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Sunday, July 26, 2015

Making of a Child Psychiatrist: (11) Healing continued...

Those of you following this evolution of my story, and with some knowledge of boy’s schools, will note that I have not yet mentioned sport. I am sure the reason for this is that I was not awfully good, and not awfully enthusiastic. It was to be much later in my life that I discovered sailing, and then the challenges of training to run a marathon, and subsequently many years of training in various disciplines of Karate. But those are stories for later.
So, there was an expectation that all boys at Chatham House would play some form of sport. In winter this was either rugby union or hockey, and in summer, we were expected to learn how to play cricket and take up some form of athletics. Of course this was built into the house system, with teams playing against one another for house points. But there was obviously a staff scouting system to build teams to play for the school against other schools.
One of my problems was that I was of only average height, and somewhat hefty (and at times fat) for my height. In fact my friend Alan nicknamed me ‘Tub’, and he has continued to use that affectionate term until the present day. Everyone else used the nickname ‘Ged’ (my first three initials, of course) right through to themed 1970s.
Outside of school I certainly walked fair distances (and never complained). I also cycled whenever opportunity arose, and enjoyed developing the skill. But I could not run. I just did not have the fitness, and found every excuse to get out of athletic activity. I did, however, learn to play rugby, my skills being confined to being part of the scrum – where my weight could be used to good effect. To actually catch the ball and travel rapidly down the field to score a try, did not seem to be in my nature. I preferred to pass the ball as soon as I could and follow everyone else. I was taught the correct way to tackle, and do not remember ever getting seriously hurt. In fact I remember a certain pleasure in applying the skill to tackle as low as possible, bringing someone down to be piled on by the rest of the pack. But I always preferred someone else to pick up the ball.
I can remember playing on Saturday mornings in house competition, but I don’t remember ever being good enough to be chosen to play in a team against another school. Of course there were other discomforts. Rugby, historically, has always been a winter sport. In Britain this meant either bitterly cold with a patina of ice crystals on what passed for grass across the pitch until the sun was high enough in the sky to melt it all. Alternatively it was frequently pouring with rain, our efforts stirring up muddy puddles in which we later could fall.
Early on a Saturday morning, I would travel to Hawtrey’s Field by bus in a reasonably pristine condition, change into rugby kit and boots in a cold change room and join the others to ‘warm up’ before beginning. There was always a sprinkling of hardy parents and other supporters courageous enough to stand on the touchline and cheer or jeer. Sadly, I can only remember one occasion when my parents attended, thank goodness. My father had been a much better sportsman than I was, had played hockey for the Air Force at some point in his career, had excelled at Javelin, and had medals to prove it. But he tended to be of the ‘jeering parent’ variety, and I remember being seriously crestfallen at the end of that single experience. I was happy to survive on my own, thank you.
Of course after the game we had to complete the ritual with cold showers, and ribald comments from both sides alike. The muddy gear and boots had to be scraped clean as far as possible and then packed into the sports bag for transport home, where my long suffering mother never seemed to have a problem washing off the mud for the following week.
It was the same with hockey; the same kind of weather, the same fields, the same bunch of schoolboys, the same cold showers. The only difference was that I did gain a modicum of skill playing on grass, began to understand the rules, and did not seem to have much fear of that hard little white ball. I still could not run all that well, and eventually the team solved that by putting me in goal – where, all wrapped up in special gear, I seemed to be large enough to stop the odd shot at goal. The Firsts was reserved for a group of stars which included the unbelievably talented Wilson brothers – who later went on to Oxford, both gaining Hockey Blues. But I did end up playing several games as the goalie for the school in the Seconds or Thirds. Despite the odd goal scored against us, and the fact it is always the goalie’s fault of course, I still remember these events from my life as adding to my self-esteem.
In the athletics season, in what passed for summer in Ramsgate, I always tried to take on the role of team coordinator. That is, I did not compete. I was there to make sure others got to the right event at the right time, and look after all the coats and other gear. I did not compete because I could not find an event at which I could excel. I could not run fast over a short distance. I did not seem to have the legs or the breath to run over a longer distance – fast or not. I did not appear to have to coordination or the requisite strength for javelin, shot putt or discus. I could not jump any kind of distance at long jump – I was lucky to make the sand pit, however long my run up.
And my efforts to learn to high jump, about aged thirteen, ended in disaster. We were practicing under supervision of a master. The bar was set at about three feet high. We had been shown, and practiced, how to do a Western Roll over the bar onto the soft matting (the Fosbury flop method was light years into the future). So I did my approach run up, went through the bar, and somehow managed to get my arm pointing backwards for the landing. A small fracture of the trochlea of my left humerus was to mean 6 weeks in plaster with a sling, somewhat to everyone else’s amusement at the story. The worst part of that was that I had been taking lessons toward achieving my Bronze Medal at lifesaving, with only one week to go. The fracture meant that I missed the test, and never did achieve my lifesaving ambitions.
The other consequence was that I was forced to miss a swimming championship at school. This was a great pity. I might not have been able to run, I was obviously hopeless at jumping, I could not throw objects very far, I did not excel at team sports like rugby and hockey, but actually I had begun to show promise at swimming. It is often the case, is it not, that at least at the amateur level of swimming competition, a competitor with a bit of flab has surprising buoyancy, and can often do well? Well, I was carrying a bit of flab at that stage, did have buoyancy, and had got into the habit of winning races at the school trials at the heated baths in Broadstairs. But with an arm in a sling, it was all not to be.

So what do you do when you are not good at sport? You either find some other sport that suits your physique and mentality, or you become a Library Monitor!

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