The cleanliness or otherwise of boots

English: Excel Cross Country Runner

English: Excel Cross Country Runner (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Everyone had a bogey subject at school. The subject that made them reluctant to get out of bed of a morning. Mine was Physical Education. I don’t know why they called it that because in the whole of my school career, I don’t think I learned anything. Unless you can count such valuable lessons in life such as not going outside in shorts and a T-shirt if there’s snow on the ground. Or maybe the fact that if someone twice your size tackles you, it’s going to hurt. A lot.

Childline wasn’t around back then otherwise the first thing on my to-do list of a Tuesday morning would be to ring them. It all seemed so illogical to me. Why do we play outside when it’s cold and inside when it’s warm? Why did the school swimming pool have no roof? Either masochism or economics. They swore blind it was a heated pool. I chose my sports day event based on brevity rather than talent.

It didn’t help that I was the youngest in the year, and therefore the smallest by some considerable margin. It also didn’t help that school rules said no spectacles on the sports field. It’s kind of hard to concentrate when someone’s throwing a rock hard cricket ball at you when you can’t see a thing.

But my nemesis of nemeses was the cross-country run.

I don’t like playing football or rugby, but I at least understand why people do. But why oh why would you want to pick a particularly cold day, especially if it’s raining to go and run 5 miles in a big circle. To add insult to injury, our cross-country route passed through a pig farm. For those who have never had the opportunity to visit one, they stink. Not only do they stink, but they collect mud. Sometimes it came up to our knees.

After 5 freezing cold, rain-sodden miles of traipsing through mud dressed in shorts and a T-shirt, you are cold, wet, tired and most of all miserable. And they had a special punishment for the ungifted cross-country runner. Muddy boots were not allowed in the changing room, so they were left outside for the bloke who came last to clean. And I always came last.

One day I refused. The sports master couldn’t believe his ears. I was a well-behaved, compliant student by reputation.

“If you don’t clean them – you’ll have to go and see Mr Foskett”

Mr Foskett couldn’t believe it either. Neither could the deputy head and nor could the headmaster. I stood in his office still in my muddy sports kit. He threatened to call my parents and when I still refused to clean the boots, he summoned my mother to the school.

She duly arrived and they explained my heinous crime to her. She looked at me somewhat incredulously before turning to the headmaster and saying;

“Clean your own *&£$ing boots!” and she took me home.

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Why I’ll never need a trophy cabinet

Triangle of the 15 reds in snooker. Note: This...

Triangle of the 15 reds in snooker. Note: This is not a full depiction of the setup of a game of snooker, as the colour balls are not shown. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Like many people, I find myself glued to the Paralympics just like the Olympics a few weeks ago. There is something mesmerising about true athletes competing at such a level. I feel proud of Team GB and even when there is a race with no Team GB competitors, I still like to watch in case an athlete sets a new World Record. Unfortunately, I was never blessed in the sports department. I’m sure I could have improved if I’d persisted and practised, but I simply didn’t enjoy taking part in sport.

I don’t think my school years helped. For bizarre reasons known only to the PE teachers, we made sure that all the outdoor activities happened when it was absolutely freezing, raining cats and dogs or both. It also didn’t help that I was required to remove my glasses when taking part in sports. You would be amazed how much of a disincentive that is when trying to catch a rock hard cricket ball that you can barely see.

I always used to enter the 100m during sports day, not because I was any good at it, but more because it was the shortest race possible. In the pool, I just about managed to struggle to 25 yards for my red ribbon, but I was lucky it wasn’t 30 yards – I think I’d have drowned. Some might argue that snooker is not a sport and I suppose it’s not in the physical sense, but it’s the only thing I ever won a trophy at so it counts as a sport in my book.

A charismatic man I used to work with called Dick Wittington (I kid you not) once cornered me and told me that he had taken on two teams to manage in the local snooker league. He went on to tell me that it was all a bit of a strain and that he was struggling to find the time. By the end of the conversation, somehow he’d persuaded me take on and run the worst of the two teams. It must have been a jedi mind trick.

I set about organising the team. My bequest from Mr Wittington consisted of a rag-tag collection of unskilled, unreliable snooker players, but somehow we managed to get a team together most weeks. The first few weeks, we were soundly beaten. After a while though, the most amazing thing happened. We started to improve. We started winning every so often. Then we won every other game. Soon we won more often than we lost. As the league continued, we climbed inexorably up the table.

In the final game of the season, we beat the league leaders and won the league. The snooker club awarded us medals. Because my squad was so unreliable, we had 10 players and there were only 6 medals. Put on the spot, I distributed the medals to the guys that turned up for that crucial last game.

In the office the following day, I displayed my medal proudly on my desk. Just then a fiercely competitive colleague came over for a chat. He was the kind of guy who had two big trophy cabinets and trophies to spare. He had been a member of our squad but he’d been unable to make the last match (and hence had no medal). “Where’s my medal?” he demanded. I mumbled something about there not being enough to go around. He instantly rattled off a bunch of statistics that showed that he was the best member of the team.

I sighed, and handed over the only thing I’d ever won. But for one short moment at least, I was a winner.

Are all gold medals equal?

English: Finland top-beachvolleyball player Ri...

English: Finland top-beachvolleyball player Riikka Lehtonen (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you’d asked me how I felt about the Olympics a few days before the opening ceremony to London 2012, I probably would have shrugged my shoulders. To be honest I was a bit nonplussed with the whole event. After the triumphant opening ceremony, my interest started to grow.

Now after a whole week of competition, I am caught up in Olympic fever. I’ve been checking websites and watching coverage with the best of them. I regret not applying for tickets now. Some of the events leave me awestruck.

When I see the athletes leaping and pirouetting through the air in graceful somersaults one after another, it makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck. When I see a gymnast swinging at fantastic speed from bar to bar in the asymmetric bars, I watch transfixed. Somehow what they do seems so completely impossible that you expect them to fall at any moment.

When the guys on the rings hold themselves in the crucifix position before forcing themselves upwards slowly and gracefully, I find it hard to contemplate the strength and control that is required for such a manoeuvre. It’s not just the gymnastics. The synchronised diving takes my breath away. How can they perform such complicated dives and remain almost entirely in synch is beyond me. Lots and lots of practise I guess.

The endurance events like triathlon and marathon are also impressive but, because of their slower pace, they impress in a different way. The versatility required in the decathlon demands respect, and the swimming disciplines are exciting to watch. I’m a sucker for anything that floats, so I love the sailing, canoeing and rowing events.

When it comes to the beach volleyball, I can’t take it seriously. We already have proper volleyball, played on a court like we used to at school. Why do we need to have the game you play on the beach when you’re on holiday? I think it’s a sport which struggles to even take itself seriously. Maybe it’s the bikinis. Maybe it’s the bum-slapping after every point. Maybe it’s the Benny Hill music that plays in between games that sets it apart from all the other fine and noble sports that are part of the games.

Beach volleyball is entertaining to watch and I have no doubt that there is a lot of skill involved, and they need physical fitness, but does that put the sport at the same level as the others which seem so much more demanding? When I watch beach volleyball, I can’t quite shake the feeling that it’s a “sport” in which anyone could become proficient given the practise. When I look at the other events, they simply don’t seem that accessible.