If we did genuinely have a period, we were desperate to get off doing 'cross-country' in particular, because of the nature of sanitary protection in the 1970s. It was embarrassing to run around in public wearing only gym knickers. If you don't understand what I mean, try jogging round your local streets for an hour with a king-sized duvet stuffed in your underwear, and you'll soon realise.
I remember claiming one day that I had a wart in my armpit that would stop me playing tennis. I think my teacher commented that she didn't care if it was a wart or whole warthog in my armpit, I could jolly well go and change into my tennis gear and fetch a racquet.
My parting gift to her on my last day at school was to sneak into the changing rooms, wheel a trolleyful of hockey sticks into the girls' showers and turn on the hot water so that they would warp. I never heard what happened and whether it succeeded. I wonder if the Games department at the school are still puzzled about why no one has scored a goal with the school hockey sticks since 1978.
Anyway, I wrote this poem about her, which I read tonight at a gig. Originally, I called it 'A Letter of Apology to my Games Teacher' until, after the gig, a friend pointed out that there wasn't really a hint of apology in it, so I've changed the title! I've also changed her name. Just in case ...
Not an Apology to my old Games Teacher
Dear Mrs White, I felt that I should get in touch, and say,
I hope it wasn’t my fault that you ended up this way.
I trust you don’t blame me that you’ll never be let out -
trapped in that cell - and straitjacket - and foaming at the mouth.
I joined your class in ’78 and saw you purse your lips
As you opened up your register and saw me on the list.
You’d met me on the tennis court several times already
Not practising my backhand, but snogging Kev. And Freddy.
You made us do ‘cross country’. You said it would be fun.
I wasn’t keen on standing up, let alone being made to run.
If we didn’t do it fast enough, you’d send us off again
To trudge our way round town, in navy gym pants, in the rain.
Of course we took the short cuts, even though they were a risk.
It was hairy on the inside lane of a packed A46.
Once, we got a ride back in a truck with Mary’s dad.
Your face! as fifteen schoolgirls tumbled from his cab.
I hope I’m not the reason that your hands are all a quiver
But I knew there was a short cut if we went along the river.
I’d no idea that Sharon Bailey hadn’t learned to swim
If she’d said she liked the Osmonds, I wouldn’t have pushed her in.
In 1978 we didn’t have these mobile phones
So I couldn’t call for help about Natasha’s broken bones.
She said to take the short cut through the building site
And scale the roof that Monday. Well, they found her. Wednesday night.
It wasn’t all my fault we got lost and came back late.
I got chucked out of Guides. I never learned to navigate.
But I’m sorry that the police were called that day we disappeared
To find me and Jackie sobbing in a wood in Gloucestershire.
That fish and chip shop incident – I see why you were angry
But none of us had money. We were lost and we were hungry.
If he'd just agreed to give us free chips then and there
We would have been much nicer – tied him up with much more care.
So, Mrs White, I’m sad to say, you failed to convince
this pupil that to run was fun. I haven’t moved much since.
But I’d hate to think you blame me that you’re in this tragic state.Locked in a cell, and dribbling, since 1978.
|'Get onto that tennis court now,' she said, 'and maybe one day|
you'll look as fit and attractive as I do.'