I’m far too old for school myself and have no children, grandchildren, nephews and nieces, etc. – in fact, I don’t think I even have any neighbours with any of the aforementioned minors – and I haven’t been a teacher for a couple of decades. Despite this, my email inbox is full up with Back to School promotions and special offers.
I’ve been visiting my aged mother and this morning, long before I would normally consider it a civilised time to have a conversation on a Sunday, I found myself caught up in a discussion of yesterday’s unseasonal weather, school holidays, and the fact that mothers must be glad if the children are going back to school tomorrow. I think the implication was that it must be hard to keep children entertained when they can’t go outside and play.
I did try pointing out that it isn’t like it was when we were young: a wet day doesn’t stop the TV, computer and video games from working. Modern kids don’t need parks, fields and other open spaces for football, skipping, hopscotch, cycling, tree climbing etc.: as long as they’ve got their smart phones, they’re probably able to keep themselves occupied wherever they are.
Anyway, we started reminiscing about the games we used to play. Perhaps it’s surprising how little difference there was despite the very different settings of a small West Country village and a London suburb and the 35 years that separated our childhoods. Anyway, the conversation reminded me of this poem, which I don’t seem to have ever posted on the blog. It was published in Look Out! The Teachers Are Coming, (MacMillan Children’s Books, 2005).
The playground dreams
I’ve lain here now for over fifty years;
in winter, puddles stand on my surface
or freeze into the cracks that summer left.
At night, I dream of hopscotch ladders
chalked on asphalt, the clatter
of small stones and thud
of children’s feet. In my imagination,
multicoloured scooby-doos tangle
with cat’s cradle loops and spinning
hula hoops. There’s a hint of gunpowder
from confiscated cap-guns, and a fizz
of sweet spilled sherbet. Ball-bearings
jingle as ropes slap my tarmac
in condimented rhythm. Knicker elastic
twangs in memory and a red weal
blooms above white bobbysox.
Five stones and jacks scratch
as they tumble and glass alleys
tickle as they roll. I can feel
an old taw lodged where I butt
against the annexe wall. Though
Four-eyes McPherson searched
the day it went astray,
and for a full week afterwards,
he never found it. I saw him cry
behind the bike shed,
but I’m no grass. I used to pretend
that I was the princess and it
was the pea that stopped my sleep;
now it soothes me to feel
the continuity. For fifty years
I’ve lain here, watching. All night
I dream scenes from the past until
the bleep of a game-boy startles me
awake to the twenty-first century.