After a break we had to do Olympic gymnastics.
You should have seen us doing the vault – if we didn’t smash into the horse we
kind of flopped on top of it then fell off the other side.
2 out of 10.
Then came the best thing: lunch.
Next we did short tennis: boring and terrible, 1 out of 10.
And last we did some orienteering, which was BRILLIANT because
I actually knew what to do.
10 out of 10…

You see? Give a child some kind of physical activity they know how to do, and they’ll do it as well as they can. Give a child something they can’t do, and they’ll resort to coping strategies involving moderate violence and make-believe espionage.

Wednesday 18 February 1987

…The annual sponsored event for the school came round today and luckily
I didn’t have to do it.
As it was a sponsored gym test, I would have raised about 1p.
So instead I helped with the timing, which tired my fingers out.
Class 3 and 4 did theirs first, which was the just the ordinary gym test
we had been doing over the past weeks.
But class 1 and 2 were just INDESCRIBABLE.
They kept running off, moaning about how they didn’t know what to do,
and just generally being nuisances.
Because of them we didn’t get back to school until midday…

Here was one occasion when my ailments came to my aid.

Even though the problems with my ears shouldn’t really have precluded the sort of physical jerks involved in the gym test, I played the sickness card to the full and consequently got a free pass out of this particular farrago.

I never saw the point of sponsored events that involved an activity at which you weren’t very good. How on earth were they supposed to raise as much money as possible? Far more sensible to go for something like a sponsored silence, which had happened a couple of years earlier and which had been a great success.

The gym test in question took place at the local municipal leisure centre, the same place we had swimming lessons. Parents were invited to cheer their offspring, though few came. I’ve no idea what we were raising money for, but it was usually to buy another mobility scooter for the nearby old people’s home. I went there once on a primary school trip. The whole place smelled of disinfectant, which I found strangely comforting.

Wednesday 3 September 1986

..PE was a bundle of laughs.
We were practicing our so-called ball skills.
We used tennis balls, of course.
Everyone kept dropping them and they went everywhere.
Did more SMP this afternoon and had to explain
to Edward [a classmate] about factor trees,
whatever they might be.
The Muppet Show is back on the TV…

PE was always made more bearable when things went wrong. This particular lesson took place in the school playground, rather than on the council playing field over the road, and hence the potential for mayhem as soon as balls were let free. Which duly happened.

Imagine 20 or so children each trying to keep control of up to three balls at a time, and failing. Some ended up on the school roof. Some landed in the outside toilets. A great deal more were simply whacked, slammed and ricocheted back into our own faces.

Some even bounced over the wall and on to the surrounding roads. Naturally we weren’t allowed to collect those.

I should mention that the teacher who’d made us do such demented activities the previous year – the likes of shinty, non-stop cricket and, worse of all, crab football – had left. His replacement seemed, at least so far, reassuringly conventional, if not positively unimaginative in his attitude towards sport.

This was of great relief to me. As far as I was concerned, when it came to PE, the more boring the better.