Memory can often surprise. I’m not sure how yours works, but mine is erratic at best. I would struggle to recall the events of the weekend should you so ask, yet last night, while drifting off to sleep I was struck by a most vivid recollection.
I was standing with my back to the wall. I could feel the coarse edge of the heavyset concrete window ledges that lined the exterior of the school hall, digging into the middle of my back. It had rained earlier that day, and the scent of the downpour hung heavy. Before me was a thin strip of soil that at one time held court to several bushes. Only their twisted branches remained.
This was the infant playground of St Giles’ s Primary School, Cheadle. I would be around the age of seven, and this particular memory involves queuing up for lunch. The dinner lady remained by the door to the right of me. It was her job to keep children from sneaking into the hall before it was their turn. Lunchtime was always frantic. The school building was small, but the class sizes were not.
You needn’t queue right away, you were free to play if you liked, but I preferred to secure my place in line early as I was a slow and particularly fussy eater. The last thing I wanted on my plastic lunch tray was the mix of cold peas and sweetcorn that seemed to appear on the menu every day and was always all that was left to eat should you dawdle.
I recall another time where I am standing before the bushes that lined the windows to class one. I couldn’t tell you why I was so fascinated by the plants that bordered the playground. Nor can I explain the joy I felt when we were allowed to play on the grass. I remember daisies in abundance. They were the happiest playtimes. Perhaps I didn’t have daisies at home.
The fringe of the playground bordered a set of allotments. In between playing Tick or Soldiers I’d look out at the lines of vegetables and the elderly men tending them. Even at that age I saw a parallel that filled me with sorrow. A green, wire mesh fence separated those that were just beginning life’s journey and those nearing its end.
The memory above, though uneventful stirred me. The sheer vividly surprised me – I felt like I was actually there. That I was that young, naïve boy all over again. My eyes were flooded by the low autumn sun. My nostrils filled with the fragrance of autumn and my heart was open, hungry for experience, knowing little of the world but what I was told. Class two and her expectations was the beginning and end of my worries.
Leaving that memory, a sombre mood fell over me. How I long to go back and relive those simple, innocent times again.