His last post was rather more thought provoking: http://bit.ly/2gJtDae
But here he gives us an insight to what he was like as a lad in school.
If there had been such a category in world sports then I’m as certain as I can be without actually taking part in any competition that I could have been a world champion and/or an Olympic gold medallist. Not now of course, as in my seventies my upper body strength has sadly diminished and although I still maintain the technique, it is that combination that is required by someone to become a world or Olympic champion. I know I’m blowing my own trumpet and you, my dear friends, have no way of knowing whether what I’m telling you is true or a whopping great porky but I’m convinced that even twenty years ago I could have challenged the world’s best and beaten them hands down (a bit of an unintentional pun!).
I’d mastered this skill due to an accident although, at the time, I was accused of breaking the cloakroom window deliberately.
‘No,’ I’d said,’ I hadn’t.’
‘Yes you did,’ they’d said, holding aloft the evidence of the mud caked dap* still lying amongst the glass shards on the inner windowsill. They grabbed me and made me stand outside the headmaster’s study. The prefects were bastards, worse than any of the teachers. Gestapo, we called them. Anyway, with the window smashed the head, known to us pupils as “Bonge” (don’t ask me, I have no idea why), was summoned and he told me to measure the broken window, visit the local glaziers, buy a new pane of glass and sufficient putty and then return and with the assistance of a flea-bitten old chisel that he left for me to collect from the school secretary, I spent the afternoon replacing the glass and its putty. However, this wasn’t sufficient retribution for my ‘crass action’ so I was additionally ‘sentenced’ to a week’s after school detention and as the breaking of the window happened on a Monday I was to be detained for the whole week. The hour’s detention every night would mean my customers would receive their evening papers far later than normal. I knew they would not be happy and neither was I. But neither the head nor the gestapo cared about them and certainly not about me.
At the end of Monday’s normal school day I strolled from my window repairing workshop and went to the assembly hall to await instruction on what I was to complete during that first afternoon’s detention. Five minutes later Bonge appeared and said I was to sweep the huge hall floor. He produced a wide, wooden, soft bristle floor brush and started to demonstrate how he wanted me to use it. He declared he had been in the Royal Navy and there had learnt the skills necessary to use the brush properly but with economic effort. He first demonstrated how I should hold the brush handle then how to sweep with the brush held in front and then drawn behind. Off he started, with me following close behind, him using precise movements to effectively collect and retain the floor’s detritus in the path of the bristles. After a few moments he stopped his efforts, turned and asked,
‘Got that, Roberts?’
‘Not quite, Sir,’ I quickly responded, ‘I didn’t see how I should hold the brush on its forward path.’
‘Come closer,’ he instructed and as I moved alongside he repeated his demonstration of where the hands must be placed and set off once again, pushing the brush firmly before him. I decided to bull-up his brushing skill, which considering he was a tall, large, elderly man was most impressive, saying,
‘That’s brilliant Sir, I can see how the dust is held in its place as you push the brush forward but what about when the brush is used in reverse, I didn’t quite get how you managed to keep the fluff in its place.’ Suitably flattered, he set off again, going down the length of the hall, first pushing the brush and then drawing it behind him with the growing mound of dust and fluff held firmly in its place.
‘Right, Roberts, now you try.’
I deliberately messed up the hand holds and so he came behind me and took hold of each of my hands and placed them where he wanted them on the wooden handle.
‘Hold on firmly but you must allow your wrists to be supple. The skill is in the proper manoeuvrability of the wrists. Try pushing forward.’
I pushed on the handle but again deliberately held my feet in place so ended up forming a triangle between me and the broom.
‘No, no, no,’ he called, ‘move your feet, boy. Left, right, left, right. Start again.’
I pushed myself upright, re-gripped the handle and set off – right, left, right, left.
‘Roberts, you’re the most awkward sweeper I’ve ever seen. Your feet must move like you’re marching – left, right, left, right. Got that?’
‘I think so, Sir.’
‘Right start again. Forward, that’s it – left, right, left, right. No, no, no – look where all the dust is going – back over the floor. We’ll be here all night at this pace. Right, let me demonstrate again.’
He snatched the broom, carefully placed his hands and set off back up the hall floor.
‘See, Roberts, correct hold, keep the wrists supple, feet moving left, right, left, right, note the bristles always corralling the floor dust. Keep up, boy. Brush in front, turn and draw the brush behind, turn to its front. Up, down – all dust held in place. Left, right, left, right.’
He began to quietly whistle and it was evident that he thought he was back on the deck of his ship, having momentarily forgotten that I and not he should be brushing. He again reached the bottom of the hall and suddenly realised that I was no longer following him. He shouted,
‘Roberts, quickly go and find Mrs Davies and ask to borrow her dustpan. Hurry, there’s a good chap.’
He continued brushing as I sloped off to try to find Mrs Davies. Returning with the cleaner, we both gawped to see Bonge finish brushing the last length of the hall, smiling happily at the pile of floor debris still held in place by the bristles. He turned to look at us.
‘Come on, Roberts, put the dustpan in front while I sweep the dust in. That’s it. Well done. Right, have ten minute practice up and down the hall.’
He passed the brush and I set off as he had demonstrated.
‘Good, good – that’s it – forward – turn the brush – draw towards you, turn again, push forward. Good – left, right, left, right. Well done, Roberts. That’s enough for this afternoon. Be back here tomorrow at the end of class and I’ll watch as you sweep. Every night this week – make a sweeper of you yet, Roberts. At least you’ll have a skill when you leave us.eh? Goodnight, Mrs Davies.’
With that he strode back to his study whilst Mrs Davies and I looked at one another and smiled.
By Friday night I had completely mastered the brush and the floor dust remained in place before the bristles and thanks to Bonge I have never lost the skill that he patiently taught me. Betty, my wife, too, is delighted!
- Trainer, gym shoe,plimsoll
‘Clean Sweep’ by Alan A Roberts. Summer 2016