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Friday, March 4, 2011

Killer George and the high jump (Final Part)

Three truths, in fact. He was my age, he stood a whole head taller than I did, and I would be competing against him in the high jump.

   So, the games began. Handsome certificates printed by the State Department of Education were handed out to the place getters; blue for first, red for second, and yellow for third. These were much prized by those who got them – or at least, some of us. I certainly did. The winner's name was written on the certificate and signed by the headmaster of the hosting school.

   The little collection of these certificates I had, including a blue certificate for broad jump at the Gladstone sports of which I was very proud, was lost when a carton they were in was damaged by water. The soggy mould-ridden mess had to be thrown away. Very sad. Blue certificates were hard to come by, especially in the Gladstone sports competition in which Calliope took part as well as the Boyne Valley sports. It was quite a bit tougher.

   Oh well. Mould happens, as they say.

   I mention the certificates because it needed a good army of scribes to keep up with the writing of these, and as they were won this was done in shifts by parents, usually mothers. Our mother was doing her bit writing out certificates for the headmaster to sign on that day when I faced Killer George in the Intermediate division of the high jump. I was very happy that she was able to turn her job over to someone else and come and watch the event. Usually for such events there was rarely anyone else watching but the other competitors, but not this time. Having a personal fan to cheer me on was quite out of the ordinary.

   So Mum was there, and so of course was Lloyd George. He was having a busy morning as he had so many of his kids to watch, but he was enjoying it all immensely, even on the rare occasions when one of them didn’t win the event they were in. He gave them all a big cheer no matter what.

   Now, when I was telling one of my Topsy stories, I got into trouble from my daughter Sylvia for giving away the ending before I should have, so I won’t do that again, but I do promise to keep it as brief as possible – OK?

   There were as many competitors in each age division as wanted to have a go, except that jumps were restricted to the boys. It wasn’t regarded as a ladylike enough activity for girls, though all the other sports were. And the high jump had other perceived but unspoken dangers for girls I'll leave you to consider on your own.

   Maybe for the boys it was just as well the girls didn’t get to compete in the jumps. I’m not sure I would have wanted to come up against any of the George girls – broad jump, high jump, or hop, step and jump. All were on the sports agenda. I really liked hop, step and jump, which we usually called hop-step.

   But my immediate task was the high jump. The bar height started at 3 foot 6 inches, and each boy had three jumps, just like at the Olympics, only there was no option about not having a go each time the bar was raised. You either had your go at each one or you were out. If you didn’t clear the bar by the third jump, you were on the sidelines.

   Now I realise there are some of you who won’t know how high 3 foot 6 is, because your brains are metric, and you mightn’t even care, but I’ll give you an idea anyway. That height is a bit more than a metre, and if it doesn’t seem all that high to you then remember that it was above the shoulder for plenty of us, and just you try clearing your front fence at shoulder height, and see how you get on.

   Not that easy, is it? So no sniggering, thanks. We were using the scissor jump too, rather than the one you see at the Olympics, where they clear the bar by oozing over it on their backs, and land on sissy-baby mountains of foam rubber, the wimps. You don’t know what a scissor jump is? Don’t you know anything?

   That’s where you run in from the left or right at the bar according to which is your take-off leg. Left-handers tend to run in from the left, taking off on the right foot, and right-handers from that side. You clear the bar with a hurdle type jump and land on your feet. OK, I admit we did land on a truckload of sawdust ordered from the sawmill, but that’s only because of the number of sprained ankles that happen if there isn’t a bit of cushioning on the other side, especially if you hit the bar and have to land awkwardly.

   I know about sprained ankles and high jumps. One day I didn’t make it over the bar, came crashing down and felt this crunchy nasty sensation in the left ankle and it hurt like blazes. I couldn’t walk. Kelvin (‘Boofhead’) Thompson carried me home on his back the best part of a couple of kilometres, and I’ll never forget that act of pure generosity on his part. It was even more amazing considering he was as likely to bully me most times and knock me down just for fun, but credit where credit’s due. I thank him heartily because I don’t quite know how I would have got home on my own. I guess Jan or Lyn would have worked something out.

   Now where was I? This is all your fault, as I was forced to explain metric equivalents for Imperial lengths as well as scissor jumping for so many of you, and you got me off the track.

   So as the bar went up inch by inch, the jumpers were pretty quickly sorted out and most fell by the wayside. By the time it got to 4 feet, there were only a handful of us left. Kyla George had cleared the bar first time, every time, by inches. Miles, it seemed to me. I was clearing it too, but as the pegs were raised inch by inch, the bar was getting perilously close to portions of my anatomy where I preferred a safe gap. I had never jumped higher than 4 foot 4 in my life.

   The bar, I have to say, was a solid one of seasoned hardwood. Aluminium bars hadn’t been invented yet, as far as we knew in Calliope. By the time it got to 4’3, only Killer and I remained. I suspect my still being there was largely due to my mother’s presence, as she was watching with great glee as I scraped over the bar each time, not always on the first go. I badly wanted to please her.

   4’4. Killer, jumping from the right, cleared the bar first time. I managed on the second. 4’5. Killer, over as usual first time, no effort. Lloyd George, standing of the right side, cheered him on, clapping his hands and when I made it, clapped just as loudly and grinned widely. 4’6. A similar result. The audience was growing and I could hardly believe I was still in the comp. 4’7. Killer was at last having to put in some effort but cleared it first time. I failed the first two, and on the third, hit the bar hard as I went over. It jumped up and down on the pegs, but stayed up there. Mum was smiling and holding her hands together. Lloyd George was having a ball.

   4’8. Kyla took a good run and cleared it, without much leeway, but clean. I was way out of my comfort zone. Again, much as I strained on the first two goes, the bar went down. On the last, again I hit it hard. It jumped up and down, clear of the pegs and I lay below it looking up, expecting it to fall on me at any moment, but however much it rattled the pegs, it just wouldn’t fall off. It should have, but it didn’t.

   That I have to say was the last time I was so lucky. At 4 feet and 9 inches, not without serious effort, Killer cleared the bar first time once more. I knew in my heart I was done. On each of my jumps, the bar rattled wildly on the pegs and dislodged. On that third jump, it should have fallen off immediately, but it bounced up and down before slipping off slowly, one end after the other, somehow reminiscent of the sinking of the Titanic, and it was all over.

   I was very happy with what I had done. The result was as it should have been, but what pleased me most was that my mother was there and so delighted to have seen it.

   And Lloyd George? He clapped Kyla’s shoulder and then came over to me, putting his arm round my neck with his left hand and shaking my right hand with the other, smiling hugely. I’ll never forget his exact words as he looked from Mum to me and said:

   "You good boy. GOOD BOY!! You make my son JUMP AND JUMP AND JUMP!"

   I can tell you this much. Never in my life has second place felt so much like first to me.

Kay, Lyn and I ready to do battle for Calliope in the School Sports.
(Obviously adolescent growth spurt time for Lyn, but not me! Jan
would have been at High School in Brisbane by then.)


  1. I can remember the scissor jump and skinny mats. But in high school we had proper mats and the new technique. Boy was it weird running up launching yourself backwards but it is really easy.

  2. I'm SO impressed that you could jump almost 5 ft. I had trouble jumping 3 ft and I was tall! (nervous nellies never succeed where courage and daring are necessary.)

  3. PS Lloyd George sounds great. What a nice comment -true too.


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