Maths was a subject I found easy in the early years of Big School. I suppose I had an aptitude for it. But I had my limits and Maths would cause me more tears than any other subject over the years. Maths teachers seemed to me to be the most blinkered. They just couldn't understand why a pupil could not understand. They were explaining it. They understood what they were explaining as clear as day. Surely you must understand this, boy. But I didn't really get this feeling until doing my A-level. My early Maths years were a piece of piss.
Even though I'd been a big football cheese at primary school, captain of the school team, when I got to Big School I had lost any confidence my old teacher had tried to instill in me and, not being the most forward of eleven year olds, didn't get a sniff at the big boys' school team. It was a case of the louder the mouth the further you got, a real lesson for life there. There I was expecting to be passed to every now and then because I was in a good position but because I wasn't demanding the ball I was never given it. Oh well, my loss was England's loss.
I took to cricket, however, like a duck to water. For some inexplicable reason I found I could bowl on target and at a similar length each time. I had no idea how to hold the ball, just cradled it in my small hand as if I were holding an apple, but my run-up and action were decent enough. Playing with and against eleven and twelve year olds on a full-size pitch, you could get away with bowling accurately and not have to worry about complicated things like swing or spin.
I enjoyed fielding, too. Because we had a few accurate bowlers, the fieldsmen crowded the batsman. I was silly mid-on, not so silly when the batsmen could only play weak defensive shots. I got a thrill from anticipating dives to clutch the results of pathetic shots close to the ground. The big, booming Geography teacher enjoyed this mini version of real cricket as we did. Nobody shined and boundaries were very rarely hit.
That was until we played a school which contained black boys! We didn’t have black boys at our school. Bexley was a London borough but by no means integrated. The nearest any of us got to black music was a love of Jimi Hendrix who was lumped in together with white rock, his blackness never mentioned, though of course all white rock was based on the blues. So to come up against a school with black boys, well, it was like playing against the best young cricketers the West Indies had to offer! They hit the ball so hard! One boy was smashing our bowlers all over the pitch, boundary after boundary. I was standing at square leg, not my usual silly mid-on. But square leg seemed a bit silly as the boy hooked a shot with tremendous power straight towards my gut. I caught the ball but, God, the pain! My team came over to congratulate me, my big, booming teacher patted me on the back. It was the greatest act of bravery the school had ever known. I watched the batsman stroll off and we exchanged smiles of mutual respect. Of course everybody that day thought I was a fucking idiot. They were thrashing us and I wouldn’t have lost much face by jumping out of the way.
At school the weedy kids played tennis. They were taught by the vicious one-armed Art teacher. This was in the days before two-fisted backhands, of course. The Art teacher would serve by resting the ball on his stump, jerking it upwards and hitting the ball at about head height. It was embarrassing watching the kids at school play tennis. They weren’t suited for sports at all and I couldn’t see what enjoyment they got out of it. It must have been hell for them.
I was qualified to look down upon the quality of school tennis as I had learnt the game outside and belonged to a tennis club.
My dad’s friend at work had taught me tennis, a few lessons at the local council courts. And luckily one of the twins had learnt himself and his dad belonged to a bowls and tennis club. He got us in and we practised whenever we could, baseline rallies that went on forever. I was the master of the topspin forehand though little else. My serve was perfectly performed yet slow and my volleys were powder-puff. So the baseline it was for us.
We visited my tennis coach a few times in Chatham. And my dad got so friendly with Tony that he even agreed to us going on holiday with Tony and his family.
For a few halcyon years we took our holidays in the south-east’s holiday camps. Butlin’s and Pontin’s were too common but Warners was more in line with our upper working-class credentials. I would spend hours looking through Warners brochures, comparing facilities. Sinah Warren had a glamorous name and offered everything a family needed. But it was out of our league, too expensive. I liked the name ‘Dovercourt’ and this became my second favourite, having most of the facilities Warners offered. I lf I liked a name back then that was the most important thing. Castleford became my favourite rugby league team because I liked the name. Not that I liked rugby league at all but it was always fucking on on a Saturday afternoon. I’ve heard too much of Eddie Waring’s voice in my life if you add up all those boring rugby league games, It’s A Knockout, Jeux Sans Frontieres.
So Dovercourt was my second choice and we got to go there with Tony and family. Except what was intentioned as a pleasant family holiday turned into a piss-up for Tony and my dad. One night they took it in turns in a wheelbarrow on the journey back to the chalets.
Warners had snooker, table tennis, as many servings of food as you could eat, rude lunchtime comedians in the bar which was open to all the family, and even a tennis competition which I won because the other players were as bad as the tennis players at school. A highlight for me was seeing the great snooker player and Pot Black star Graham Miles up close as he demonstrated his shots for the men and his firm buttocks in his tight trousers for the women. I got to drink cheeky shandies half-filled with beer unlike the half-inch measures I got at home.
School summer holidays were filled with tennis, cycling and reading. Like a posh girl with a healthy body and a healthy mind. My dad’s favourite books apart from The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist were the adventure novels of Wilbur Smith which I lapped up along with the Ian Fleming Bond books and Hawaii by James A Michener which, to my shame, I have still not attempted to read. My dad never wanted to go anywhere overseas except for Hawaii. He never did leave Britain.