Too Old to Pull

by Tony Oswick

Competition theme: 'Between'

"You silly old fool, Laurie. Fancy volunteering to do that!" 

I knew that's exactly what Jean would have said. Although she'd been gone fifteen years, I could still feel her sitting on my shoulder, telling me the difference between right and wrong. And, as usual, she was right.

Last Saturday was the annual Elves v Brocks Games. They started way back in 1775 when Elverford, our village, issued a sporting challenge to our neighbours from Brocksham. Nowadays it's more like a fete, with side shows and stalls, but the sporting side is still taken seriously, despite the events being less than serious.  

My speciality was the giant egg and spoon race. I was champion six years in a row in the late 1990s until I had my heart trouble and the medics said I should take things easier.

Now I just go as a spectator. That is until last Saturday. 

Everyone was waiting for the events to start when our captain, Tom Standen, rushed up to me.

"Got a problem, Laurie," he panted. "Stuart Dace has just phoned. His wife's gone into labour and he can't make the tug-of-war team."

Now you might think Tom could've found someone else to take Stuart's place, someone younger from the wellie-throwing, bean-bag relay or hockey-slalom teams. But that's not how things work in the Elves v Brocks Games. You see, they changed the rules in 1973 so people could only take part in one event. That was the year after an ex-Olympic athlete moved into Brocksham. The Brocks entered him in every event - and won by the proverbial country mile. 

"There's no-one else I can ask," pleaded Tom. "We can't line up a man short. Look, you don't have to pull. Just stand there and pretend. But we've got to save face, we must field a full eight. You'd be doing the village a great favour, Laurie."

That's when I heard Jean's words ringing in my ears. A man of sixty-seven with a heart condition in the tug-of-war team? Of course I was too old to pull. Of course I'd be a silly old fool to agree. But, on the other hand, I couldn't let Elverford down, could I?

So Tom lined me up as number seven, between Craig and Mark, two beefy young farmers. But, as soon as I picked up the rope, I could feel my legs tremble and my hands go weak as Jean's words reverberated in my head. I had to think quickly but there was so little time. Within a few seconds, the referee shouted "pull" and everyone pulled. Everyone except me. 

"Blooming hell!" or something similar, I cried, collapsing to the ground. Craig and Mark immediately stopped pulling, which meant the team completely lost momentum and allowed the Brocks to ease the rope over the line without raising a sweat.

 "What's the matter, Laurie?" said Tom, hurrying up to me. 

"It's my calf," I wheezed, clutching my lower leg. "Sorry about that, Tom."

"Better get it seen to, pronto" and he motioned to Craig and Mark, who each grabbed an arm. With their help, I hobbled on one leg to the first aid tent, a large space at the back of the organisers' tent, with some chairs and a first aid box.

"What have we got here then?" A cheery middle-aged woman with long brown hair, who I didn't recognise, was sitting at a table at the front of the tent.

Tom explained what had happened, and said I needed to sit down and rest.

"Over here, love," said the woman and she pointed to a canvas chair at the back of the tent. "Let's have a look."

"We'll leave him with you," said Tom. "The wellie-throwing's about to start. Will you be okay, Laurie?"

I nodded.

"Don't worry, I'll sort him out," said the woman. "Now, which leg is it?"

I pointed to my left leg and, without so much as a by-your-leave, she grasped my leg, rolled up my trousers and felt around my left calf.

"Can't feel anything broken. Reckon you've pulled a muscle, love. Laurie wasn't it? I've got some cream somewhere. Not sure if it'll do any good but let's give it a go." She reached into the first aid bag and started rubbing my leg with a white cream. "Tell you what, Laurie. You've got pretty good legs for an oldie. Now, just relax."

So that's what I did. I just sat there with this unknown woman from Brocksham rubbing my left leg. And, I have to confess, it wasn't an unpleasant experience.

"My name's Vanda by the way," said the woman.

"That's a nice name. But I think you ought to stop now, Vanda. It's very soothing and it's kind of you to rub my leg - but there's nothing actually wrong with it."

She looked up but continued massaging.

"You see, once I'd got in the line, I suddenly realised it was a very silly thing to do - a man of my age could do himself a serious injury. But I couldn't drop out and let Tom down, could I? So I fell down and just pretended I'd hurt my leg.” I knew I was babbling but I was so embarrassed I just kept on talking. “I'm sorry, Vanda, I honestly know the difference between right and wrong and I usually don’t tell fibs and I didn't mean to deceive you. Are you cross?"

I didn't wait for an answer because I heard her laughing. "You old phoney," she cried. "So I've been rubbing this leg for the last five minutes - for nothing?"

I nodded sheepishly. "I guess so. But you do understand, don't you? It was for the honour of the village."

"Of course I do, Laurie," said Vanda, "it was a very noble gesture."

"So you can stop massaging, thanks, and I'll get back to the games."

This time it was Vanda's turn to give me a sheepish look. "But before you go, I think, just to make absolutely certain nothing's wrong, I really ought to have a look at your other leg."

And, without waiting for a reply, Vanda took hold of my other leg, rolled up my trousers and started rubbing cream into my right calf. "Plenty of time to watch the rest of the games later, Laurie" she chuckled and, looking up, winked at me. "Then I'll give you poor old invalid a lift home."

 Now it was my turn to smile. Perhaps I wasn't too old to pull after all?