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An Exmoor Fable

Our archivist Berwick Coates set the tone for Exmoor Day 2023 with this fable!
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.

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