The question is, am I a woman or am I a wuss?

My fear and loathing of lacrosse spread to all other sports and all those who played them
Click to follow
OLD ADAGE, new angle - those that can, do; those that can't, teach; those that can't teach, teach PE. I can't remember where I heard it and though it made me smile at the time, it must be a very old new angle because, according to this week's survey by the National Association of Head Teachers, 94 per cent of the 2,126 primary and secondary schools they visited don't have gyms. Sport in schools is apparently heading down the same education cul-de-sac as the chalk monitor, the inkwell and mental arithmetic.

Do we care? More to the point, do I, as the mother of two potential couch- potatoes (as the survey reckons children are becoming, owing to lack of physical exercise) care?

Well, yes and no. It's the old man-or-mouse argument. Not my school-age sons - me. Put it this way. Am I a woman or a wuss, a mother of warrior sons battle-hardened by under-15s rugger on Tuesday afternoons, or a mouse fearful that my treasures will be injured in those horrid rough games? Like most mothers, I suspect, I'm a mixture of both. I want warriors but I want them to be unscathed.

Injuries apart, does the old mens sana in corpore sano maxim still apply to children? I don't see why not; it never did me any harm and... good grief, did I really say that? Get a grip, Mrs Arnold. It's not just your memory you're losing, it's the entire plot. PE permanently damaged me and probably my children, too, in that it affected the way I chose to educate them.

I'll start at the beginning. We played lacrosse at school and my right temple still bears the scar inflicted by Cynthia Hislop when she tackled me from behind and then, cradling furiously (yes, I know all about cradling) sped on to score the winning goal against St Bede's. "Well done Cynthia. This is a proud moment for Mt Alvernia," said Miss Pendlebury when she presented the trophy afterwards. My fear and loathing of lacrosse eventually spread to all other sports and everyone who played them, especially girls. I've never understood why men fantasise about schoolgirls in gymslips. Cynthia Hislop in hers, biceps bulging, calves like breeze blocks, lacrosse stick flailing, could have seen off a battalion of battle-hardened warriors single-handed.

It was probably subliminal memories of my own schooldays that prompted me to send my daughters to a weird new school that offered Sanskrit, vegetarian lunches and Vedic dance instead of sport. My friends' daughters played netball and tennis and went on to captain all-women rowing crews at Oxbridge, but if my daughters seethed with secret resentment at my failure to offer them similar sporting opportunities, they never said so. The middle one told me last week that she's been sponsored to run in the London Marathon.

None of this, I appreciate, will endear me to the fanatical female footballer lobby, but the truth must out and anyway I feel I'm vindicated by the way I educated the boys.

No nut biscuits and spiky dancing with bells on their wrists for them. They went to the state primary down the road, which had a brilliant headmaster called Norman who believed in old-fashioned disciplines such as gym. OK, it doubled as assembly hall and dining-room, but it had wall bars and ropes and a vaulting-horse and it gave them good, healthy appetites to eat up all their school dinners. On sports days we went to the nearest park, where they did old-fashioned things such as running and long jump and house relay races. Indeed, the oldest became so enthusiastic about running and jumping and football that at his insistence we sent him to an extremely expensive boarding school outside London surrounded by playing fields, where he did precious little else.

This bucolic idyll came to an abrupt end when the master who taught swimming was dismissed (something to do with his preference for making the prettier boys swim naked, and only teaching them back-stroke) and worried mothers like me brought their children home mid-term and sent them to the nearest day school, which in our case turned out to be one of the 2,126 without a gym.

Meanwhile, the primary school down the road had changed, as my other children were discovering. Norman had gone and a new headmistress had arrived. Instead of gym they did computers. The trouble is, there are no male teachers there any more and women teachers get terribly excited when children fall over and scratch their knees. What this means is that London parents with children who want to be professional footballers before they become brain surgeons (like mine) have to send them to private schools that still have playing fields and gyms and PE teachers (who, by the way, teach brilliantly).

Comments