Compulsory cross country

The boxing club of Mulbarton, near Norwich, in the late 1940s. This picture can be found in when Schooldays Were Fun by Stephen Browning

The boxing club of Mulbarton, near Norwich, in the late 1940s. This picture can be found in when Schooldays Were Fun by Stephen Browning

At Beckenham Grammar School in the 1940s, our elitist headmaster would have become apoplectic if anyone had suggested that competitive sport was a bad thing. Even my form mate Bailey had to attend sports afternoons and he wore a surgical boot and could only help with the scoring.

I had far less excuse to avoid the sporting frenzy at the school, and in line with official policy I was expected to compete in every sporting activity from boxing, hockey, rugby and cricket to cross country running and track and field events. Being pretty useless at all these activities was not deemed a valid excuse. Happily I escaped the school swimming gala since a width of the pool in a frenzied doggy paddle was my maximum effort. I also have disturbing memories of my efforts in the gymnasium, but 1 prefer not to dwell on those.

In 1945,1 did actually come second in the junior high jump. I have no recollection of this event, but I know it must have happened because it was recorded in the school magazine – the only time that there is an official record of any sporting achievement of mine.

On sports day I, like all the rest, was expected to enter for some race or other and in the end I settled for the 440 yards, since I had neither the acceleration for the 100 yards nor the stamina for the one mile. No one took much interest in the 440 yards, so I could come last or second to last in relative obscurity.

Then came the school junior cross country race. All the juniors were expected to take part. Even if you came last you earned one point for your house and the second from last earned two points, and so on. The points were all gathered together to see which house had won. We used the Blackheath Harriers club house at Hayes for our changing room. In mid-winter, there was no hot water for showers because of the fuel shortage so we went home muddy. The course lay across Hayes and Keston Commons and I recall splashing through puddles, clambering over fences and puffing and panting over the undulating ground. It was three-and-a-half miles of misery.

The first year I came in IIIth place. It would have been 112th if our house captain had not been standing at the finish.

“Come on you Beaver House man. You can beat that man in front.”

In dutiful response I hurled myself past a podgy red faced boy who looked as if he was about to explode. The next year I came seventh, and to my horror this qualified me for the school cross country team. Only some judicious medical excuses saved me from regular doses of that muddy misery.

Robert Edom