The playground was a wonderful place. There was always something entertaining.. On hot days in the summer, a few of us would perch upon the kitchen wall and watch the various games and things being played. Why all these boys would run about after a ball in the afternoon sun was a complete mystery to me. It seemed as though they were programmed to follow this old ball around, running as fast as they could to catch up with it and hoof it somewhere else. Inevitably the ball would disappear into the rabble of wiggling feet and legs moving towards the sacred goal like some crude circular river dance. Then without warning the ball would be fired out of the mess into another space. The mob would follow (someone would always fall, shouting “foul”) and the whole thing would start again. Ludicrous if you ask me!
There would often be an argument about the “goals” or who was taking the free kick. Frequently the same hot headed idiots would lose their rag and start kicking out at anything that moved. The worst thing was that after all the passion and fervour of this frantic pointless kicking, a lot of these over-boiled sweating, grunting, boys would be sitting by us in the classroom for the rest of the day. Then the teacher would rant about the disgraceful lack of attention, and Billy Tindall’s “attitude problem”, thus turning the afternoon lesson into a tedious and somewhat odorous affair. I learnt that word from Mr Collins or Mr Big as we called him-he was always proud of his command of the English language, especially his use of big words. I always knew when he was going to use a big word. His speech would slow a little, he would wobble his head, then pause slightly before declare his extra long word as though it was some form of announcement. This would be followed by a shrinking of his already truncated (thank you Mr Big) neck and a final flourish of head wobbles. I digress. Back to the playground……….
The playground itself sloped down to a small wall with one of those rather unstable wobbly mesh fences. This is where the football would take place. Many times we would watch the younger children run down this slope pretending they could not stop. They would finally throw themselves at the mesh before laughing hysterically. Hours of endless fun. Well it made them laugh anyway. As for the football, there were many occasions when some over enthusiastic, usually overweight boy would kick the ball over the fence into the main road. This was never a mystery to me as it was to the teachers on duty. You see the football was always dominated by a few of those sporty boys, far too skilled and wrapped up in their own imaginary superstar status to pass this ridiculous object to anyone else. Therefore on the odd occasion when a less agile or skilled boy had a chance to kick this greatly revered sphere of delight, he would perform a kick to end all kicks. They would think that by launching the ball speeding like a bullet towards the goal, they too could be seen as a “real footballer”. Needless to say, such power with such a notable absence of skill would merely launch the ball over the fence into the street. What would follow was always entertaining.
All the boys would line up with their runnning sweaty little noses pressed into the wire fence as they shouted for someone in the street to return the ball. Tension would mount. Would someone throw it back? Would someone kick it back? (Successful return by kicking was always accompanied by a “wow aren’t you skillful” type of noise.) Would a car run over the ball? Would Billy Tindall swear at a passer-by who ignored this sad deflated little lump, lying pitifully in the gutter appearing far too grubby to even pick up? Would one boy be brave enough to quickly nip out the gate to retrieve it himself?
Well on one occasion a boy called Terry-never knew his surname-raced to the gate, slipped his skinny little frame through a minuscule gap and burst out into the outside world. Now just as he was throwing the ball back over-I say just even though he had made several attempts to do this to a chorus of groans, moans and the inevitable swearword from Billy, Miss Grant, the teacher on duty (also the deputy head) actually spotted Terry out in the big wide “dangerous” world. Now when Miss Grant spoke it was very much the sound of a mother hen with odd bits of shrill clucking combined with the sort of muttering gobbledy gobbledy you might expect in a henhouse-but on this occasion she reached a new level of beast.
Seeing the rather substantial form of your deputy head sprinting down a sloping playground accelerating towards the “edge”, was a real joy to behold. Whistle round neck, bangles round wrists and pony tail going into overdrive, she began to run down the slope. At first this was very much a controlled affair; with arms by her side, the old hen stared fixedly as she moved swiftly with purpose and determination. I don’t know what really set her off however-was it the traffic, the steepness of the slope or one of Billy Tindall’s examples of extended expressive English? Nevertheless the arms began to wave in a wild random motion as her usual clucking transformed into a sort of semi pig semi hyena howling. It was almost musical as her pulsating shrieks matched the rhythm of her galloping stride. Every so often an accented yelp gave the whole piece a feel of four-in-the-bar. After a couple of these it seemed exactly the same sort of “Encouraging” tones that would be screamed at little infants who desperately tried to beat their drums and whack their triangles in time to her erratic piano thumping.
I would see the plump arms and chubby face grow scarlet as she struggled with the slope. She was obviously unbalanced by both her size and the way everything wobbled. What a sight-a bit like the runaway train, complete with hooting whistle. Ironically by the time she had reached the wall, Terry had sneaked back in and everyone was playing football again. On the other side of the fence however, distracted by the shrill aria of the pink, exhausted, furious teacher, quite an audience had gathered to watch this impromptu performance. Some shook their heads, some grinned whilst others gaped open mouthed in disbelief at the panting, heaving Miss Grant.
Then within seconds she had shook herself down, stared back at the general public outside and watched some poor souls wither from her steely gaze before she calmly sauntered back to the middle of the playground to continue the conversation with her assistant Mrs Williams.