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Back in the day, PE consisted of football, running and sustained cruelty

SOMETIMES in that moment when the eyelids droop before an omnibus edition of the Antiques Roadshow, I jerk back to life, my synapses snapping in remembrance of PE past.

'It's okay boys, at least the mats are oot . . .' Picture: Herald Archive
'It's okay boys, at least the mats are oot . . .' Picture: Herald Archive

I emerge shivering. My brain waits to be calmed, my body trembles from the deeply held wounds of horrors past.

The trauma is made worse by the experience of the youngsters of today. They love PE. It said so in The Herald. The Youth Sport Trust/Bupa poll said three out of four kids like it. And eight out of 10 cats, apparently.

These children, of course, parade around heated gymnasiums with modern equipment and a range of activities. We had football. And running. And sustained cruelty.

The PE teachers were psychopaths on work experience, introduced into schools to hone their torture techniques before heading off to interrogation camps in the outposts of the Empire. They made regimental sergeant majors look as hard as the male chorus in a Broadway musical. And that was just the women teachers. The men were so unstable that rabid dugs gave them a wide berth lest they catch something nasty.

PE - or Persistent Emasculation as it must be known - was designed specifically to lower the self-esteem of the pupil. Given this was Scotland, this was quite a task as one's self-esteem was already lower than Lee Marvin's voice. The torture began in the undressing area. This involved a shedding of clothes that led to cruel comments in what might now be politely described as a Max Clifford look-a-like competition. I played a small part in this.

Once the boys had taken the sabre of their words, stuck sharply into the psyche of their victims, the cruelties became more physical.

Not too much football was played because that was looked upon as enjoyment. There was running but it had to be in the rain over long distances. For us, this involved running into Airdrie and then running out of Airdrie, the latter the only reasonable course of action in PE history.

There were also games. This involved climbing up ropes towards a ceiling that seeped damp. There was protection against falls. These were called mats. They were as threadbare as a seaside donkey's coat. Incredibly, they sometimes did not provide adequate cushioning and the fallen were rewarded with   a "stookie" that sometimes, just sometimes gloriously meant one could avoid PE.

There was normally a pommel horse but this was so dilapidated it should have been surrounded by a curtain and been the recipient of a bolt from a humane killer.

There was, of course, no humanity in PE, just victims. These unfortunates proliferated when the PE teachers suddenly raged against the dying of the light, the inadequacy of their lives, the ghastly reality of their appearance. They would then have games that involved inflicting maximum physical damage on their pupils. The most notorious of these was British Bulldog when one had to cross the gym floor - armed only with a strong smell of fear - while the entire school beat one up.

One would have been safer playing tig with a hatchet. And this was stopped at my school after four years. This crazed cruelty was interspersed with the odd game with a bean bag. My memory is now affected by too many blows at British Bulldog so I cannot remember what these bags were for but I do recall that I once bought a very nice beanstalk with them.

The other problem with PE was that it regularly stretched into two periods: the horrible, and the deeply horrible. It was thus two hours of suffering played out to the soundtrack of a teacher roaring like a bull who has just realised "abattoir" is not a fancy name for a mating shed.

Eventually the bell would ring. Like in a boxing contest, with obviously more violence and bloodshed. We would then march into the changing room, normally a disused classroom, where we would gather together and ululate in pain at what had just been inflicted upon us and what was in store until we could miss PE by, say, successfully blowing off one of our toes with big brother's airgun.

There were no showers, no need for a shower. A robustly handled towel would wipe away the PE teacher's spittle and one was ready for double maths. Ah, those were the days, as I tell the column's resident psychiatrist between deep sobs.

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