I will be the first to admit that I am not a particularly sporting man. There was a time, in the dim and distant past, when the concept of sport was not so utterly strange and alien to me. A time when I was roped into games of football and cricket. There was even a time when a much younger, thinner, more agile and seven stone version of myself used to play rugby twice a week. Needless to say this did not end well. Agility, speed and above average height could only take me so far in a game where I regularly faced off against people quite literally twice my weight. People whose sole purpose in the game seemed to be to inflict severe and most grievous harm upon my person. I played scrum-half, the pain magnet and the opposition forwards always had murder in their eyes. Three days laid up in a hospital bed with a severe concussion somewhat put-paid to any further sporting aspirations in this field. Once I moved away to university sport vanished almost completely from my life, being replaced with the delights of reading, computer games and so many other delightful distractions that had been so frowned upon back home, my time forever being scrutinised under the judging eyes of the sport-maddened loons I called family. It was therefore with some trepidation that I approached Wednesday afternoon. For you see, Wednesday afternoon was Sport’s Day
Back in the days before my sedentary student decadence I was trim and lean and fast and fit. I was to all intents and purposes a machine made flesh. Since then I have gone to seed. Exercise has become a dirty word. To me I see no logical reason why a man who walks nearly a mile and a half to work every day and then spends 8 hours on his feet should want to fill his spare time with enforced running and jogging and a whole assortment of activities equally brutal to my knees (which for the record seem to have been stolen from the still-warm corpse of a geriatric arthritic.) To cut a long story short, I am woefully out of shape. Though by no means fat, my stamina is somewhat lacking.
So Sports Day…
Wednesday was blighted with the typical bipolar weather that seems to be sweeping the region at the moment. One moment rain and ice-cold dreariness, the next clear blue skies and a heat capable of melting your skin. For nearly an hour my team stood restlessly in a grass field in the matching grey t-shirts provided to us for the event. Finally the events began. First on the timetable for my team was the mechanical bull. Now I for one can’t quite grasp what the thought process behind that decision was. When you think of sports days, you think of bounding down a field in an old Hessian sack or using cutlery to transport unfertilised chicken ovum. But no, instead of those traditional, sensible events, the organisers decided to hire a mechanical representation of uncontrolled bovine violence. Having ridden a mechanical bull before I knew largely what to expect: Lots of bucking and gyrating before being flung into a wall of inflated plastic. Something which is in essence, a bit of a laugh. I patiently waited my turn as my team and our opponents took turns to face The Bull.
People clocked up times around the twenty to thirty second mark., one of the departmental overlords nearly crested into the 40s. And finally it came to my turn. It was in this moment that something unsightly happened. I had been planning to approach the entire affair with the feckless, devil-may-care attitude I give to most things. But then I was possessed by a feeling of competitiveness. I wanted to win. I wanted to show all these people that I had skills and talents they did not expect me to have. I wanted to make that Bull my pretty, little, mechanical bitch. So I rolled up my trouser legs so as to get better grip on the bull’s synthetic hide, replacing slick nylon and polyester for bare flesh. I handed off my glasses, bounded onto the bull’s back with a single hop and promptly got a terrible, terrible cramp in my left hip. But I wasn’t going to let this stop me. I was going to taste victory come what may. I took the bull’s black rope handle between clenched fists and prepared to hang on for dear life. The first few seconds were gentle and fairly passive, but then the speed started to ramp up and it started to buck wildly and viciously. I began to lean forward, pressing myself down onto the back of the bull, seeking to reduce my centre of gravity, making it harder for me to be thrown off. It worked for a while but then the motions became too violent and I started to slip. But I wasn’t going to give up, oh no, not me. I used the switches in the direction of spin to fling myself back into a central position and most importantly I just didn’t let go. It turns out I have a capacity for athletic stubbornness that I didn’t know I even possessed.
Eventually my efforts were not enough and I was flung from the back of the robotic beast. Hands aching and thighs burning I staggered from the inflatable arena and gazed upon my time. Large red LCD numbers proclaimed it to be 56 seconds. Only just shy of a minute. My team mates were awestruck. No one else came close. The day after my skills were the talk of the office. People came up to me in the corridor and said “I heard about your time on the mechanical bull.” I was offered congratulations and admiration. This is probably the nearest I will come in my life to having tales of my bravery and derring-do told by hoary, old warriors around camp fires on dark winter nights. For those moments I felt almost godlike. But this came at a price. Muscles so long used to inactivity and the quiet life of a desk chair were not prepared for such an onslaught. Even now, 4 days later, I can still feel the lingering burn in the clefts of my quadriceps and the core of my tendons and meat-hawsers. But at least now it no longer hurts to walk or stand.
I learnt a lesson that day: No matter how hard you try; or how long you hold on for; in the end, The Bull always wins.