"The very fact that you are a complainer, shows that you deserve your lot." James Allen
Many trips around the sun ago, I was a young pupil at Cottenham Village College. The period I am going to describe was when I was about 12 or 13 years old. As a young lad, I was a keen sportsman, a member of the school rubgy, football and cricket teams and always looked forward to PE lessons when they came round (unless it was cross country running).
At that time there was a triumvirite of PE teachers at our school: Head of PE was Geoff Redhead and his two junior colleagues were Charlie Stather and Huw Hughes. When I talk to any of my old friends from school (at least the ones who enjoyed sport), these three men are always remembered with deep affection. All three were clearly passionate about their jobs, about the kids they were teaching and about sport. Always willing to engage in extra-curricular activity in their spare time, such as extra team coaching, trips to inter-school matches and also other kinds of school trip that were not sport-related. Three men of genuine warmth and kindness, it could also be said that they were PE teachers in the ‘old school’ tradition, before political correctness made such strong character difficult, often hard and firm for our own good, teaching discipline and loyalty and team spirit and not afraid to say a few choice words when necessary.
In a few recent conversations I have had with friends online, I was reminded of an all-time classic line which was said to me by Huw Hughes one day during a rugby match. No doubt he has long since forgotten the incident, but it has stuck with me vividly throughout life.
Before I reveal the line, a little background is in order. As you may guess from his name, Mister Hughes, as us boys were obliged to call him when he was looking, is a Welshman. Imagine a Tom Jones style manly but musical Welsh accent, something rather exotic to a group of southern English boys. A very gifted sportsman, who in his final year teaching at the school coached us to victory in the final of the East Anglian Cricket Trophy for our age group.
Both Mister Hughes and I had strong personalities and had a few run-ins during the three years I was lucky enough to call him Sir. I recall a couple of heated arguments that ended in me being sent home with the task of writing out the Rugby Union rulebook as penance. At the time I would sulk for weeks about these matters, but would eventually come round to the realisation that Mister Hughes had a point and that the punishment had done me good. I vividly recall the day he left for pastures new, the last day of term in my third year at Secondary School, not long after we had won the cricket final. My good friend Tim Topper (also a member of the cricket team) and I met Mister Hughes in the playground, shook his hand and wished him good luck with his new teaching position. Not much was said, but for me it was a wonderful moment, with fighting back of tears, lest the good looking girls at the other side of the playground should notice.
"Come on, Pete!" I hear you shouting, "Stop bragging and tell us what the classic line was!"
OK, here it comes (remember to imagine the Welsh accent):-
"Get up, Peter, you big soft fairy, a bit of pain never hurt anyone!" Huw Hughes
Absolutely legendary. Again, at the time it was said, I probably had a bit of a sulk about it. But you can’t buy that kind of simple wisdom. It is a wonderful line, brilliantly summing up a Zen-like teaching attitude that seems to be hard to find in the world today. A line I will never forget, and a voice which often comes to me when I am succumbing to a bit of victim-playing. Paradoxical, and yet somehow so thoroughly true. That is the stuff that made boys into men.
A few months after this line was spoken, I went on a school trip to Belgium. Huw Hughes and Charlie Stather had volunteered to be supervisors on the trip. We were staying at a coastal resort, and one day a few of us had a game of touch rugby on the beach. We marked out a pitch in the sand with a stick and split up into two teams of three. Each team had two boys and one teacher. I was on Charlie Stather’s team, with Huw Hughes leading the opposition.
Another wonderful moment sticks in my mind during the game. Trailing by a few points, I remember the ball being dropped from a pass. Seeing an opportunity, I kicked the ball ahead along the ground and raced after it. The kick was perfect and the ball came to a standstill just over the try line. To my left I saw Mister Hughes turn and start racing for the ball as well.
It was a straight test of speed, and time seemed to slow down somehow. We both came within feet of the ball and dived for it. To my delight, I got there first, and then 15 stone of hairy grown man landed right on top of me, squashing my face into the sand.
Mister Hughes got up tentatively, a little worried. "Are you all right?" he said. I decided to milk it for a few seconds and lay still in the sand. "Are you all right, Peter?" I could sense that Mister Stather and the other lads were gathering around.
Then with a broad grin on my face I lifted myself up onto my forearms and turned my head, the ball still underneath me. In my mind I could hear the line ‘a bit of pain never hurt anyone.’
"Fine, thanks, grandad. What’s the score again?"
Mister Hughes held out his hand and helped me up, before we all laughed our way back to the centre of the pitch for the re-start.
"What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger." Friedrich Nietzsche
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