The Gym Master

The gym master was a retired non-commissioned officer with a string of qualifications and medals, and a very loud commanding voice.

Our first form was made up of local boys from the East End and those who had won scholarships from further afield. Some of the tougher boys, familiar with beatings at home, had tempted fate and been sent to the headmaster’s office to bring back the cane and punishment book.  As part of the ceremony, a member of the class had to visit a nearby classroom and ask another master to witness the punishment.

Those brave early victims for the most part suffered punishment quietly; a severe six stroke sentence. It was carried out in front of a hushed class.  At the end of the lesson the boys triumphed as they proudly showed the red, orange and blue weals and marks given by that gym master.

Other boys lived in terrified fear of such a caning. One of the scholarship boys farted whilst the class were seated on the wooden floor of the gym listening to instructions for the next exercise. The perpetrator was the tallest boy and one of those laughing.

“What’s so funny?” The gym master asked. ”Well as it is so funny, the person responsible will go the headmaster’s office and get the cane and book.”

Poor ‘M’, he was whimpering and trembling as he left the gym to return with the cane and book but accompanied by our elderly but kindly Headmaster. Some discussions took place between the head and gym master and ‘M’ was reprieved a caning.

For my part, I was incompetent at gym and knew I would eventually be selected and caned as an example for other boys to try harder.

Deciding to risk injury instead of hanging in agony at the top of the wallbars, I decided to let go and drop very loudly to the floor, causing much consternation and worry to the gym master.

Next scene was to extend my potential injury risk by crashing my stomach directly on the vaulting horse that was probably set too high for us youngsters.

I was glad to accept the award from the gym master as the class clown. Over the years I was able to develop my act and was one of the few in the class that avoided the cane.

I am left handed at fencing classes. I foiled the gym master again by selecting and using a right handed foil instead of a left handed one. Strange that even today fencing is the only activity where I have a leading right hand.