Monday, May 08, 2006

Hockey in the Dark

One of the things than annoyed me about school was that they were forever trying to teach you how to do things without showing you what the end result should be like, so you never understood what you were aiming at.

So I learned to knit by knitting a dishcloth out of string. Exciting, n'est-ce pas? What child could resist the temptation of knitting a lovely white dishcloth? The idea that you might go on to knit a jumper in something that wasn't string was entirely lost on me.

And when I came to learn the clarinet, nobody explained that if I put in enough effort then eventually it would stop making those disgusting sqeaking noises and - if I was very lucky - start sounding at least a bit like Acker Bilk playing Stranger on the Shore. They expected me to know these things.

And they expected me to know what hockey was about. Goodness knows why, since nobody ever explained the rules. As far as I was concerned, hockey involved wearing a red or a blue bib-thing that slipped over your head, with an aertex shirt and some black shorts and some boots. Then two sporty girls hit each other's sticks together in the middle and everyone ran about aimlessly in the freezing cold while the teacher blew her whistle a lot. Then the bell went and we all trooped off to French or some proper subject.

My mother liked hockey. My mother was, in her day, the Captain of Leeds University Hockey Team. But if she tried to explain it to me, I wasn't listening, and it was only years later when I saw a bit of the England hockey team on television, skilfully passing the ball to each other, that I went oh - - I see - - - that's what it was supposed to be about.

But meanwhile, the baffling game of aimless running around in the cold continued. Then, one year when I was about thirteen, something happened. Time changed. Or rather it didn't. They kept British Summer Time in the winter, as an experiment.

So this meant that the evenings were lighter and children could come home from school in safety, whistling merrily, for lo! it was still light. Hurrah.

But they didn't seem to have considered that what it also meant was that in the mornings it was pitch dark until about half-past nine.

We started school at half-past eight. And Games was the first lesson. So now we had the interesting game of Hockey in the Dark.

And now it was that a certain amount of low cunning on my part came into play. We were always split into two teams and they were always the same - - one was full of keen, sporty volunteers who loved any games. Show them a field with frost on it and they were ready to die from happiness.

Then there was the other team, the Can't Play Won't Play team. Full of people like me.

My new strategy went like this. The teacher sorted out the Keen Team first.

"Who wants to be Goal Defence?"

"Oh, me, Miss, please Miss!" cries Daphne, waving her arms in feigned expression of crazed excitement.

"Very well," says the astonished teacher, handing me the appropriate bib.

Now the Goal Keeper had to wear pads and look keen. All Goal Defence did, as far as I could see, was try to keep the ball away from the goal if it came down that end of the pitch.

And, because I was Goal Defence on the Keen Team, it never, ever, did. All I saw of the ball that winter was a little white dot flitting about in the blackness at the far end of the pitch. I could barely make out the dim shapes of the teacher and the rest of the girls and managed to blot out the shrill blasts of the whistle until the faint dawn light showed that it was nearly time to return to the classroom.

Sometimes I had a chat with the Goal Keeper. Sometimes I just stood and thought. Sadly my experiment with reading a novel didn't get very far as it was too dark. And okay, it was still freezing cold.

But my thoughts were my own. I had, temporarily, escaped.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ah yes; whatever sport we were "playing", that "GD" bib was coveted among myself and equally disinclined friends.
There are very, very few things I hate more than I hated school PE.
You can also flummox the bullying teacher by consistently and annoyingly being far more intelligent than them (not difficult).

9:03 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This sounds oh too familiar. In my case it was assumed that everyone knew the rules of football. I still have no idea; and my experience of school sport put me off all organised sports permanently.

Unfortunately my strategies didn't always work.

After a few years we were allowed to choose an outdoor sport. I thought hockey might not attract the big sporty types, who would consider it a girls' game. Wrong. The first hospital case happened less than two minutes into the first game. And they went on...

So, when we were finally allowed to choose an indoor game, I checked first: no-one chose badmington. Good. Just me and my mate. So we automatically became the school badmington team. Luckily no other school ever challenged us, so I just got away with it.

10:28 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Now I come to think of it I am *still* really annoyed about school sports.

We had to do "cross-country running". It was compulsory. And the last boy back got an automatic detention. It was always the same boy, who was not especially gifted at anything, and no-one liked. What, exactly, was this supposed to teach him? Or us?

Then there was the sports teacher that decided that my hatred for all games was because I didn't want to get dirty. So every lesson I (and a few others) had to find a muddy puddle and roll in it before the game started. The only problem here was the puddles were too frozen to make mud: we kept getting sent back to try again. I didn't much care about the mud, but it was *cold* for the rest of the lesson.

What is it about sports teachers?

10:45 pm  

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