Archive for January, 2017

Two Playgrounds

January 23, 2017

Two playgrounds, no not the joy of freedom, or of choice. Yes, you could get out, you could climb the limestone wall behind the un-climbable trees and drop six feet into the alley – but what would you do when you landed? Run on your slapped feet, down the road of bare, square, between-the-wars, council houses, following a ball? Then return via the surveilled wooden door in the wall?

When I arrived at the school into the top class of the infants, the Victorian red brick building had two distinct asphalt playgrounds, divided in the middle by a one-storey block of “Lavatories” – “The toilets” (and once my friend had taught me the word) – “The bogs!”. They too were red brick with dark blue rounded capping bricks on the top of the L-shaped entrance walls. Rows of toilet cubicles each with a liver colour painted wooden door, a ten-inch gap along the top and the bottom to let in the light, (and let out the smell). Nevertheless closing the door revealed a dark place of eerie incomprehension in the company of the silent white vitrified porcelain object, and the ghosts of thousands of toilet visits beyond lifetimes of children. Rusty chains hung from a (usually dislocated) iron arm in the top cistern, which one knew was supposed to be pulled, pulled very hard and suddenly, to make it flush following the action of innumerable unknown fading spirit hands. These sort of toilets not only made a terrifying noise with which no child would want to be trapped in the dark – but also released a ghoul or a witch or worse, that would certainly grab you and pull you back down the toilet, so only a mad person or an adult, would risk a fate worse than death, for a flush!
The toilets smelled a lot, a kind of broken down, oddly desiccated atmosphere, where broken handles and iron latches were stuck fast, thick with paint and rust. Some of the toilet pedestals were miniature for very small children, a perverse variation, similar to the feeling of coffins for babies. Those toilet seats that still remained, weren’t shiny plastic, no, they were a sort of black composition where verdigris and eighty years of grime had fused with whatever the original compound had been to make something new, organic, heavy and dull sounding because it’s texture was almost furry, something that had itself begun to cross the river into the dark land of death!

However, the lavatories were very soon demolished, this must have been in the first summer holidays of my time there.
New unisex toilets were fitted for the Infants in their original indoor cloakroom, similarly the Junior Girls (of which I was newly one) had a cloakroom also fitted with half a dozen toilet cubicles – Formica stalls, which carried forward the idea of a gap at the top and at the bottom, to the whole structure! So low were these stalls that even the shortest girl could by standing on the toilet seat, easily lean over into the next cubicle to annoy or leer at it’s occupant, and sometimes a face would appear under the door!
The Junior Boys, received an entirely new build, in a remote part of the school near to the Headmaster’s Office and the part of the playground used as the teachers’ car park where the maroon coloured World War II van that delivered the aluminium containers of School Dinners, would park.
The demolition of the Victorian lavatories meant that the playground was no longer divided between on one side, Girls and Infants and on the other – Boys. This was incredibly dangerous!
To be specific, the Boys’ playground was dangerous and now it was free to spill out across the place where the toilets once stood and damage the other children! Especially me!
My young self, was the sort of person who liked to think and dream, often alone. My reverie consisted of something of a song, a story, a set of amorphous aims, wishes and a strolling sort of dance. My song involved musing about being alone, being happy in the sadness of it with crescendos of a few skips, turns, jumps and attempts to fly. I also engaged in a sort of accompanying semi-conscious study of the interlocking diamond shapes of the towering rusty meshing above the bottom brick wall on the council estate side, meant to catch the balls so they didn’t make off down the hill to the bottom of the valley.
The loss of the lavatory barrier meant that as I looked up at the meshing and through to the flat grey sky beyond, periodically my eyes would be showered with rust by the blast of one of the boys’ footballs as it struck the net above my head.
Furthermore, boys marshalled the stupidity of the teachers and dinner ladies, who believed that wherever a ball might strike was probably an accident and never required a telling off. The rule was that if you got hit by a ball it was because you were in the wrong place. Yes, they knew that when boys squeezed snow until it became ice packed around a piece of school coke, then threw it at somebody’s head, that this act had to be stamped out! But the same boys were legitimate in kicking a wet gravelly football at the head of a smaller non-participating child.
It was not the poorest boys who played football, though there were many poor wiry boys who were very grateful to be included in a game and I am sure on reflection, that they experienced joy and great enthusiasm from running, kicking and boy directed team sport. However, the owners of the balls were the more affluent ones, some ruddy and overfed, with weight enough to really cause harm. I never realised at the time but being a teacher’s child probably made me a target, and being alone made it easy to pick me off.
On my wanderings at the periphery of the playground I sometimes met other lone travelers also in a sort of reverie, the poorest boys from the family who never changed their clothes and only met water in the rain or in the penultimate year when once a week their class went to the swimming baths. They didn’t ever have anything to say: their reverie was different to mine.