Today life without physical education seems practically inconceivable, but in the time that Theo Thijssen and his alter ego Kees (in Kees de jongen) grew up -- the late 19th century --, going to the gym was new and sports clothes a novelty especially in the poor Jordaan neighborhood in Amsterdam.
But alas, Kees's father, who was a cobbler, couldn't afford to purchase slippers and such for his son.
'...These days Kees admired a pal of his, who was a member of the sports club. This friend wore white slip-on shoes and white shorts. On Thursday evenings you could see him out in the street dressed like that.
Kees would walk him to the door of the gym. The entrance was crowded with boys, nearly all of them in white shorts, the marvelous white shorts. Most all of them wore white slippers. Not one of them stood still, jumping up and down, all of them on those fine shoes and Kees could understand that. He wouldnt have been surprised at all if suddenly one of the boys would fly across the canal. He felt weighted down by his own shoes, heavy like lead..(...)
The friend acquired at the sports club a rather silly manner of walking, learned from a trainer. If you wanted to get ahead you had to lean forward as though you were on the verge of falling and swing your arms back and forth.
Kees did his best to learn this way of walking; you really needed the special white slippers, but most essential was the swinging of the arms.
Introducing the swagger at school brought him great success.
For weeks on end boys at that school were practicing this manner of walking, a serious look on their faces. Always in a hurry on their way to the swimming pool between noon and two pm, the swagger really helped. The boys, among themselves, reported down to half minutes, how little time it took, from school to the swimming pool; they spoke of the swimming pool swagger.
To Kees the swimming pool swagger meant happiness. At times, while sent on an errand by his father, trudging along the canal, he'd suddenly start the swimming pool swagger; he was sure many watched him. He imagined he was wearing white slippers, he felt himself running to his destination in white shorts. Sometimes he came up with a nice logo for his shirt. He felt partial about 'Vitesse'. He'd seen that on a boat in the river Amstel. Locomotives sometimes had good names like that as well!
One time Kees accompanied his mother on an errand. The mother walked rather fast and Kees, still a little boy, started the swimming pool swagger, to keep up with her adult stride. He didn't speak and enjoyed the quiet, his arms swinging back and forth. People would surely think, 'Look, that must be a boy of the sport club...'
His mother halted in her step. 'What's the matter with you?', she asked. He said nothing and they continued. Kees swaggering slightly at first, but within moments his movements were exaggerated and the mother ordered, ‘Don't act so silly, stop swinging your arms like that. You look like you'd got something wrong with you. Can't you shape up this once, while out in the street with me?'
Kees did not respond. He stopped swinging his arms, but in secret he tried walking in a manner that would change the way he held himself anyway.
Oh well, that his mother was grumbling about the swimming pool swagger he could understand, he sensed her usual dislike of sport shoes in her reaction.
Cause after all, it could happen. Buying sport slippers: instéad of having real shoes fixed... Saved some money, did’nt it?...
That's why he shut his mouth and didn't even bother to tell her about the swimming pool swagger.
From: Kees de jongen, 1923.
Translated by Judith van Praag.