WRIGHT THINKING: School gym memories

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The photos of the local gymnastic club in action in the Hartlepool Mail recently brought some memories flooding back, many of them painful!

 At school, I was pretty keen on team games but I could never rustle up much enthusiasm for the dubious pleasures of the gym.

 Our school gymnasium at the long demolished Henry Smith School, on the Headland, was quite an odd place thinking back, and would have probably given a modern health and safety expert a fit of the vapours.

 One entrance door was direct from a main corridor, through glass-topped doors and down a steep flight of stairs which intruded into the floor of the gym itself – what could possibly go wrong there then?

 If I remember rightly, the far end had another two doors leading into the boys’ and girls’ changing rooms respectively.

 You would enter from that direction straight from a floor wet from leaky showers onto a varnished wooden floor – it’s a wonder they didn’t have an ambulance parked outside permanently!

 The wooden wall bars lining one wall were also highly polished, presumably to keep the disaster odds high, and I could just about manage to get to the top of them, but couldn’t see the career benefit of learning to hang upside down with your legs wedged and all the blood rushing to your head.

 It also made you look like a monkey ... a bit life-threatening in Hartlepool.

 The apparatus which really defeated me was the thick rough ropes hanging from the ceiling.

 Some of my classmates could climb them at great speed and made it look very simple.

 I did as instructed, hand-over-hand and trying to grip with my feet, and never seemed to rise an inch.

 I also recall huge vaulting horses with a well worn padded top.

 The idea was to run at them and make a graceful leap after you’d launched yourself at some speed.

 Beyond them was another lad who was the catcher in case you missed your landing.

 I had that duty one day when the kid running towards me was the size of a prize warthog.

 Amazingly, he did make the top of the box and flew towards me with nil control of his intended direction.

 He knocked me over like a bowling pin, which brought great hilarity to everyone in the gym – except the bloodied two of us.

 The only time I remember that place being used for non physical education activity was when it was called into use as a makeshift ballroom.

 In the winter, we usually played rugby outside on the Friarage Field in all weathers, unless the conditions deteriorated into something which Arctic commandos would refuse.

 We would then be schooled in a selection of traditional dances which, it was thought, would be ideal preparation for future life as young ladies and gentlemen.

 Oddly, it did turn out to be far from useless.

 Years on, attendance at a traditional dance can lead to major smugness when you are one of the few around who can shine at the Dashing White Sergeant, the Boston Two Step and the Gay Gordons.

 So, after five glorious years, I still couldn’t climb a rope, but my future on Strictly Come Dancing was assured.