Cross-country confession

on .

Allen Whitnell (1965-1972) writes in to come clean on his role in a sporting "mix-up" when the School hosted the Kent Grammar Schools Cross-Country Championship. No names have been changed to protect the innocent or guilty! 

The one aspect of sport for which I might be remembered at the school is in the field of Cross-Country Running. Not that I actually took part. Generally if we were made to do a Cross Country on our games afternoon, my mate Schmood (Keith Woodgate) and I, and maybe a couple of others, would start the run, then turn off and sit at Schmood’s house playing board games (often “Risk”) or just generally fooling about, until we’d see the front runners coming past the end of his road, when we would re-join the run for the last couple of hundred yards. On the famous occasion, the Kent Grammar Schools Cross-Country Championship was being held at our school. Needless to say, and thankfully I was not included in the “squad”, but was, along with a dozen or so trusted, responsible, more academic students, picked to be a “marker”. There were teams from Tunbridge Wells, Ashford, Chatham, Dover, Maidstone etc and the runners needed to have a route marked for them. Being a marker entailed wearing a hi-vis jacket (in my memory, or it might have been just holding a flag) and standing at a position on the route, which extended all the way past the Girls Grammar School up the half-mile path, round Rodmersham, and back down into Sittingbourne through the rec and back to school. I managed to get myself a prime spot as marker – outside the Girl’s Grammar School near the start of the race, where, armed with my flask of coffee, I would point nonchalantly so that the runners all turned up the half mile path that ran alongside the girls school, giving the occasional wave to anyone who happened to wave at me from inside the Highsted premises. The organisers, John Macrae my Physics teacher being the principal, decided that I was a little too lightly loaded in this role, and it was a little unfair, after all some of the markers had to get all the way up to the Rodmersham area to do their job – although we were in the sixth form and some of them had cars. So I was given a second marking position to take up, that would be important near the end of the race, but also near to the school. This position was halfway down Park Road, where the runners were to turn off into the recreation ground and thus back into the school playing field.

In the event, they didn’t turn off because the marker was in the school cloakroom and thinking he probably had time for another cup of coffee and another hand of cards before he needed to set out to marker position number two. The front runners continued down Park Road and upon reaching the High Street, and seeing no marker, turned right past Doldings the outfitters, where I suppose they could have got changed and then gone down to the station to get a train home for all the good it was in hanging around in Sittingbourne. A few others turned left past the chemists, but they were definitely losers. I think that one of my quick thinking marker colleagues, who had a car, I think it was Gary Ancell, did manage to prevent the last 75% of the field from going wrong, but when I looked at the school playing field, there seemed to be a large collection of agitated PE teachers and exhausted looking boys trying to put on track suits. I decided to call it a day and went off home.

Although I cannot remember it, I must have spent a fairly anxious night, but probably immersed myself in watching “Softly Softly” or some other police drama. The next morning, the great sporting event of the previous day was not mentioned by Bryan Short, the headmaster, in school assembly. I thought there was an elephant in the room as we would say nowadays and so I bravely reported to his office immediately afterwards. He sternly asked for an explanation and with some exasperation, listened to my slightly sanitised version of events. He seemed at a loss as to what to do next but pointed out that it was Mr Macrae who had organised the event and who had taken most of the flak the previous day. He said I should now go to Mr Macrae and apologise. I immediately went and found John Macrae who struggled to look serious for a minute or two, but as always, ended up certainly if not laughing, smiling as he often did. Perhaps he was thinking of how he would get mileage out of this at my expense in the years to come. Indeed when I later attended parents evenings with either of my two boys, John would always start by saying with a big grin on his face, to whichever boy it was, “Did your Dad ever tell you what he did ?”