Thursday, 27 November 2008

Giant ...

O! it is excellent to have a giant's strength, but it is tyrannous to use it like a giant.
William Shakespeare



Truly a giant specimen of a man, Geoff Capes
Geoff Capes is the most capped British male athlete of all time. He retired from UK athletics in 1980, with 67 international caps.

has proved over the years that he is also a sensitive, kind and gentle human being. If you don't believe my hype, Google him and you will find out everything there is to know about this remarkable Lincolnshire son.

The reason he features in this blog post is because, as I was putting together something about the character that appears in the next post, I was once again distracted by a memory that has some relevance.

If you don't know who this man is, and if you haven't Googled him yet, here is a potted bio:

  • Geoff Capes is the most capped British male athlete of all time. Even though he retired from UK athletics in 1980, with 67 international caps - and returning 35 wins.
  • Amazingly, he held the British and Commonwealth 'shot-put' record of 71ft 3½in, set at Cwmbran in 1980, which stood for 23 years.
  • During his athletic career, which began in 1967, he won 17 National titles, was twice Commonwealth Champion, won two Gold, two Silver and one Bronze medals at European Championships, was three times European Champion, competed in three Olympic Games and was awarded The Queen's Jubilee medal in 1977, for services to the community.
  • Geoff turned professional in 1980 to take part in strong man competitions and Highland games. He was twice the World's Strongest man and took the titles of Europe's Strongest man and Britain's Strongest Man three times each. He was World Highland Games Champion on six occasions.
  • What surprises most people is that a man of Geoff Capes' physical stature should be gentle enough to keep, breed and exhibit Budgerigars!

Geoff and 3 of his 'Budgies'.

The fact that Maria and I have 'accidentally' involved ourselves with the keeping and rearing of tiny birds is enough of a loose link for me to mention Big Geoff. But, of course, there is more to the story. 1977, the year Elvis died (16th August for those with short memories), was the year I fleetingly met Geoff Capes. Two strangers passing, and I suppose it didn't register on his consciousness for a second. But it did on mine.

I was doing a stint of instructional duties (teaching the trade) at RAF Cosford, which at that time housed the only decent-sized indoor athletics track in the UK. Cosford had the hangar space, it was a training establishment without anything 'militarily sensitive' to be concerned about, and it was located centrally in the Midlands, close to Wolverhampton and Birmingham and the major motorways. The government were approached by the UK Athletics Board with a request to house the indoor track, and the deal was done.

And so, at the start of every athletics season, a roster was drawn up for the permanent staff and trainees to "man the gates" on the days for which the athletics 'meets' were scheduled. Invariably weekends and public holidays! Joe-Public has never fully appreciated the 'free' services provided by the Armed Forces. Operation Burberry later that year in which I and hundreds of other servicemen were forced to man Green Goddess fire engines whilst the striking firemen took our part-time jobs (mine at the Cadbury factory in Uxbridge) was a classic case in point. Winter of discontent? You bet your sweet bippy! But I digress. That will have to wait for another day.

I was designated 'Guard Commander' (doesn't that sound grand?) for that particular bright but cold late winter day. You will recall that this was the start of heightened IRA activity and all who entered our hallowed gates needed to be searched. My crew consisted of 12 men, working the search tables in shifts of four. No, there were no women. These were the days when women were a lot more enlightened, and the subject of 'equality' was never mentioned. In any event, why would they want men to gain equality? All who entered were greeted with a cheery 'Good Morning' and pleasantly asked to put their bags on the tables and empty them so that we could check the contents. It was a rule that you didn't put your own hands into the bag in case you managed to trigger something that was concealed inside. Everything was running smoothly and there were no complaints or grumbles from the public, so I wandered out of the gates and turned right towards the raised Cosford railway station a couple of hundred metres away. Life was good and I was wondering why I had had reservations about this 'duty': I mean, if you're a full-blooded heterosexual male, how often do you get the chance to look soulfully into Donna Murray's Dubbed the 'golden girl' by the British media, the blonde-haired Donna Murray (later Hartley) established herself as a significant force in British athletics at both the 200m and 400m during the latter half of the 1970s.

limpid eyes and lose it?

Suddenly, my sunshine was stolen! Gone. Just like that! Looking up, all I could see was this mountainous Yeti-like creature blocking my sun and smiling shyly from behind a full set. Oops, best get out of his way; he certainly wasn't going to get out of mine! I nodded and he nodded back and moved towards the gate. My immediate thought was to get there before him and warn off the loudmouth Brummie who was at the first check-in table - just in case!

I didn't quite make it, and sure as hell the big fella went for table one.

"Good Morning, sir," said my Brummie at table one, "can you please put your bag on the table and empty the contents?"

With a disarming smile Geoff muttered, "Not bloody likely, son. You want it, you take it." proffering his kit bag to the hesitant young trainee, held at shoulder level by his massive outstretched right arm.

This 'ask-and-decline' exchange took place about three times. The boy asked, big Geoff declined.

The boy was smart. He realised he ought not to push his luck. And certainly not with a man-mountain. He held out his hand and took the bag. That's when the penny dropped. Actually the 'shot-put' dropped. Not one, not two, but THREE 'puts' neatly packed in the oversize kit bag crashed to the trestle table causing it to collapse with an almighty, splintering crack.

You know how you complain when an airline sets your baggage limit to an unreasonable 20 kilos? And then when you're hauling the case up and down stairs and escalators of the airport concourses you are grateful for the little 'wheelie-thingies'?

Think about picking up that case with one arm and holding it straight out at shoulder level and you can understand what strength is required to do that with a kit bag weighing nearly 22 kilos.

And then try to picture a young stripling trying to emulate the feat.

Yeah, sure!

There was a deathly silence, then a roar of laughter from Mr Capes, followed by suppressed mirthful giggles from the rest of the people gathered around our hapless hero.

"Well done, son. I'll give you full marks for tenacity." said our Geoff, scooping up his bag from the floor and shuffling away in the direction of the hangar.

Our Brummie hero ducked into the guardroom (without permission from his 'Guard Commander') for a much needed cup of coffee. I wasn't about to stop him.

In any case there were only 3 tables left and I certainly needed something strong to 'brace' myself, so I followed ...

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Lee said...

LOL Sitting here just laughing away. That is so funny! Thanks Terry!


CrazyCath said...

I just sit back and enjoy these tales from you Fletch. You tell such a good story.

I remember Geoff Capes with fondness, but alas, never had the honour of meeting him. (Bet that young Brummie kicked himself later...!)

Fletch said...

Lee & Cath

Thanks for your magnanimous comments. At least I have a fan-club of two!

tictok said...

Hi Fletch, life is good and we are still alive out here! 1980 signals my meeting with Geoff, also at Cosford when, as I stepped backwards out of the way of a goddess in tights, I managed to land on his right foot! When I turned and came face to chest with him I knew I was in trouble but all he said was "Sorry Sarge" and went on his way out of the hanger - breathe out slowly son I thought - and think yourself lucky you still can!
Take care out there you pair.


Fletch said...

Mick (where the hell did tictok come from?), thanks for dropping by and leaving a comment.

I often forget our paths ran concurrently.

Glad you two are bearing up under the 'rough' conditions in the TRNC.

Will drop you & Cec an email soon ...

tictok said...

Fletch, dammed if I know but when I click on the bit that puts my email (Google) in it gave me a nick name of Tictok. The whole world knows me as Waddo but I guess Google just likes to be different. Was working on a Blog through Google Pages but have moved on since then - only up to mid 2003 at the moment so watch this space!
Keep well you pair.




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