It was by far the most bizarre gym exercise I have ever experienced, then or since, the ingenious method of “gate rolling” as demonstrated on that cold Friday morning in 1968 by Sinbad Simpson.
We were a class of 11 year olds, brand new conscripts to Leeds Modern Grammar School at the end of our first week in the first year we were still getting used to having our arses kicked up in the air every morning by anyone who was older than yourself, which in the case of first years is everyone else in the school, including the prefects and masters, if you got through a day without having your arse kicked then that was a notable diary day.
That first Friday morning had “PE” written on the timetable and so as instructed by our form Master, who was himself a physical education instructor, we made our way down a flight of cold stone steps into the basement, the gym changing rooms and the two storey high subterranean gym itself to be greeted at the bottom of the stairs by Sinbad Simpson.
He seemed old for a PE instructor, old compared to all the other PE instructors in the school anyway, old with a beard but wearing a crisp Carnegie College blazer and a stern voice to match, he instructed us to get changed into our brand new gym vests, the one in school colours that our mothers had lovingly bought us all during the summer holidays from Rawcliffes, the gym vests that had been on the list of compulsory kit and we had read the words “Gym vest in school colours” and wondered “why?”, well we were soon to find out.
Introducing us into the freezing cold gymnasium, freezing cold by virtue of the fact that Sinbad always left the upper level windows open, he commenced by explaining what “circuit training” was to us 11 year olds and it was during this tour of the gym that we were introduced to a pair of horizontal planks of wood – how can I explain this, the two horizontal planks of wood were attached at one end to a hinge on the gym wall and at the other to a frame on wheels that enabled someone like Sinbad to swivel the frame out from the wall presenting an obstacle of two horizontal planks of wood for a small 11 year old boy to consider climbing over.
One plank was below the other, the highest was around chest height to us, “Its a farm gate” instructed Sinbad Simpson “and I want you to figure out how to get over it”.
This was really simple, you’d just climb over it, and Asquith, having been selected by Sinbad to reveal a solution, simply climbed over the two planks of wood, just as we all would have done.
Sinbad went crackers and bawled Asquith back into the huddle with the rest of us, “have you never rolled over a farm gate you imbeciles ?” he roared at us, and we all had to shake our heads in the negative for we had not the first clue of what he was talking about – we could probably have opened the gate and be halfway across the farmers field by now though.
He took up a position in front of the barrier and barked at us to watch carefully, for we were to follow.
Bending forward over the top bar he grasped the lower plank of wood with one hand and the upper plank with the other – picture Sinbad Simpson now bent double over the top of the imaginary farmers gate – he then slowly lifted his feet off the floor and by some means of self levitation hoisted his legs over the top bar to pivot himself completely through 180 degrees and end up facing us on the other side of the barrier.
“That boys is how you roll a farm gate” he beamed, “now Asquith, get over here”
And while the rest of us stood and pondered further on how much easier it would be just to open the bloody gate he took Asquith through what was turning into the most difficult physical exercise of all time, especially to a boy like Asquith who was built more for opening farm gates rather than contorting himself in the most unimaginable way over the top of them.
Asquith was nearly the whole way over the “gate” when he got stuck and Sinbad started to yell at him to pivot his bottom hand around or he’d break his wrist, it was all too much for the rest of us, we’d never heard of anyone breaking his wrist just by opening a farm gate before – maybe Sinbad had got this wrong, for one thing if you rolled over every farm gate this way then you’d very quickly not have anything left in your pockets for during most of the manoeuvre you were upside down – just open the fooking gate Asquith and lets get on…