It’s not for the school to tell us, Charlie … after all, to us you are healthy big
The gymnasium at Harkﬁeld comprehensive middle school was sorely in need of a touch of paint, as was the remainder of the school. Nestled between the green ﬁelds and the back-to-back terraced housing so typical of this part of England, the drab school buildings, housing the village’s 10-14-year-olds, were a constant reminder to the local inhabitants of Huddleton about the dismal state of public funding for education. Despite her physical work environment, Mrs Oliver, the PE teacher, is nevertheless feeling pleased with herself as she walks around the Year 7 class today, helping students to record ﬁtness results, to weigh themselves and to measure ‘fatness’. For years, she’d faced jibes in the staﬀroom from her colleagues who questioned the status of her subject. ‘What is it you actually do in those lessons, Jackie, just kick a ball about?’ Well, not any more, she thought to herself. PE’s status in the school has risen in recent years, as Harkﬁeld has marketed itself as a ‘healthy school’, in line with the National Healthy Schools Programme.1 A smile transformed her face as she reﬂected upon the way in which she now gained kudos from her subject. How PE is enjoying the limelight! PE’s the subject which really contributes to the ‘Healthy Schools’ agenda, complementing the initiative of the monitoring system in the canteen and the extra-curricular physical activity programmes. A clique of loud, boisterous boys, racing each other out to the changing
rooms, jolts Mrs Oliver back to the present. ‘OK, OK, boys! I can see the time’s getting on and we’ll have to bring the lesson to a close. Get changed and then come back here to take a few notes,’ she commands. Craig and Ben eagerly pull oﬀ their sweat-soaked T-shirts, making a show of tensing their abs as they pass Elise and Chloe. The girls are too busy to notice, staring intently at their ﬁtness results, recorded on the now greasy and slightly crumpled lesson handout. At the other end of the gym, Charlie and Mark amble towards the exit,
oversized T-shirts covering their measured, poked at and exposed bodies. They stare enviously at Craig and Ben, ‘the peacocks’. ‘Oh god, my belly is spilling over. Just cover it up and get out. Just get out, Charlie! Just pass the girls and get into the changing rooms!’ Mark tells himself, ﬁxing his eyes ﬁrmly on the ground as he moves gingerly to the door. Next to him, Charlie
feels the peering eyes of all the others around him, closing in and staring at his body. He tries to move quickly, wants to move quickly. Get to the safety of the changing rooms! But it’s like someone’s hit the slow-motion button. His feet produce slow, echoing ripples of sound, vibrating oﬀ the old wooden gym ﬂoor. Or so he believes. Lydia sniggers to her friend, ‘Look at them, no wonder they get pushed around and no one wants to be friends with them!’ Catching the sniggers, Mark hugs his body, trying to cover it, but surreptitiously grabbing the rolls of fat around his belly, thinking to himself, ‘Feels like blubber. It’s too soft. It’s moving around again. Got a mind of it’s own, my belly! Wish I could just push it back in!’ Yet, the tighter he hugs, the more the soft, ﬂeshy surplus seeps through his ﬁngers. A mix of pungent sweat and deodorant begins to heavy the air as the class
return to the gym and get seated for the lesson round-up. After a few minutes of summarizing, Jackie tries to stress the importance of today’s lesson in a couple of sentences:
Well done today, class. Now, I need to remind you that if you want to maximize your lifespan – barring accidents or illnesses, of course, over which you have no control – then you need to eat healthily. The repercussions – if you don’t – are cancer of the colon, to diverticulitis, and heart attacks. This is for a lifetime – and if you get it wrong for the rest of your life, then you’ve got nobody to blame but yourself! You need to have plenty of ﬁtness, you need lots of exercise, lots of energy and a good basic diet. If you eat too much and you don’t exercise, you’ll get fat. If you eat a sensible diet and you exercise enough, that’s good for you. That’s the end of the message for today!