Monthly Archives: April 2015

End of Term

Purple bruises, raw thighs and freezing knees. Short shorts, no protection for your legs, which either got covered in mud, or took you running as fast as you could away from the others. In contrast to the rugby shirt (not fashionable in those days) and the flapping draughty shorts, the outfit for cricket was far more sensible: long flannels, a sweater for chilly moments. But playing rugby, you were tough, a fighter who ignored the cold. To complain labeled you a wimp or sissy, or whatever they were called in those days. Now, with the coming end of term, the pain would soon be over. Hostilities would cease. Why anyone thought that these simulated battles, these turf wars, were ‘good for the mind’ was beyond me. We were expected to adhere to the moral command of Play up and play the game – whether cricket, rugby or political argument. Isn’t life hard enough without the false dichotomy of Us-vs-Them? Was conflict on the school field a metaphor for life, a battle without end? Do we really need to learn that lesson outside on a freezing grass pitch, opposing our erstwhile friends who are now our foes? Is pitting the collision of bodies akin to pitting our wits? If so, then get in some practice, with the comforting thought of a final whistle and hot shower.

The beginning of the school year was a con, an advertiser’s dream, giving a misleading impression of outdoor fun and games. You are taken in by the pleasant weather of early September. The sun is still warm, the grass luxuriant, providing soft landings. And then the season changed: the wind got up, the chill factor rose, and it rained. The pitch, once trampled, turned to mud, indented with the pocks of a thousand studded boots.

Rugby was compulsory, considered a ‘gentleman’s game’ – though played by ruffians. Being a grammar school, it was deemed appropriate, given its origins in a public school. It was deemed superior to lowly soccer played by plebs in secondary modern schools. And never to be confused with Rugby League, a much more fluid game, but played by Northerners in flat caps and their eeh-bah-gum outlandish accents. No, this was Rugby Union, which had the advantage of involving 15 players, fitting nicely with the nominal school roll of 30 pupils to a class.

It soon became clear that to survive one must play the unofficial version, the game of avoiding involvement. It’s the soft martial art of not being around when danger strikes. Perhaps this is the transferable skill needed for the future. Would you rather get stuck in, shoved, jostled, tackled, brought low, or would you rather engage in something more intellectual – something that the school actually prided itself in providing? Playing the game of not playing the game at least you were less likely to become injured or damaged by the never-ending tackles and scrums. If you were agile and fit, in the elevated ranks of the forwards, you would spend your time running around and passing the ball. Otherwise, you lurked at the back, hoping that neither the ball nor the opposing team would come near you, terrified when a drop-kicked ball bounced into your part of the pitch. Lingering near the goal posts, pretending to be engaged, was a numbing experience.

Now, in April, the rugby season draws to a close, the pitch over-used and needing time to recover, in order to fulfil its role as the outfield of summer term’s cricket. The end of term counts its walking wounded, the boys carted off to hospital with broken collar bones, or dislocated limbs. In some perverse way, this is seen as ‘letting the school down’.

Having hung up my boots for the year, I leave behind the gym changing rooms with the smell of wet concrete, the whiff of lifebuoy soap. In my return to academia the walk along the corridor replaces those odours with the smell of floor sealant and the wood polish on the oak staircase near the Headmaster’s office. Back in the land of chalk-dust, the smell of stale biscuits and stewed coffee wafts from the staff room. It’s time for more intellectual pursuits.

© Peter Young 2015


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Three Little Words

We were sitting at a table for two next to the window overlooking the High Street.
Was this a trick question? If I said Yes then what might follow? I wasn’t sure. If I said No, she’d probably walk out of the restaurant leaving me to pick up the bill. So what could I say?
“I don’t know”? Even that wasn’t a good answer.
“What do you mean, you don’t know? Either you do or you don’t.”
I don’t hold with this two-valued logic. But then, logic doesn’t really come into it.
“If you don’t know then that means you don’t love me.”
“No, it’s not that.” I’m trying to justify my position. “I really don’t know. I’ve not been ‘in love’ like this before. It’s all new to me. And I’m not certain what it is I feel. Can you understand that?”
The point is, ‘Do you love me?’ is a trick question. There is no way of answering that leaves you in any kind of powerful position, and surely, loving someone should build you up, not cast you down. If you say Yes, without having carefully thought through the consequences, which is in effect, telling a white lie just to please them, then that will be taken down in evidence and used against you at some later date, for the slightest of misdemeanours. But for the moment, she’ll be satisfied. It’s what she wants to hear, and I have supplied her with the ‘right’ answer.

But ‘I don’t know’ suggests a level of insecurity. She would say a lack of commitment. So what’s really going on here? I don’t know.

I can recall other times in my life when I’ve not known things, but still expected to produce a precise answer. This happened frequently during my schooldays: “What are you going to be when you grow up?” I never knew. I never saw my path through life mapped out in front of me. It was never a clear-cut case of “I’m going to be a journalist” or “I’ll be a singer in a band.” The world was always much more open than that. My way forward was always blocked by tall reeds, or grass, that stopped me seeing anything beyond the next few yards. I needed to sample many aspects of life before I could settle down – now, there’s a phrase – settle down into a steady job, take on a role, or a position. No, I didn’t even know if I was going to settle down. How could I know until I’d done it? I was happy to wait, but few of my questioners were. They wanted an answer there and then, matter settled – but all they got was “I’m not sure. I don’t know yet.”

Of course I made decisions about my career, my life, and I went on various training courses that offered sufficient vagueness and transferable skills, so that I could explore and discover, and reject –  quite often – the preplanned directions that others thought ‘sensible’. I could handle that – I took what I wanted, left the rest, and developed my own unique style of coping with the world. There was always choice. It wasn’t like the old days, when you went down the pit, or took over the family business, and married the girl next door. I wonder what happened to the girl next door. Jane. I know she didn’t marry the boy next door … so where did she end up? I don’t know. She made her choices too, not limited by geography or tradition.

I looked up from playing with the knife and the fork. “Sorry, I was miles away.”

So how would I know if I loved her?  If I were to say “Yes, I love you” then she might think that I was only saying that to please her, because she had asked the question in the first place. Perhaps what she really wanted was for me to spontaneously say “I love you” without her having to prompt me. But then I don’t know when I should ‘spontaneously’ make such remarks. Is there any kind of guidance on this? I don’t know.

“Do you love me?” she asked, tenderly.
“That’s a nice question,” I replied. “What do you think?”

© Peter Young 2015

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