19 Jul


schoolboys running photo: Arcenio Running DSCN1954.jpg
You start mulling over one thing and you find your mind drifting to another. I suppose it’s because the older you get the more memories you accumulate and the more memories you accumulate the more one event brings to mind another. Or something like that.

For instance, a few days ago I reminisced about my cricket-playing triumph during which (you may recall) I put myself in as opening batsman of the rag-tag team (I was the worst possible athlete, so I was Captain) and succeeded in carrying my bat throughout the innings.

And that brought to mind the occasion I nearly made an impossibly stupid error and got perilously close to being selected for the school cross-country team.

It also involved the non-athletes because the keen lads played rugby and being in the school rugby team was tantamount to being a god. But not everyone wants to be a deity, and I didn’t.

I was a little on the large side. Not fat: very few people were fat in those days (the1950s, during which there were still post-war shortages), but of the more ordinary-sized boys I tended (only slightly) to the chubby. In other words, I may have been carrying an ounce or so of extra weight, but very little more than that. And during “games” I opted several times to do the cross-country run.

The instructions were always the same. Now, for complete accuracy I’d be obliged if you could read the following quotation in a South-Wales accent. I can’t be more precise than that: it was almost sixty years ago and I’ve found that my memory of ancient accents has been the first to fade with the passing of time.

“Now lads, I want you to run along Ashlawn Road, down Onley Lane to the Canal, along the canal bank and up Barby Lane and then back to school…”

It was a pleasing route. The first part was along a main road, but there was little traffic in those days, Onley Lane is a typical Warwickshire country Lane, the canal had a good, solid bank with gruff men huddled over their fishing rods, scowling at the vibration created by a couple of dozen schoolboys thundering past, Barby Lane was another adventure in beauty and back to school meant the huffing and the puffing was over.

Part way down Onley lane I recall a bridge that I can’t find on the map (I have looked) so it may have been demolished as redundant or it may have been something I dreamed up. In support of myself there just might have been a railway line with my bridge accompanying it, one that was obliterated a few years after my school-days by what is still remembered as the Beeching Axe, a draconian reduction of railway routes following a report or two by the still-despised Doctor Beeching. Anyway, if that rail existed I’ve forgotten it. Or imagined it. Something like that.

The thing is, I didn’t smoke. It’s a filthy habit (though I’m ashamed to say I did spend some years corrupting my lungs after I left school) but quite a few of the other boys did, some of them like veritable chimneys, and they had secreted about their persons the odd cigarette that they paused under the real or imagined bridge to puff away on.

I ran on (of course – any runner of whatever despicable inability will tell you that once you’ve found a rhythm you should stick to it), and I left the smokers behind me. The rhythm of my steps was hypnotic and my P.E. shorts were, no doubt, a disgrace.

And on one occasion I arrived back at school at the end of the race in third position. Out of, I don’t know, perhaps twenty. That drew the Welsh eyebrows in my direction. No doubt their owner thought something along the lines of “here we have unexpected talent!”

I wasn’t selected. I can’t remember any more than the intense sense of gratitude that swept over me as a consequence of that failure. But for some reason I was left to ponder on what glories might have been, though I was aware that those in proper teams invariably never stop under real or imagined railway bridges for a drag of nicotine and any possible advantage to me would be non-existent. Probably Welsh wisdom also saw that.

And that’s my brush with glory. Maybe not as memorable as my fantastic innings at cricket when the fastest bowlers in the school team couldn’t dislodge me and from whom I claimed a dribble of runs, but a brush with glory none-the-less.

Hurrah for sport!!!

© Peter Rogerson 19.07.15


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