A Man Out Of Me 2: From H & E To A & E

We were lined up against the back wall of the gym. “Heads up! Shoulders back! Stand straight!” I wondered whether it was something to do with National Service. Ron couldn’t have served in WWII, could he? He walked up and down and glared at us.

"Mens sana in corpore sano! Who knows what that means?”

I did. I was no good at games and useless at Latin, but I had a facility for remembering definitions and quotations. No one else seemed to know, so I put my hand up.

He eyed my slight figure, in white singlet, black shorts, and off-white pumps, with cold contempt. “Oh, you know what it means, do you? Go on then, tell us!”

"Sir, it means a healthy mind in a healthy body, sir.”

His lip curled. “It means to have a healthy mind you have to get a healthy body and then keep it that way!” 

I didn’t want to argue with him. His usual response to insubordination was to bend the offender over a bench and flail away at his backside with a climbing rope’s end. Instead, I widened my eyes and stared into the middle distance, crossing them slightly as I did so: the good soldier Švejk as a young man. 

Grim-faced, he glowered at us, droning on in the way that games teachers did in those far-off days: "... team spirit... character-building… backbone… manliness… make men out of you… healthy habits...” “Health & Efficiency?” I murmured, sotto voce. So little time, so many jokes. 

It was a relief when we went on to circuit training, or whatever was on the agenda for that day. I was fit, active and agile enough to manage most of the activities, as long as they didn’t involve catching and throwing (I was short-sighted, and my glasses were safely stowed away in the changing room) or standing on my head. 

Unfortunately, most P. E. lessons ended with several minutes of ‘British Bulldog’. I refer you to the Wikipedia entry, which tells you all you need to know, e.g. “The game is characterised by its physicality and is often being regarded (sic) as violent, leading it to be banned from many schools in the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and 1990s due to injuries to the participants…” Quite so.

Injuries in the gym were not uncommon, and often due to sheer stupidity. Ron, as mentioned above, forced Bryn - six feet tall and heavily built - to jump from a beam six feet above the ground onto an exercise mat. Result: a leg broken in three places, and a permanent limp.


A cold and draughty gym was nowhere near as bad as out in a muddy field on games afternoons. Somehow, I had managed to arrive at secondary school with no idea how to play football, cricket, or ‘rugger’, and no desire to learn. I couldn’t see the sense in it at all.

I was not alone. When we had a choice, those of us who were of a like mind would sign up for cross country running - or rather, a leisurely jog around the local area, interesting conversations and entertaining extra-curricular activities, e.g., “Bet you won’t swim across the canal when we get to it!” “Bet you I will!” “How much?” “A frozen Jubbly!” “You’re on!” It was a warm summer’s day: the canal was murky and malodorous, but I was in, across and out in a moment, jogging on soaking wet, passing a dead dog floating upside down a few yards further on, and hoping I hadn’t swallowed any water. 


In the cold, dark, dismal, wet and wind-swept days of winter, there was no escape: it was football (infrequently) or ‘rugger’ (far too often). The latter took up the whole of an afternoon, as we were taken by bus across town to the dilapidated pitches, with their ancient wooden changing rooms and filth-encrusted facilities. Out on the field, ankle-deep in mud, the thugs and bullies were in their element, egged on by teacher-referees bawling orders and barking abuse at the recalcitrant; and commands like “Mark your man!” seemed to be synonymous with “Maim him!”

What kind of character-building was going on here, I wondered, in the gloom and mayhem of those miserable afternoons? 

To be continued...

Meanwhile: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3.16-17)

It may well be that you’ve read this or heard it said many times - perhaps, like me, you find yourself nodding in approval, and yet it doesn’t mean much more to us today than Play up! play up! and play the game!” meant to me in those unenthralling days of yesteryear.

If that is the case, may I invite you to spend a few more moments in the company of Matthew Henry? Here is what he has to say on these verses.

If we would know the holy scriptures, we must read and search them daily, as the noble Bereans did, Acts 17:11. They must not lie by us neglected, and seldom or never looked into. Now here observe,

(1.) What is the excellency of the scripture.

It is given by inspiration of God (v. 16), and therefore is his word. It is a divine revelation, which we may depend upon as infallibly true. The same Spirit that breathed reason into us breathes revelation among us: For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man, but holy men spoke as they were moved or carried forth by the Holy Ghost, 2 Pt. 1:21. The prophets and apostles did not speak from themselves, but what they received of the Lord that they delivered unto us. That the scripture was given by inspiration of God appears from the majesty of its style,—from the truth, purity, and sublimity, of the doctrines contained in it,—from the harmony of its several parts,—from its power and efficacy on the minds of multitudes that converse with it,—from the accomplishment of many prophecies relating to things beyond all human foresight,—and from the uncontrollable miracles that were wrought in proof of its divine original: God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will, Heb. 2:4.

(2.) What use it will be of to us.

[1.] It is able to make us wise to salvation; that is, it is a sure guide in our way to eternal life. Note, Those are wise indeed who are wise to salvation. The scriptures are able to make us truly wise, wise for our souls and another world. "To make thee wise to salvation through faith." Observe, The scriptures will make us wise to salvation, if they be mixed with faith, and not otherwise, Heb. 4:2. For, if we do not believe their truth and goodness, they will do us no good. [2.] It is profitable to us for all the purposes of the Christian life, for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness. It answers all the ends of divine revelation. It instructs us in that which is true, reproves us for that which is amiss, directs us in that which is good. It is of use to all, for we all need to be instructed, corrected, and reproved: it is of special use to ministers, who are to give instruction, correction, and reproof; and whence can they fetch it better than from the scripture? [3.]That the man of God may be perfect, v. 17. The Christian, the minister, is the man of God. That which finishes a man of God in this world is the scripture. By it we are thoroughly furnished for every good work. There is that in the scripture which suits every case. Whatever duty we have to do, whatever service is required from us, we may find enough in the scriptures to furnish us for it.

(3.) On the whole we here see, [1.] That the scripture has various uses, and answers divers ends and purposes: It is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction of all errors in judgment and practice, and for instruction in righteousness. [2.] The scripture is a perfect rule of faith and practice, and was designed for the man of God, the minister as well as the Christian who is devoted to God, for it is profitable for doctrine, etc. [3.] If we consult the scripture, which was given by inspiration of God, and follow its directions, we shall be made men of God, perfect, and thoroughly furnished to every good work. [4.] There is no occasion for the writings of the philosopher, nor for rabbinical fables, nor popish legends, nor unwritten traditions, to make us perfect men of God, since the scripture answers all these ends and purposes. O that we may love our Bibles more, and keep closer to them than ever! and then shall we find the benefit and advantage designed thereby, and shall at last attain the happiness therein promised and assured to us.

P. S. And for those who like canals, may I suggest a walk along the towpath from Todmorden to Hebden Bridge? It’s a most agreeable excursion; but I wouldn’t recommend a swim along the way - not even for a frozen Jubbly...