Brother Andrew and me circa 1967. Note skinny me.
Once I turned Sixth Form and there was no mandatory sports, I gave it up as swiftly as possible. The one exception was swimming but I always saw that as more fun than competition anyway. And it was the one place where you could guarantee meeting girls that had almost no clothing on. But even that stopped when Helston swimming pool sank. Absolutely true. They built the thing at the bottom of the town on the old boggy flood plain where once the Cober met the sea. One day, the staff came in to work to find a big crack in the deep end and no water. The walls soon began to list dangerously as one side sank into the ground. They had to demolish it eventually and now it's a public park.
Once I'd joined the police, the misery of sports came back temporarily. Hendon was pretty physical at times. We had to jump over horses and bounce on trampolines and run around race tracks. We had to climb ropes, a truly useful skill for the street cop whose suspect makes their escape by kite. If you started slipping on the rope, the instructor would beat your arse with the end. In those pre-Health and Safety days, we climbed at least 15 feet above the hard floor of the sports centre without safety nets or bungees. We swam too. Hendon had an Olympic-sized pool and we spent many hours jumping into the water in pyjamas to rescue rubber-coated breeze blocks from the deep end. Those who couldn’t swim were labelled ‘wanky wonders’ for some reason and floundered around in the baby pool until they didn’t drown any more. It should remind you that this was 1980 and things like this simply don't happen any more. But it made me pretty miserable at the time, as did 'milling'. This was a controlled aggression exercise where we’d be paired up with the person closest to us in height and mass and thrown together into a boxing ring to slug it out. For two minutes, we were required to shuffle about, bop each other on the chin a few times and keep a lid on our anger. At the time, I couldn’t see the point of it. It’s only now – years after they stopped doing this at Hendon because it could be construed as bullying – that I see the worth of it. I've survived nearly 30 years as a cop without once ever losing my temper despite intense provocation at times. Sadly, I see cops losing it more regularly these days and I wonder if a bit of milling at the start might have helped them. It taught me restraint. And it also taught me not to catch an ex-army boxing champion on the nose with my glove. He retaliated more by instinct than intent, I’m sure. I wasn’t in a position to analyse the event. There was a bang, some darkness and then I woke up with a thumping head and the trainer shouting for me to be taken to the medical centre for a check-up. Talk about a glass jaw. One punch and I was unconscious. But at least I wasn’t angry.
Me in Bath last month. Note pin-head on huge body. This needs sorting.
Since then, I've joined a gym twice and in both cases all I ever seemed to meet were narcissistic neo-Nazies in gym vests who, for some reason, always thought I wasn't trying hard enough when I was slogging my not inconsiderable guts out and my heart was hammering like Vulcan's forge. So no more. It's long, long country walks for me. Maybe a bit of cycling too. And plenty of gardening. This year I have a whole raft of new fruit and vegetables to cultivate and I'm looking forward to eating them all later this year.
In moderation of course.