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Notes from odd places

1st November 2012

As we catch our breath after the great excitement of recent sporting events, I cast my mind back to the early years of my own athletic endeavours. At infants' school, there was very little in the way of organised sport, no doubt because we were all, without exception, very little.

At playtime, we generally ran around in circles, occasionally throwing a ball or soggy beanbag at one another.

It was in junior school that my athletic skills blossomed. We were blessed with three playgrounds. The top yard had walls of various challenging heights over which to leap, with two flights of steps to test our courage.

I once caused my best friend to sprain an ankle by instilling her with such confidence that she leapt recklessly from the twelfth and top step; she had made such a grand job of the previous eleven, I had been certain of her success.

The middle yard was a huge expanse of concrete which, in summer, became a buzz of little girls running furiously from end to end, turning cartwheels, leaping into handstands, feet creeping down the walls into inverted positions in which we stalked around like bizarre, four-legged, wild creatures.

Wielded by two of the older girls, a heavy rope spanned the width of the yard, and we skipped as if possessed - intricate steps, perfectly co-ordinated with our ancient rhyming songs. In winter, the yard became a vast skating rink on which we twirled, skidded and hurtled towards the end wall, making icy, treacherous tracks down which we coasted like champions.

Mary Hopkin drawing of hanging upside down as a child from a tree

The memory of the glorious paradise that was our bottom yard, even now, gives me a thrill of pleasure. It was a sloping, grassy field with hawthorn trees at either end and crab apple trees along the bottom wall. I cannot begin to describe the joy of rolling down the slope on a summer's day, the sweet smell of the grass, and the dew on our faces. There stood a large, stone shelter in the centre of the yard, where we held impromptu theatrical performances and concerts on showery days.

During playtime, inverted positions were generally preferred. Most conversations were conducted whilst performing a headstand, feet planted against the wall, head on the grassy bank at the base. Arms folded, like little Welsh housewives, we discussed current topics of interest - mostly concerning human biology.

The rest of the time was largely spent hanging upside down from a branch of one or other of the hawthorn trees. Again, arms folded, skirts fluttering freely, revealing quite clearly whose mothers used Persil, we hung like fruit bats, setting the world to rights.

On rainy days, to avoid the discomfort of wet knickers, we retreated to the cloakroom and dangled instead from the rails of coat hangers, invisible amongst the rows of navy and brown gaberdines. Suspended by the knees, in amongst the mackintoshes, we discussed and debated every gruesome, fascinating subject - from sex to capital punishment - hanging. I can barely resist the rhyming option...

Once I moved on to grammar school, when gymnastics and sports became compulsory activities, I lost all interest. All the joy I had previously felt, when free to develop new skills in my own time, disappeared. Rebelling against the strict regime, I did all I could to avoid 'Games' from then on, thus curtailing any remote possibility of an illustrious, alternative career.

I am a sad loss...

From the sofa,


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