Out Now!

Saturday, 27 October 2007

Cold bacon and chips

The tree and railway embankment remain. Just me that's moved on. In Summer the foliage was dense.

Aargh! The park is still there, but the swings have gone! Just a grey patch of asphalt left. Curs!

The tree overhanging the swing is still there though. The sky is much the same, too.

There’s a time when you sense childhood ending, a tide is ebbing and you feel suddenly bare, exposed; a bit like when you wake up cold in the morning and snuggle deeper under the duvet, knowing it’s time to get up, but not wanting too. I remember two distinct phases, one unconscious, a desperate rear-guard action, the other quiet acceptance on a swing, in a park about to close.

The desperate rear-guard action period was a realisation that despite reading all the Hardy Boys books, the odd Nancy Drew, the Famous Five, the Secret Seven, Biggles, Fu Manchu, The Saint, James Bond and every Edger Wallace book ever written, I had never caught a crook or been embroiled in an international spy ring.

I went into over-drive, making a small tree house (well a cardboard screen actually) in a tree on the railway embankment. It overlooked the bus stop and, on a higher branch,a scrap merchant’s yard that had to be nefarious. To move Descartes on, just a little bit, ‘I want, therefore it is’.

My dad obliged by sewing me a small canvas bag, which I attached to my belt - a utility pouch - Tarzan meets Batman. Instead of neat gizmo’s I had carefully selected stones; now all I needed were targets. There are some villainous looking pedestrians out there - especially when you’re looking for them. Little did they realise their narrow escape as my Descartes principle battled against a growing caution - perhaps the first signs of adult maturity. Cold winds were blowing.

The moment of acceptance came on late Tuesday afternoon. There would be bacon and chips for tea, and I was drifting listlessly on a swing. The park was empty, the sky was grey and darkening, and I suddenly realised that soon I’d be too old to be doing this. Grown-ups didn’t go on swings; it was against the law, or something. I wanted to stay on it for as long as I could, even if I ended up eating cold bacon and chips.

I realised there were things I would never do again, people I would never see. I thought back on Penny Charters - the nurse when we played doctors and nurses, and for whom there was always a queue to be sick; her sister Carol, lean and rangy, the ultimate tomboy; I thought of Steven Davies, the embryonic stud and his younger brother Alan, who first introduced to me the ultimate ‘foody’ food: salmon paste sandwiches with pickled onions. It had to be white bread, fresh and thinly cut. I thought of Billy Shaw, the chemist’s son, who showed me what really counted in games involving toy soldiers: will and imagination. Across the terracotta plains of his paved backyard, the forests and jungles of a thin strip of garden, the buttes of up-turned flower pots, we played cowboys and Indians, Gi’s and Japs, Tommies and Huns, and I invariably lost because Billy knew how to change the rules, and I didn’t. (The great secret in life)

Only speaking of rules - it was well past my tea - and my bacon was cold. A fact as certain as the moon in the sky. Changing the rules would come later.

This marks an end to my childhood.

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