I’ll give you sport, Sport! Australians care far more about footy and horse racing than they do about literature. In the old days of the Poets’ Union, we used to have fantasies about writing football poetry and finally getting attention and making our fortunes. However, football and poetry seldom mix, so we never did, not any of us as far as I know. Except Tedd Wotsisname who’d been a fampus footballer (Aussie Rules of course) before becoming a poet and actually tryig to make a living at that. He had to write prose as well, and start teaching it too, no money in poetry — as cliché, that’s too true.
Sport! Not for the likes of a little, fat, short-sighted, short-winded kid like me. It wasn’t until I was 22 that a doctor looked at my tonsils and said they must have been leaking poison into my system for years and that I’d probably been short-winded as a kid. So THAT was why I used to come chugging up the strait stone motherless last, a mile behind the other kids, whenever we had to run races.
Had to, that was it, Phys Ed teachers became my ideas of torturers. I‘m sure some of them were mean on purpose. Or maybe they thought I was being helpless and uncoordinated on purpose.
Just like the ludicrous answers I used to get in maths ... but that’s another story.
It did me out of a wonderful memory once. How old was I? About 9, perhaps. I was wearing a nightie that had a tear in the back, and when Mum came to get me out of bed and introduce me to the party guests, I refused. I didn’t want anyone to see the hole in the back of my nightie. Mum was flushed, I recall, and exited; probably everyone was a little tipsy by then.
Mum and Dad were in the Launceston Players, an amateur theatrical company, and the party was for the local thespians and the visiting members of the Stratford on Avon company. Leo McKern is one name I recall, and oh, many others, but I forget them by now. They were world famous; I have all their autographs still. She wanted me to meet them in person. They won’t care about your nightie, she said, but I thought they would laugh at me, and so I didn’t go.
I must say, though, it hasn’t scarred me not to have met these luminaries in person. I did get to see them act; my parents took me to all the theatrical events. That was worth more to me than being paraded before them in their everyday selves.
I was very embarrassed when I saw Dame Sybil Thorndike playing Medea. She was so convincing that I couldn’t stand the horror of what she was saying, and squirmed in my seat. I was maybe 13 then. All she had was words, and her delivery, and they tore me to pieces.
She threw the first punch
It landed fair in the middle of my throat and winded me, and that was the end of that fight.
I didn’t know why we were fighting in the first place. But apparently I had mortally offended Merren, who until then had been my close friend, and she demanded restitution. Lots of the other kids were onside, and said I had to do it, for my honour. We were 16-year-olds in the second-last year of High School. It was arranged that we’d all meet after school to stage this bout, this duel, whatever it was.
There we were on the old gravel path behind the school, hidden by hedges. She and her supporters were lined up on one side, me and my pals on the other. I was glad I had a few pals; i was fairly new to this school, and indeed to this town. Someone asked offciously, in a booming voice, if I would apologise. I said I didn’t know what I was supposed to apologise for. ‘All right,’ said this adjudicator person, ‘Then you have to fight.’
We stood awkwardly, in our school uniforms, not knowing how to begin. While I was still wondering, she stepped forward and threw the first, last and only punch.
I gasped and wept.
‘Are you satisfied?’ said the adjudicator to Merren. She declared she was, and we all broke up and straggled off to catch our buses home. We never did become friends again and I still don’t know what I did.