On my first day at my secondary school, Highgate School in north London, I was asked to choose which sports I would like to participate in. As the only one on the list that I had heard of was football (soccer), I chose that. On the following day, I had to join the other new boys in a trial game. I was horrified by how rough everyone was during this match.
The day after the match, two senior boys came to speak to me. They regretfully announced that I was not considered good enough to play football at Highgate. That did not surprise me, but what did was how solemnly they announced the news to me. The two school officials told me that I could select another sporting activity. I chose ‘cross-country running’, a sport that I had never heard of. I was told that I had chosen well. And, so I had.
Cross-country running was almost completely unsupervised. We were trusted to get changed into running clothes and then to trot around a route through the grounds of nearby Kenwood House. Being unsupervised, I saw no reason to run or to get tired.
My system on games’ days was to get changed, visit the school ‘tuck shop’, buy some snacks or confectionary, and then to take a leisurely stroll through the beautiful grounds of Kenwood.
Once a term, we were accompanied by our house-master on a run. He tended to lead us through rough ground and marshy areas. On one occasion, he stopped me and said:
“You don’t look muddy, Yamey”
“Well, Mr Bowles, I thought that the object of the run was to get exercise rather than to collect mud.”
Much to Mr Bowles’ credit, he accepted my explanation, which was not the whole truth. Actually, I wanted to avoid getting dirty so that I would not need to waste time having a shower at the end of the afternoon, which would have delayed my departure for home.