In September 1968 I beheld my first wooden vaulting horse.
It lived in the gym in the labyrinth under my Tooting secondary school – where no humans dared venture and probably housed a three-headed dog – there were suspicious teeth marks on the wall-bars.
This horse, at first sight, seemed the size of a Shetland pony. However, when we were told what we had to do on it and over it, suddenly it was the size of the one I’d imagined had been plonked outside Troy.
I’d watched, admiringly, the success of the Czechoslovakian gymnast, Vera Caslavska at that year’s Olympics, as she glided over the wooden horse as if she were being operated by strings. Much as I looked like Joe 90, I had no strings attached and certainly nothing which was going to help me over the horse. I was, having watched the eponymous 1950 film, also surprised there weren’t sprinklings of discarded soil around the wooden horse.
My turn came to vault over the horse: I ran and promptly stopped like a runner in the Grand National who doesn’t fancy Becher’s Brook. I couldn’t do it and subsequently found out during that academic year that I could neither climb a rope nor do anything vaguely precarious on wall-bars.
This inherent danger was greater than what I’d experienced at my Balham primary school when all you had to do during PE was run around in your pants pretending to be a tree.
At secondary school we were told that all the trees had got Dutch Elm Disease and so would we if we didn’t vault over a horse.
I guess I was more Ronnie than Olga Korbut
You’re probably not allowed to wear just pants these days.