|27 Apr 2023
An Exmoor Fable
by Berwick Coates
When I was just eleven, and I came into the school,
I wanted to be noticed, and be seen as – oh, so cool.
I relished every challenge, and I leapt at every test.
Whatever I attempted, I was going to be the best.
I soon learned things about myself I wouldn`t have suspected.
I was not the all-round genius I had cheerily expected.
I couldn`t climb a practice wall; I couldn`t vault a horse;
On beams I hung, like an autumn leaf, and then slipped off of course.
I couldn`t do a press-up; I couldn`t climb a rope.
My PE teachers did their best – tried hard – but gave up hope.
I couldn`t jump a hurdle; I couldn`t catch a ball.
I had no co-ordination. I was no damn use at all.
I had some brains – well, just enough – and that was rather nice.
But when it came to sport and games, God loaded all the dice.
I had my share of chromosomes and genes and red corpuscles,
But He gave me a raw deal when He shared out all the muscles.
Other people bulged and glowed, and in summer got all brown.
I stayed white, and I didn`t bulge; I simply went straight down.
Then there came the Exmoor, and that offered something new:
You simply had to get there. This was something I could do.
Just put left foot in front of right; there was nothing else involved.
Even I could manage that. My problem now was solved.
I gave it everything I`d got. Guess what – I came in last.
When I counted up my blisters I was utterly aghast.
I plastered all my toes and heels and tottered up to bed.
But one idea obstinately would not leave my head:
I had to run that race again, and not to be just in it;
I wanted rather more than that; I wanted now to win it.
I ran and ran, I lifted weights, did endless circuit training.
I did it in the shining and I did it in the raining.
I dieted, I gave up treats, never lost sight of my goal.
To bring my aim within my reach, I shed my very soul.
Guess what. I won the Exmoor, and I bowed to all the cheers.
But when I tottered up to bed that night, I was in tears.
Compared with everybody I was faster, I was fitter.
But my tears were not of joy – or pain; the tears I shed were bitter.
I`d beaten them, I`d shown them all, I`d – dammit – I had won it,
But dedication has its limits; I had overdone it.
It suddenly had dawned on me: I`d lost the fun, the zest.
To put one triumph in my life, I`d sacrificed the rest.
It`s satisfaction should come first; success is no big deal.
The glow of winning wears off; it`s contentment sets the seal.
I`m going to join the happy club of finish-at-the-enders,
Of all those cursed with two left feet, of all knock-kneed non-benders.
Of those who understand the truth, who realise what they`ve got,
Who accept how God has made them, that you can`t be what you`re not.
They never want to claw their way to win at any cost;
If effort takes away the smile, the game is better lost.
Their motto is ‘Enjoy what`s there’; they embrace that motto gladly.
If something is worth doing, it is still worth doing badly.