If, using your own body and without any props or materials, you’ve never been asked to construct a series of objects from a Lynx Helicopter to the Eiffel Tower, or stomp your way through a traditional African dance, the chances are you’ve never attended a Northumbria Police self-defence class, or that you got stuck in traffic on the way there and missed the ice breaker. For me, back surgery was a platinum lined cloud, leading to the happy outcome that I was never required to take part in a self-defence or physical education class ever again. The subject of organised physical activity came to my mind last Friday while I was listening to the speeches at the opening ceremony for the new STEM building at Charles Thorp.
You see the STEM building is slap bang in the middle of where the hockey pitch used to be when I was a pupil there, and so my mind wandered back to the halcyon days gone by when I’d last stood on that particular spot. It will have been sometime in 1974 (by 1975 I’d discovered truant) shivering in my Airtex vest doing everything possible to avoid the ball. When the dreaded hard heavy lump of plastic did steal its way in my direction, my policy was to hit anything that moved, without discriminating between the ball and a human shin. My abiding memory of hockey was failing to grasp the offside rule, the cold, and rarely being allowed to wear a long-sleeved top. I assume this Dickensian measure was put in place to force us to run about more, but it only succeeded in making us miserable, and when I look back at a photograph taken at the time, I note that the teacher is wearing a full track suit, gloves, and a bobble hat. Had I simply been comfortable, I might well have taken sport more seriously, and come to enjoy it in adulthood far earlier – I was pushing thirty when I took up running and discovered its benefits.
When I was eighteen and a member of the police cadets, we were forced to do a cross-country run every bloody day. It was around some God forsaken route near to the Kylins in Morpeth. I was consistently last, so when the morning came that I arrived back first, I was greeted with more than just a little incredulity.
“You’ve found a shortcut!” The sergeant accused me.
“No.” I replied.
I was being truthful, although at the time I was oblivious to the fact that Roger Bannister was famous for the four-minute mile, and I’d managed 3 miles in six minutes.
“You will be put on a report for lying.”
“I’m not lying.”
Later on that day the instructor paced the cross-country course trying to root out the short cut I’d discovered, only to find there wasn’t one.
“Just because I can’t find the short cut, does not mean it doesn’t exist. Tell me once and for all, before I put you on paper, where is the short cut.”
“I didn’t take a short cut.”
“That’s it, you’re going on paper.”
I didn’t take a short cut you know, I simply hitched a lift on a milk float, but I wasn’t asked about milk floats, milk floats didn’t feature in the conversation anywhere, only short cuts, so I didn’t see any need to bring the subject of milk floats up.
Heather bought me a Jawbone for Christmas, the very thing that I’ve ridiculed her about for the past twelve months. The Jawbone is an electronic device which you attach to your wrist and it’s paired with an app on your mobile phone. It tells you how much sleep you’ve had and whether light or deep, suggests bed times, examines your calorie intake, and measures physical activity. I’ve got to admit that it’s curiously addictive, particularly as I keep trying to catch it out but never can. For example, if I get up to go to the loo in the night I always make a note of the time, and check in the morning to see if the Jawbone has registered it. It always does, 3.35am to 3.40am awake, 10 steps. I note the times when I start and finish a walk, and the Jawbone gets it right without me having to press anything. If that’s not an incentive to dig out the old Dunlop Green Flash then I don’t know what is. Another incentive is that you can link up with people you know who have the same piece of equipment, and challenge them to duels. I challenged Heather to a three-day duel to see who could walk the most steps. I started off well, walking from Greenside to Ryton to see Mum, but intending to get the bus back. I was well ahead, but then Heather caught up during her lunch hour, which motivated me to shun public transport and walk home. When she arrived back from work I was triumphant. The minute she crossed the threshold I announced,
“I’ve done more steps than you today.”
“No you haven’t.”
“Yes I have, look!”
I brandished my mobile phone.
“Right, well I’m going to go for a run then.”
This is blatant cheating, I’m not able to run anymore, and in any case the challenge was walking not running. All is fair in love and war, so I got on my bike and went after her.
“That’s cheating,” she puffed as I drew level.
“No it’s not, running is cheating, you moved the goalposts, not me, so if you can run I can cycle.”
Our days are now full of such banal chatter, but at least we’re a lot healthier.