The last time I was in England, I went to a school reunion. No old school friends were there, in fact there wasn’t even a school. Only the school yard, the ‘playground’ as we called it, remained. The three story Victorian building was gone, the annex, the old chapel, the gym, all demolished and the land redeveloped. For some reason, they left the old school yard.
I walked between two prefabricated offices when suddenly, spread out before me, was a memorial to four years of my life—a crumbling tarmac square bordered on one side by an old factory wall made of brick. The wall held a faded painted circle from a game I once played but no longer remember.
I walked to the center of the playground, opened my arms, and turned a slow circle. Over there stood the open-fronted playground shed, its dark, dank corner wispy with woodbine smoke. It’s where we explored, our adolescent hands fumbling inside woolly jumpers and white cotton blouses, learning the intricacies of bra straps, clumsily locking lips, our trousers bulging; faces crimson as the whistle called us back to the class room that, for me, was a hated prison.
Having turned a circle, I closed my eyes and listened. Sounds echoed, the shouts, the shrieks, the laughter; the sobs. Loud and real, my eyes flew open and there in the yard were Howard, Mary, Barbara, Ann, Christina, Avril, George, Frank, Leslie, Arthur … And the bullies and the fighters, the fat and the thin, the brainy and the unwashed whose life we made a misery. Here and there a teacher … Pop Walker who in class liked to throw a bunch of keys at his pupils, until he almost blinded one; Mr Field, who threatened to beat me with a rugby boot and hauled me off to the Head when I refused to bend over. Billy Clayton, our RE man, an enigma and one of my favorites; ‘Neb’ Harrison with his awesome nose; Taffy Lund from the science lab who loved to thrash us with a bent cane he called Whiz Bang; and gentle Miss Screven whose pointy breasts drove us mad with lust as they did the whisky-sozzled history teacher at a Christmas party, getting him into all kinds of trouble.
The girls carried their satchels … John, George, Paul and Ringo inked on the leather, all milling around in girly groups keeping away from the football, the game of British bulldogs and human pyramids, while casting sly looks at the lads and ready to cheer and form a ring around a hard-case playground fight.
The mixed crowd wore their house badges—Red for Norman, Green for Dane, Yellow for Saxon, and Blue for Rome—all except the rebels who had thrown theirs away. I was a Dane who desperately wanted to be a Saxon.
A blow on the teacher’s whistle and it all faded away. I took a final look around, watched my school blazer twist into denim, my grey pants become jeans. Brickwork yellowed, grass pushed through the tarmac where so many feet once ran, and the smell of my youth thinned and washed away in a cold shower of rain.
The best school day of my life …