My padlock’s bigger than yours


It is ironic, given my most feared lesson at Tooting’s Bec Grammar School, was PE, that I now religiously and willingly attend a gym on a Saturday (Bayern home games permitting) and Sunday (when not serving as an acolyte at the Epsom & Ewell Buddhist Temple for Latter Day Saints).

At Bec we had a PE teacher (for teacher read sadist), Mr Scrowston, who you couldn’t have made up. He didn’t tend to mix with the other teachers and had his own “office” which housed an awful lot of rugby balls, hurdles and shot puts.  There is a line in the film “Hospital” where the star, George C Scott, suggests one of the nurses was trained at Dachau;  I often used to think that Mr Scrowston learned how to teach cross-country running there as he dished those out as punishments.

I could never fully understand why I was so rubbish at PE. I had good hand/eye coordination, but could never climb a rope, jump a buck or successfully execute an angled-head-stand (with or without the aid of my partner).

I recall one moment when Mr Scrowston entered one of the classrooms, prior to us sitting a particularly important geography exam, to tell us the results of the PE tests we’d had the previous week. I and two other class members (out of thirty) had failed to achieve a single point and were therefore punished with a cross-country run at our earliest inconvenience.

In the 4th Year, double history preceded PE.  I would sit in abject fear of what was about to happen in the bowels of the school gymnasium where the surrounding wall-bars I swear had been made from the bones of former pupils who’d also obtained 0% in their PE test.  This innate fear explains why I remember precious little about why Home Rule was considered a good idea by the then PM William Gladstone. Oddly I did remember that Gladstone’s hobby, aside from tree-felling, was rescuing fallen women.  As a very immature and naïve fifteen-year-old, I believed that “fallen women” were clearly women with inner ear problems and that Gladstone was always hovering on the corners of streets near Westminster ready to break the fall of these ill-balanced women.

It wasn’t until I’d read back copies of Parade in Ron and Don’s barbers in Chestnut Grove, Balham that I realised why I’d never make it as a doctor, and certainly never a gynaecologist.

Nowadays there is no one telling me I’m windy, a particular synonym for cowardice in Mr Scrowston’s eyes. During an inter-house cricket match I was facing some particularly hostile bowling and before one ball I had walked towards square leg.  “Richards, you’re windy” announced Mr Scrowston, “cross country run!” – I was automatically given out and sent to run round Wandsworth Common – twice!

The only torment I get at the gym is from 50% of the members who are Chelsea fans and taunt me with memories of the 2012 Champion’s League final. I blame myself as I turn up every weekend with my shirt with number 25 and the name “MÜLLER” on the back.

This week at my gym they introduced a new security system: one involving padlocks. You had to provide your own and it seems that not only does peacocking prevail in the showers (I blame the water being cold, so I don’t take part in that) but now it seems the bigger the padlock the more important you are in the changing rooms.  There are some padlocks which wouldn’t look out of place at Fort Knox.

But not only have you got to remember bringing a padlock, you have to have a sports-related number for the combination.  I have a very good friend at the gym who has decided, as his combination, to have the 1988/89 Chelsea formation (see, there is no escape).  Genius – until Graham Roberts becomes a member of our gym.

I have a small padlock (enter your own gag here) which needs no combination number. Consequently, I now have padlock envy.  I spent an hour jogging, rowing and doing things on the cross-dresser this morning wondering, if I had a padlock with a combination lock, what that number would be?  I decided on 1868, the year Gladstone first became Prime Minister.  Because, whenever I think of Gladstone, I think of doing PE and that is motivation enough.  Although, I look back on my Bec PE lessons and even if I’d have tried trying to vault over a horse, I may have saved time by not needing a vasectomy.

2 thoughts on “My padlock’s bigger than yours

  1. I had to smile when I read your memories of Mr Scrowston. He left Bec in 1972 and went to the Judd School Tonbridge
    where he taught PE & Rugby, Biology and some Geography. One day on the rugby field where he was taking the “B” group he yelled at me “Constance, get over there” indicating the “A” group on an adjoining field. This was high praise indeed and represented a promotion to School team status. He was a legend. I agree he saw it as his mission in life to turn “bloody fairies” (his words) into men. Sometimes successful, sometimes not. He did have a sense of a humour and once read by rote his biology notes to the class in the voice of a dalek. (Or perhaps it was just his yorkshire accent, memory does play tricks on one.) In the mid 70’s he had a yellow MGB which he drove furiously and a retriever called Topper which he brought into school and which had a habit of attempting copulation with a students legs as I recall. He was never called “Screw” at Judd but referred to as “Ralph”. Due to retire in 1980 when he would have been 60, he died in harness on the playing fields refereeing a rugby match in 1979. I liked him. I respected him. I would rather see his ilk teaching in grammar schools as opposed to some of the dross who pass for teachers today. During WW2 he was aircrew in the Fleet Air Arm, Temporary Lieutenant G.R. Scrowston RNVR, flying in Grumman Avengers and Fairey Swordfish amongst others. But, like so many of his generation, he did not talk about this. RIP Ralph, you are not forgotten by this student who was given ,several times, your cross country runs.. John Constance Judd School Tonbridge 1974 -1981.


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