Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The Surgers

Somebody, somewhere, thinks I may be an authority on 'knickers serge type.' That is, knickers, serge. Or, serge knickers. Sadly I'm no expert in this little sartorial homage to practicality over appearance, but I'm game to give it a go should he or she stray into these parts again.

And it's in games that I find some answers. Or more properly, PE, Physical Education for children. Children, circa 1964, including yours truly. The boys turning out in voluminous shorts, before they became fashionable by way of the kind of shorts-minimalism that made Glen Hoddle look, on reflection, like he was playing football in his jockeys, and the girls, stripped down into heavy duty, industrial strength, boy-stiffy preventative, navy blue serge knickers.

What was the deal? Why were they made to do it? Even the slim girls looked horrid - though I suppose this was intended - boys get weird palpitations and uncomfortable stirrings from an alarmingly young age and I guess the old serges were the best defence against any of that twitching in the 'Y' fronts and embarrassing bulges nonsense. But all the same, I would have thought the outlining of these female backsides in the company of dozens of mini priapics an unnecessary distraction and unhelpful to the cause of good health through innocent physical jerkery and honest endeavour.

Putting myself back into the arena through the power of memory and imagination, I do recall that one 'serge wearer' during these regular outings was slightly larger than the rest. So large in fact that I can only guess that she would have been a serge wearer because she was permanently excused all physical activities and instead sat out most of these bracing sessions, fatly, on the sidelines.

Extremely fat and even more unpopular. And, if God hadn't been cruel enough already, ensured that her eyesight was such that she would permanently need the assistance of National Health Specs to see, and that her vast body would be impervious to the cleansing and scenting properties of soap and water.

There was a time also, when I was less than popular. At just about this time as it happens. One of those short periods that probably lasted a few months but felt like a lifetime. I wasn't quite ready to engage in any side by side empathy out on the fringes of school child society, out in the frozen wastes of the benches with fat . . 'Olive' (close enough), but, as I too was stricken with less-than-perfect-eyesight, was also forced to wear National Health little round speccies, and therefore considered an anyone-different type oddity. Bit like Olive, but without the buzzing lies and usually hidden, serge knickers. And I suppose it was this that brought us, momentarily, together. On one school games day.

The usual ramshackle of events - lots of hopping and things involving buckets. But sandwiched between the egg and spoon and the sack race was the wheel barrow race. The Wheel Barrow Race. Girls pushing boys. Girls choosing boys to push. Boys legs tucked under girls arms and pushed along, wheelbarrow like. Prizes for winners.

I guess the rationale behind the gender chosen roles was that boys had stronger arms to propel themselves along, and boys legs scrawny bits at the best of times aren't that heavy and well within the strength zone of the average girl. And my legs were going to be held, I was going to be involved in the wheel barrow race.

Once the pairing off was well on the way feelings of dejection came over me in waves as pretty soon only one girl and two boys remained. The slightly more confident, slightly more popular girl made her move selecting the none specs wearer. There was to be no wheelbarrow race for me. No more pushers left. The pushers had left the building.

But wait. There was a rousing of a commotion. A swirling of school marms, all flouncy dresses and good natured chivying; pulling, patting and fussing over what appeared to be at first glance, a baby calf being dragged, reluctantly, into the open. This turned out to be Olive, sprung from the safety and anonymity of the spectators seating and ordered (this was the 1960s) to strip down to her mighty serge knickers and plug the gap. I was going to be a barrowed after all - but I was going to be wheeled by a mini homunculus.

On the sound of the starting whistle the surge of the serges and their hand crawlers began. Boy's legs were being dropped by weedy, ringletted and ribboned girly whirlies. Tears and tantrums quickly followed. I was being pushed by a pile driver, my bony legs clamped tight by ham-like arms and the pent up emotions of a friendless soul making a desperate pitch for a win and instant popularity.

My twiggy arms and hands were a blur of desperate skittering. They had to be. If I hadn't kept them going I would have fell, painfully onto my face - an accidental wreck of bloody nose, grass-stained teeth and comically twisted specs. My chest - what there was of one - heaved, fear of worse pain drove me on. And on. And on. This great lump, this fat nightmare in serge knickers was pushing too hard, too hard. I'm bound to fall, I will fall.

But not before the winning line was crossed.

Did she stop?
Mercifully, once the line was crossed and the prize was in the bag. Funny how these memories never, ever leave you.
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