Strength and honour.

I’d suddenly leap out of the wardrobe and demand her pearls. It was our game and one of our favourites. We called it the Lady and the Robber. She was the lady and I of course was the robber. She’d feign surprise every time but the clear and present danger of a pointing index finger and a threatening upraised and menacingly cocked thumb would be enough after a few offended protestations to relieve her of her jewels.

I’d be about eight years old and my sister would be about twelve.

We were immigrants, the four of us all lived in a single room, which to be honest didn’t give a young robber just learning his trade many decent places to hide in, so the blind spot of the wardrobe became sort of traditional. While our parents were out there working their asses off doing literally the three jobs a day thing to get the rest of their kids over, it was our playroom.

She’d always totter around in our mother’s high heeled shoes, faux fur and simulated pearled finery, which she was totally forbidden to do, I’d always leap out of the wardrobe, which was a permissible activity for the young curly-haired dervish monster which I undoubtedly was.

I’ve a feeling that it was originally an eight year old boy’s imaginary game but the creative and dramatic embellishments on it were all female. It’s called civilising a little savage and I’m sure wouldn’t turn out to be her first and only project in that respect. Children playing together has that hidden bonus of learning to give and take. You want your fun, but they’ve also got to get theirs as well, or nobody can play.

The best bit was the end. We’d run out of improvised lines and she’d lift me up high and then throw me down hard on the double bed, but before I’d bounced up, she’d pounce and tickle the very ribs out of me. I loved it but in the end had to cry out stop, stop, I’m going to pee myself.

Her formal education never got beyond twelve because the family was in trouble and it was an all hands on deck situation. She worked her socks off doing her part in the unskilled and cash in hand labour jobs, but was and still is one of the sharpest people I’ve ever met and as they say, the cream always floats to the top in the end.

Formal education or not, she’d go on to be a real mover in Ontario’s childcare system. That rarity, senior management who knew exactly what they were doing. She’d get into the closed social enclaves the rest of the childcare establishment had been butting their heads against for decades. She’s that good, but she’s still a little bit scary. I’d bet her grandchildren enjoy running a mile when she wiggles those tickling fingers at them. I would.

A lorra years down the line, it finally occurred to me to wonder why the seventh child of thirteen should be one of the first to be moved over. The family answer is I was my mother’s pet, which is partially true, but the real one was my father’s considered reply – you wouldn’t have survived being left behind by us. Us was him and his woman, a boss twosome if there ever was one, a couple under great stress at the time but accepting the added burden of looking after the runt of the litter.

Many years later I was leading the charge for a finishing tape in some fun run for some good cause the details of which escape me now. I’d been nagged into doing it against my better judgement by my flatmate Alex, who was ex-navy and in typical military fashion was determined to finish, despite I suspect the last time he’d run anywhere there was probably a copper blowing a whistle hot on his heels.

We’d been training for a whole two weeks or more on a strict sports diet of Belgian beer and doner kebabs drenched in chilli sauce. Hold the sauerkraut but give me some extra of those killer onions in their place. The sacrifices you have to make to be an athlete. It was brutal I tell you, just plain brutal. The worst two weeks of my whole life.

I’d a sprinter’s musculature. I’d be fastest out of the blocks but after a hundred yards, it’d all become hard work. Some people have that all bony legs and elbows and big chest build that makes them endurance athletes who can run you down into the ground. I would always finish behind them, but for once in my life I was going to win a distance race. Jesus H bloody Christ on a chariot, finally. I was there, so close I could almost taste it, but I ground to a halt. I tuned out all the shouting and screaming and watched people running by me in slomo.

Somewhere in the mix I’d lost my wingman. I walked back, weaving my way through the runners and found him totally shagged out sitting on the kerbside having an exhausted smoke. “Typical wimp ass navy pongo”. The dismissive insult was enough to electrify his ass up off the kerb. He’d his war face on again and it was pointing at me.

“Come on, let’s finish this fucker off” I said before he attacked me, and I hoiked him up and we pretend jogged towards the tape. Everybody goes home.

Both the girlfriends were there at the finishing line jumping up and down enthusiastically, so we naturally puffed ourselves up and jogged nonchalantly like it was a stroll in the park thing, rather than something that’d nearly bloody broke the ass off the both of us.

The best thing about crossing the line together was we could finally abandon our strict sport’s diet.


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Why do you come here? We’re never going to get better.

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7 Responses to “Strength and honour.”
  1. Blackswan says:


    Strength and honour, once so admired, are attributes in diminishing supply in the 21st century. The incident you describe immediately reminded me (and most senior Australians) of one of our famous sons, John Landy, for whom such a gesture earned him a place in the annals of our sporting heroes.

    “In Australia, Landy is remembered for his performance in the 1500 metres final at the 1956 Australian National Championships prior to the Melbourne Olympic Games. In the race, Landy stopped and doubled back to check on fellow runner Ron Clarke after another runner clipped Clarke’s heel, causing him to fall early in the third lap of the race. Clarke, the then-junior 1500 metre world champion, who had been leading the race, got back to his feet and started running again; Landy followed. Incredibly, in the final two laps Landy made up a large deficit to win the race, something considered one of the greatest moments in Australian sporting history.”

    Good to know sportsmanship goes on … as Vladdie will amply demonstrate in his endeavours in London tomorrow. May the wind always be at his back. Good luck.


  2. Selwyn H says:


    Enjoyed your description of the fun run your mate nagged you into training for and how it all panned out. It reminded me of a similar experience in my own middle age. My new younger mate who I had met through our kids was a solid ex Rhodesian policeman and myself a surveyor with a distance runner’s build but not much ability. He convinced me to tackle our town’s 10km fun run one Easter and we trained for weeks round the sports oval and over the hills with a few beers to round off each session.

    Come race day we were bursting with energy and started with gusto making our way through the field until we hit the hills. Our legs felt like lead and my mate hit the wall but with much banter and abuse I got him going again and down the other side he was back into his stride.

    Into the flat finishing 3km and this slip of a girl came gliding past us making it look easy. It was too much for Will and he took off after her but I couldn’t respond and kept up my own pace. I was catching them near the end when he passed the girl on the finishing line but couldn’t hold on and pissed himself. With great presence of mind he grabbed a bucket of water and dunked it over him before any one noticed his disgrace.

    I won my age group certificate and Will had a great new story to tell. Needless to say this wasn’t enough for him so he then studied law and became a very successful solicitor.


  3. Pointman says:

    Strength and honour, Vladiator, strength and honour.



  4. Blackswan says:

    ANZAC Day in Australia … remembering our Fallen, our Veterans and our serving Military.

    Thank you for your service.


  5. Blackswan says:

    Tangible evidence that the barbarity of Islam is hollow, worthless and devoid of strength and honour.

    Vladimir Putin shows the craven West and the likes of Oh Bummer, Ca-moron and Merkel how things are done, speaking at a symphony concert held in the retaken ruins of Palmyra to honour all victims of the Syrian war ….


  6. Blackswan says:

    Today, 24th May (Queen Victoria’s birthday), used to be celebrated in Australia as ‘Empire Day’. As little kids at school assembly we’d stand with ramrod backs and pledge … “I honour my God, I serve my Queen, I salute the flag!” … as small hands proudly shot to foreheads in salute. Our excitement was probably because we got a half-day holiday from school, rather than actually understanding why classroom maps showed half the world coloured red …. our Empire. That night huge bonfires would be lit and fireworks blossomed in celebration of the occasion.

    Small wonder that the youth of the Empire rallied to our Mother Country’s call to arms in the early 20th century. By the late 1960s Empire Day was no more.

    Today, remembering times past, local radio played the martial song ‘Rule Britannia’ and the lyrics got my attention once again.

    Thee haughty tyrants ne’er shall tame:
    All their attempts to bend thee down,
    Will but arouse thy generous flame;
    But work their woe, and thy renown.
    “Rule, Britannia! rule the waves:
    “Britons never will be slaves.”

    Having just read …. “In a shattering blow to the Prime Minister, Steve Hilton claims the UK is ‘literally ungovernable’ as a democracy while it remains in a club that has been ‘corruptly captured’ by a self-serving elite.”

    Strength and Honour? How the Mighty have fallen. The question is … how far will they go?


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