Last one to the bus stop is a sissy

I have been sent another of those survey reports that proves, beyond reasonable doubt, that we yearn for the old days.

Remember them? No central heating, outside loo and chilblains, but we were happy.

Top of a poll that asked which typically English traditions people would like to see reinstated was gathering round the table with the family to enjoy Sunday lunch. Call me a dinosaur, but I still do that.

Cooking from scratch (wot no microwave?) and day trips to the seaside were also among the most popular choices in the survey by jam-maker Duerr’s.

Although it did not make it into the top 10, the builders’ wolf-whistle received 8% of votes. Speaking as someone who has never been wolf-whistled by a builder, or any other artisan, I am rather pleased the tradition has died out.


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But the one that really caught my attention was competitive sports’ days. Twenty-one per cent of those polled wanted them to make a comeback. The traditional sports’ day came in eighth place, sandwiched between the return of fish and chips as the nation’s favourite dish (27%) and elevenses (20%).

It was in 1960, aged five, that I came last in the school sports’ day skipping race. The runners had to race to the rope, unfasten it and skip to the end of the track. I was still trying to undo the knot in my rope when the rest of the school was having biscuits and squash at the end of the afternoon.

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It was a lesson I never forgot – competitiveness is only fun if you win. Non-sporty types learn to enjoy small victories – such as managing to persuade their mothers to write a note excusing them from timetabled athletic endeavour.

Dear Mrs Blythe, Lynne is still suffering the after-effects of a nasty cold and it would be best if she did not take part in games today, Yours sincerely, etc.

I would cough pathetically to support the theory.

At my all-girls’ school, good sportswomen were hugely admired and the best one always got to be head girl or deputy head girl. You could always spot a contender because she carried a hockey stick all winter and a tennis racquet all summer. I was with the crowd that carried chocolate bars all year round, who, with a following wind and good O level results, might just scrape prefect.

School sports’ days were “character forming”. They were inter-form contests which meant that, when you failed, you were not only letting yourself down, you were letting your classmates down, your school down and, ultimately, the whole of mankind down.

The nadir of my sporting achievement was in the lower fifth swimming relay when I was required to jump into an inflated inner tube and propel myself the length of the pool. I jumped, missed the tube and, ever since, the bitter taste of defeat has always resembled chlorine.

Fast forward 20 years and my children are on the primary school playing fields, lobbing a beanbag.

Doting (or is it dozing) parents sit on the sidelines listening to personal stereos or reading the newspaper, occasionally rising to trudge from one pointless non-competitive activity area to another.

It marked the moment when the pursuit of excellence was replaced by the attainment of mediocrity.

The chocolate eaters have won.

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