Sheila A. Grant

I do not recall being in a gym at Glencairn Primary School in the 40s and 50s but I have vivid memories of playing outside in the playground (now a Tesco car park) and realise many of the games were embryo forms of sport.

The boys played football or ‘rough games’ while the girls gathered in a little cul-de-sac down the side of the school building. Our games were slower and less noisy with skipping ropes and chalk to draw ‘beds’ for hopscotch. One day, the boys came roaring down the lane en masse like wild animals, and pretended to capture us girls. I guess we were the Indian squaws! I got such a fright when one lad jumped on my back nearly knocking me over. So much so, I swung my right arm round and socked him!

Next morning, I was summoned to the headmaster’s study where the same boy (Donald), sporting an angry black eye, was standing beside his mother. Having heard their side of the story, the headmaster asked me the reason for the strong punch. I gave a graphic detailed description to which he replied: “So it was self-defence?”

There was a brief warning about the consequence of the boys annoying the girls before we were both dismissed and sent back to the classroom. Poor Donald lost face among the boys while they suggested I might like to keep up my boxing skills. It was never a sport I enjoyed watching (or taking part in), but it seems my upper cut was greatly admired!

To be young at those times was a privilege. Such freedom we enjoyed, playing out in the streets, lanes and parks. Our activities were linked to sport but rarely focused on it. We were simply ‘out to play’ with never any fear or sense of risk.

Kicking cans or balls. Skipping, cycling, running, hide and seek, playing tag, hopscotch, and cricket. Leaping over low walls, team races and competitions. They were all games and we were exercising. The fact that it was good for us was rarely, if ever, highlighted. It was life. Truth be told we were in the habit of being sent out to play, away from getting under our parents’ feet.

Once we graduated to secondary school the word ‘sport’ featured more in our vocabulary, and our games were taken more seriously. It was our first introduction to organised and competitive sport that involved rules, proper teams with captains, and a teacher as a coach. Rugby had the most impact on my first year in a girls only class, possibly due to the crush we developed towards the first team (all boys in the 5th or 6th year). We cut their photos from the paper or the school magazine and carried them close to our hearts!

Girls played netball and hockey, and trained in the playground. Sports gear consisted of navy knickers, sand shoes and a T-shirt. Occasionally, we had to run all the way out to Queens Drive sports field in that garb, even if it was raining.

Kilmarnock Academy was proud to have a swimming pool. The water was so cold I swear it was piped from Iceland, and we were expected to appreciate the torture! Without a shallow end there was no gradual immersion. You were in or you were out! I learned to swim there, as an alternative to drowning. The teacher carried a long pole which you were supposed to grab before it was too late! I don’t think it had a hook for fishing anyone out.

The gym teacher in that first year terrified me. Noticing me continually slipping to the back of the queue, she never missed a chance to shout sarcastic comments. Without such treatment I might have grown into one of the long-legged sporty girls, my photo in the breast pocket of a rugby boy.

I did have a brief spell between the goal posts in a couple of hockey matches, albeit it in the 6th team when they were short of players. I think I saved one goal.

Cycling was probably my closest brush with sport. I loved my Raleigh 3-gear and went everywhere on it, even youth hostelling in the Highlands when I was 16 years old. I have never forgotten the long haul up the Devil’s Elbow en route to Braemar.

After leaving school I dabbled in tennis but showed no promise. I just wasn’t interested. But forty years later, I became sporty. It’s never too late!

A group of us, all retired and of a similar age, met in the Galleon twice a week. Our first hour saw us giving it our all in the gym moving from one piece of equipment to another – bikes, rowing machines, treadmills – each of us equipped with towels and water bottles. We looked like old hands. We were… in both senses.

After an hour in the gym we revived ourselves with tea and toast catching up with the Killie news and gaining ourselves the nickname, The Galleon Mafia. Refreshed we then claimed our badminton court and played fiercely and with great enthusiasm for another hour, totally committed to our sport.

Sadly, Covid put an end to those great days and sport faded from our lives. Now I live in the Highlands, a very sport-focused. region. Apart from mountain climbing there are a multitude of sport classes and clubs. I have embraced sport – kill or cure!

FITPLUS is for over fifties. Supervised and trained by young sportsmen we are encouraged to push our capability to the limit on a range of gym equipment. Weightlifting works on cores which have deteriorated over the years, and this is so popular a space must be booked in advance.

I would never have believed that I would work harder in a gym in my eighties than I did in my teens! Sport is a word I rarely used in my youth but it’s now part of my old age. In addition to FITPLUS, a couple of other possible sporty pastimes are pending. The Loch Insh Dippers meet early in the day all year round. Brrr… maybe when the water gets a wee bit warmer. And shinty is very popular so perhaps worth considering?

Sport is wonderful at any age, despite the aches and pains. The audible cracks from knees and hips are proof that we are still moving.

“Sport that wrinkled Care derides…”
John Milton, L’Allegro, 1645