Those Who Can, Do….

Some things in life are sure to happen. Apart from death and paying taxes, you can be certain of other events taking place along the way e.g. getting cold calls, visiting a Doctor, grazing a knee, getting more cold calls, getting cut up on the motorway, receiving a Christian Aid envelope through the door and thinking about inventing a device which would make a cold caller’s head explode at the touch of a button.

Another sure-fire life event is encountering a P.E. or Physical Education teacher that you detest more than anything else on Earth. Yes, even more than Piers Morgan. I have never met anyone who has told me that they really liked their P.E. teacher at school – never, not a single one. I expect that in today’s world, there are more rules for such teachers to follow and the kids in their care have rights. Not so in the 1970s, that’s for sure. Back then it seemed like they could do and say what they liked and the kids had no rights or protection whatsoever.

My nemesis was one Russell Lee and you may call me bitter and twisted but I still hate him to this day, some 40 years after I last clapped eyes on the arrogant git. I was a rather academic, shy, fat kid who lacked confidence in my abilities and certainly had big issues with body image. In today’s enlightened times, maybe such a kid would have a chance to speak about their problems in a safe environment and might receive encouragement and support to try and overcome the issues. Such an approach was about as alien to Russell Lee as pole dancing is to a nun.

In short, in Mr. Lee’s world, you were a poofter if you didn’t like rugby. Even if you liked playing football you were still a bit on the pink & flowery side of life in his eyes. If like me, you didn’t like participating in sport at all then it was as if someone had gifted him the absolute right to verbally abuse you. I hated rugby lessons on wet freezing Winter Mondays and no matter how much I tried, I simply could not see the glamour or point of kneeling down in the mud and waiting for the command to ‘Scrum!’ so that I could launch myself forwards into some other kid’s arse. Similarly, I had no desire to try and tackle some other kid hurtling towards me, with the end result being a face full of mud and/or studs.

In his small mind, there was a naming hierarchy out on the field of battle. If you were good at rugby then you got called by your full name – “Well done Freddie Smith, good pass Joey Bloggs, good effort Jimmy Riddle!” If you were in the football team then you got called by your surname or a typical soccer shortening thereof – “Good control Smithy, well played Jimmo, great tackle Blogsy!” Also, if you played rugger then you were referred to as boys and footballers were lads. If you were like me then you just got called other names which were abusive, derogatory and wounding.

If it was too wet even for good old rugger, then we got sent on a cross country run. Clyst Vale College was located in farming country just outside Exeter. This meant that a cross-country run involved splashing your way along muddy tracks, one of which ran parallel to a pig farm. Everything you could imagine being produced by such a place ran out through the gates and into the deeply potholed lane. There was no way out of it or clever shortcut because, at the halfway point, Mr. Lee would be sitting in his MGB Spitfire drinking coffee from a flask. If someone didn’t pass him then all Hell broke loose, after he’d finished his coffee. When I got home and Mum saw the state of my kit, she wanted to ram that flask of coffee up his backside.

I think my worst encounter with him was one sunny afternoon by the side of our small outdoor pool when he was trying to teach us how to dive into the water from a seated position. It was dead easy for a lot of kids as they could already dive into the water from any bloody height or angle but for some of us, this was a big deal. I wasn’t a particularly good swimmer and I really didn’t/don’t like being underwater, especially if my tootsies can’t touch the bottom.

So there I sat poolside, trembling with my hands joined and pointing above me, ready to ‘simply’ roll forward and enter the water. He worked his way down the line of beginners like an SS guard barking orders in a camp and when he got to me I just couldn’t move. No matter how loudly he barked his order, I was simply paralysed with fear. After a minute or two of yelling at me and getting nowhere, he changed tack and brought my Father into it. ‘What would my Father think of me if he could see me? He couldn’t call me his son, he’d be utterly ashamed of me. He wouldn’t call me a man, he’d call me a useless mouse.’ These statements smarted at the time but I don’t think he would have thought that at all. He would have seen a nasty piece of work bullying his son and broken the teacher’s face with a lump hammer. 

So with my peer group watching on and shame ringing in my ears I somehow started to stand and roll forwards. On seeing my fat little body moving, Mr. Lee helped me on my way with a push in the back. The fear and shock of being out of my depth and gasping for breath made me snap my head back so hard that I got whiplash. I think a couple of other kids in the pool must have come to my aid as I don’t remember how I got out of it. What I do remember was Mr. Lee’s arrogant sneer looking down at me from poolside and him calling me a ‘big useless baby’.

“Those who can do, those who can’t, teach and those who can do fuck all, teach P.E. or enter politics.”

A few years ago there was a sudden craze of getting back in touch with school friends using a particular website. All it really did was to remind you why you hadn’t bothered to keep in contact with certain people. However, I did post a message on one of its pages asking for any information on the whereabouts of Mr. Russell Lee ex-Clyst Vale College 1974-9. If he was still above ground I wanted to give him the opportunity to meet and to try and verbally abuse me now that I had grown up and could give something back. The message got removed. Even if the message had reached him I doubt he would have accepted my offer because bullies don’t like a fair fight.

My Mum has always taught me not to wish ill on people because it will come back on me. For that swine, I gladly chance an exception on behalf of myself and all those who had the misfortune to meet him. If he’s still alive then I hope he’s in pain, if he isn’t then I hope his decline was long and tortuous.