why PE is the lesson we never forget
Cast your mind, dear reader, to the shrill cry of rubber tennis on the wooden floor of the gym. To those green rubber mats that you dragged out of the store. In a string of burns and blisters on young tender hands. That trampette thing that you had to bounce on to propel yourself onto the horse before you did a handstand at the other end. (How didn’t we break our necks?) Chlorine poisoning and wet hair frozen to your skull and spotted blue legs and five mile cross country races when you ran stupidly fast for the first two, then you felt your lungs burst into flames and you must have vomited into a hedge. (I was good at it until I grew breasts; it was insane agony forever.) Hockey games when someone on the wing developed hypothermia.
âCome on girls, it’s not cold! exploded the mistress of games, Miss Psycho. We wore tiny pleated skirts and Aertex shirts, Miss Psycho wore thermals, ski pants, anorak and a quilted vest. And the breeches, my God, those old navy blue trousers so wide you could have kept half a dozen apples in them – and it was itchy, too. Sometimes the pants were even worn without shorts in front of BOYS! And there was no point in saying that you forgot your kit; they brought out prehistoric objects of lost property for you, damp with the ghostly residue of past humiliations.
I was not entirely surprised to learn that memories of physical education classes in school still elicit what George Eliot called âthe tingling of remembered shameâ in six out of ten adults. 64% of Brits say physical education was absolutely the worst thing about school, with kids today having no idea, according to a survey by myphizz, a student wellness app how bad it was. I bet the 36% who don’t see PE as a primitive trauma are the ones whose names were called out first when choosing teams for netball or football.
It’s a different story for those of us who hung around the sidelines until the end – four-eyed eyes like me (the unflattering National Health goggles of my time made you look like a cross between Dame Edna Everage and a librarian in a lunatic asylum), the lame, the lard (unusual at the time, pre-junk food), all trying not to cross their eyes, waiting and waiting for the team captain have mercy on us. Surely the hissing, uncoordinated kid next to me was even more desperate? Such were the ungenerous thoughts aroused by the test of the “picky”.
The survey confirms that the most hated aspect of old school gym classes was the shame of being the last to be chosen for a team (42%), the misery of having to run outside in the freezing cold. wearing just a pair of PE panties (40%), being publicly humiliated by the teacher (39%) – do you think being a sadist was a real requirement to enter PE college ? – and the embarrassment of having to change in front of the whole class (35%). I never managed to climb one of the ropes that fell, menacing like a hangman’s noose, from the ceiling to the side of the room (23%).
Do we think these physical education lessons on survival of the fittest have forged character? Or have they, as the survey suggests, affected the way we view exercise for the rest of our adult lives? It took me years to find a sport I was good at (badminton). I admit that the words “pommel horse” can still trigger Proustian panic. It’s good to know that I’m not alone. I asked my followers on Twitter to share their horrors in PE. Here are the hilarious, mortifying, brutal, icy and very often scary highlights!
Michelle: âBeing told by cross-country ski instructors, who were standing there, warming themselves with cups of coffee, to ‘keep running, you will have your second breath’. Forty years later, I’m still waiting!
Terry: “When you were 15, a word that was inappropriate during PT, you were hanged from bars until you fell shouting: ‘I’m a bit m —.’ Folds moved in the kit meant being scrubbed in the shower by classmates using floor scrubbers. So much fun – no!
Helen: “Having to wear bottle green PE panties with just my gym t-shirt and the trampoline with the boys.” So embarrassing at 13â¦ â
Andrew: âGetting a medicine ball tossed at me by a psychotic games teacher. Best memory, five years later, knocking out the same teacher on the rugby pitch.
Emma: “Being in the failed group, run to the horse, stop – then pull yourself up.”
Anna: âWhen my (very average) convent school curvy team unexpectedly beat the top local team, they were so outraged that they threw themselves into us with their roundness bats. We were therefore driven from school by a nun who was shouting: âRun, girls, they don’t give a damn about us! Sweet memories.”
Andrew: â10/11 year old Hurling in PE Ireland for the first time. I grabbed a friend in the mouth with the howl. I will never forget that he looks at me in shock, with his teeth literally falling out.
Caro: âWheelbarrow races – the girls being the wheelbarrows and the boys holding our bare legs. really happened. I had a very sick physical education teacher!
Kate: âThe dreaded wooden horse. It was at least a foot taller than me, and we were expected to jump and land on hard tiled floor. Elf n ‘safety would have a crisis now! “
Mark: âForget my PE kit and have to do it in my vest and pants. My Starsky and Hutch pants to be precise – oh, shame!
Laura: âI told the teacher that I was feeling a little sick. She didn’t believe me and made me run once more on the field. When I collapsed she came to see if I was okay and I quickly threw up all over her shoes. I became a school legend for a while.
Adrian: âI went to a boys’ school and I was a weak specimen. I hated when the physical education master picked his favorite athletes to pick teams. I was invariably the penultimate or penultimate to be selected and dreaded the psychological dread of being the last. I have never been, but I am visibly marked.
Corinne: âAt boarding school, we had a terrifying physical education teacher who would put us in stressful positions (commonly used in torture) if we were late. One day he yelled at my friend Holly and she was so scared she pooped!
Tim: “I swear I spotted one of my sports masters on trial in The Hague.”
Lula: âShowering after physical education with the teacher setting the showers to make sure we have washed. She also kept a record of when we said we couldn’t shower because of our period. A small red dot has been put against our name with the date.
Russell: âMain hall, 12 years old. I climbed to the top of the frame which was just below the ceiling, about 25-35 feet from the floor. I slipped and fell. The gym teacher grabbed me, but only grabbed his arms in my groin area. Saved me, but grabbed my left testicle – and it split open. It’s still double the size, 46 years later.
Jocelyn: âThe aerobatic horse; short legs, not a hope of getting over it.
Prof B: âAt a private school in Bolton, if you (young boys) forgot your swimming gear you had to swim naked. No lying word.
Lara-Jane: âHaving to walk naked in single file in front of the sports teachers. One watched you walk into the shared showers and the other watched you leave. Does this still happen? Because in hindsight it seems quite abusive.
Chris: âI broke my arm after jumping a horse via a trampette. “
Barbara: âThe only time I managed to hit that damn thing, the round ball landed on the car with my head. Don’t tell me that sport improves your life.
Sebastian: âDo physical education in my pants because I forgot my shorts. A kid did and he had skid marks on his pants so he was always known as Skiddy.
Mike: âCross-country running! WTAF, is that all? Use a damn Land Rover!
Good idea, Mike. I wish my physical education teacher had taken the same point of view in 1974.
Please send me your own memories of PE, and we will print the best / most horrible.