It probably seemed like a good idea at the time, we had several Carnegie College of Sporting Finesse sports masters at the Leeds Modern Grammar School and they probably all decided together one day, whilst drinking coffee and smoking several cigarettes in a lunch break, that getting all of us spotty first formers to run a cross country race would be a good idea.
It was never going to happen, not for me anyway, and not for Patrick Stewart either, and in very short time not for a whole gang of us either.
The school was situated just a short run across the University playing fields to an area of council owned woodland known to all as The Hollies, it had once been owned by the Oates family, one of whom was the Oates of Scott of the Antarctic fame who went for a stroll before luncheon in a blizzard and unsurprisingly was never seen again, well, they lost the house and the woodland and the council took it, thank you very much.
The Hollies consists of several miles of footpaths winding across both sides of a steep heavily wooded valley and our sports masters probably went out for a jog around one day and came up with a marvellous plan – if they made us run around it twice then they would only have to stand at the entrance to keep an eye on us (the “supervisory role” bit of the Big Book for Sports Teachers being covered) and we’d probably end up running about a dozen miles in total which would teach us little 11 year old buggers a lesson – a lesson on how to be totally knackered for no purpose whatsoever.
And so one day Sinbad Simpson stood us all to attention on the south drive, he clad in his warm fleecy lined and familiar beige Carnegie tracksuit, us dressed only in a gym vest, shorts and black plimpsols – what? Running shoes? Trainers? Ha! don’t make me laugh, they hadn’t been invented yet – and there was Sinbad Simpson explaining the nature of this weeks torture while we all shivered in the -5 wind chill factor, then with a crack of his circus ringmasters whip (yes really) off we were sent, two circuits of The Hollies to navigate and back for double Maths later, deep joy, oh how we laughed.
It didn’t take Patrick Stewart very long at all to decide that he wasn’t going to run twice around The Hollies and it didn’t take me too long to agree with him, I think it was about two seconds actually, the only question was how to avoid getting caught not running twice around The Hollies.
The Hollies themselves came up with the perfect solution as soon as we arrived there – remember the bit about being heavily wooded on both sides of a steep valley ?
30 boys started the run down through the woods on the nearside of the steep valley but only 26 boys ran up the other side and continued with the run, Patrick and I, and if memory serves me right Tony Bateson and Sam Kirkbride took shelter in a large rhododendron bush – do you know how large, large rhododendron bushes can grow, let me tell you, when they were planted by Captain Oates who then walked off in a blizzard to his certain death leaving his rhododendron bushes unattended for 60 years, they grow very big, very wide and very deep indeed and when you climb into the middle of a rhododendron bush like that you find that the inside is actually hollow and there’s loads of room to hide four 11 year old lads, in fact the following week there would be ten or more and the week after almost all 30 of us hid inside the same rhododendron bush while Sinbad Simpson stood at the entrance to The Hollies smoking a pipe and congratulating himself on inventing such a wonderful exercise in physical education, making men of us thats what he was doing, don’t know what he was doing when he watched us in the showers afterwards, but thats probably for another chapter, the one that the censor might not pass without running it past the lawyers first.
Out of the wind and relieved of the duty of running a dozen or so miles up and down valley sides we simply lounged around inside the rhododendron bush, shared a cigarette that Patrick may have brought with him or possibly found on the floor, the inside of this particular rhododendron bush apparently being quite popular as definite evidence of other humans having used its shelter was all around us, you wouldn’t want to smoke some of the things that were left lying around in there but there was a good supply of half smoked fags to keep us going.
We gave it about half an hour, then peeking out through the leaves and spotting the first of our exhausted classmates heading back to the school after staggering around for two circuits, we simply leaped from the bush and tagged on behind them, trying to look suitably exhausted but still managing a cheeky wave to Sinbad as we trotted past him, “Those little bastards don’t look tired at all” he must have thought, “they’ve either used the rhododendron dodge or they are Yorkshire Cross Country Championship material”.
And so it continued every week and every week we’d find a different place to dive off the path into the bushes and every week Sinbad failed to find out where we disappeared to and convinced that we must be skiving he took to running the whole course himself, little did he know that we’d found a disused quarry over the far side of the valley and nearly all 30 of us would end up in there hiding behind rocks, chatting, smoking and chucking stones at David England* while Sinbad ran the course all on his own and wondered why he never actually saw any running boys until right at the end.
*Damn, David England follows this blog now doesn’t he, ok it wasn’t David England that we chucked stones at.
*It was actually.