A lifetime first today – a win in a race: first place in the men’s egg and spoon race at the primary school sports. Entry was necessitated by the person who had phoned the mobile ringing off seconds before the race was due to start and a stern voice declaring, ‘Reverend Ian, you’re taking part in this race’. Had there been a choice of events, the sack race would have been preferable; but a thirteen stone bulk inside a sack might quickly have torn a hole in the hessian.
Watching the children’s races, the sack race brought memories of school sports forty years ago. No-one had equipment beyond black plimsolls; athletics was done in whatever one stood up in. A sand pit provided the venue for the high jump and the long jump; running was simply a matter of starting at one point in the field and finishing at another; there were no markings on the grass. An ability to sprint only emerged in the final term at the school; up until then the name went down for the sack race at the school sports; an event for duffers, all the serious competitors being kept for entry to proper races. But the sack race brought the only ever moment of individual success in all the years at school. In the Langport Area School Sports in the summer term of 1972, coming in third meant taking home a deep red certificate; a certificate that would now be framed and hanging prominently on the wall if it still existed, for it was the nearest thing ever to actually winning anything.
There seemed always a great cruelty about sports in those days; if you were not athletic, you could quickly become a butt of criticism and even ridicule. Perhaps education was like that in those days, perhaps making fun of kids was considered reasonable. Remembering the lyrics of Pink Floyd’s 1979 album The Wall, maybe cynicism, sarcasm and, sometimes, downright bullying were the order of the day.
Intervening when a young boy shouted ‘losers’ at those who had not done so well in one of the children’s races, I spoke at the medals presentation about there being no ‘losers’’; about the school being like a team, and everyone playing for the team to ensure everyone succeeded.
Looking back those forty years, and looking at the years in between, maybe the boy was closer to the truth than my old liberal ideals of co-operation and mutual support. Maybe the losers and winners in the long game are apparent on primary school sports days. Maybe being in the sack race was a metaphor of things to come!