A Determined Woman
Memories of childhood are recalled in this delightful complete story by Keith Havers.
GET out of here, you little rascals! Didn’t you read the sign?” Miriam paused on her way to the shops and turned to see what the commotion was about. A burly workman in orange overalls and yellow safety hat was berating two young boys. “We only wanted some bricks,” one said. “And a piece of wood,” the other added. “This is a demolition site and highly dangerous,” the man replied. “Don’t let me catch you here again.”
The smaller of the pair picked up his bike from where he had dropped it and they both began to walk in Miriam’s direction. She recognised the small lad who lived opposite her.
“Hello, Tommy,” she said. “Up to mischief?” “Only wanted some bricks,” he grumbled. “How were you going to carry bricks and push your bike?” “Only wanted two.” “And a plank of wood,” his mate piped up. “We were going to make a ramp to ride our bikes up.”
Miriam couldn’t fault them for their ingenuity. She looked at Tommy’s bike. It seemed to have the bare minimum of accessories.
In her day a bicycle was for getting from A to B, with fully functional brakes, lights, a bell and saddlebag. These days they appeared to be made for performing circus tricks. Or was she forgetting the reality of what it had been like in those austere times? “Wait here,” she ordered. The pair did as they were told as Miriam marched back towards the site. She paused at the entrance between the security fencing. A bakery used to stand on this piece of land. Now it had been razed to the ground and a bargain grocery store would soon replace it.
She disappeared inside. A few minutes later she emerged, followed by the man in orange. She beckoned the boys to join them.
“Here are the things you wanted,” she said as the man handed over two house bricks and a wooden board. “You are to promise never to trespass here again.”
The two boys nodded solemnly. The bigger lad took the two bricks while Tommy laid the plank across his saddle and handlebars before heading home. “Thanks, Mrs Pierce,” they called back. “And thank you,” she said to the man. “You’re welcome. Just make sure they steer clear.” “I’ll have a word with their mum.” Miriam continued to the shops, picked up a few groceries and decided to return via the park.
Still thinking about the two boys, she rested on one of the wooden benches between the old bandstand and the children’s play area. A couple of mums were talking on the next bench while keeping an eye on their toddlers.
The plastic slide and rusty swings had seen better days. What was once a see-saw had been dismantled. There didn’t seem to be anything at all for older kids like Tommy to play on.
It’s no wonder they get into trouble, she thought.
The new housing estate on the other side of town boasted a play area for all ages with wooden climbing structures and a cycle park. The old side of town where the factory workers and warehouse operatives lived seemed to have been neglected.
Something needs to be done, she thought.
The kids in the village had nowhere to play, and it was up to Miriam to do something about it!
Back home, Miriam pulled down an old shoebox from the top of the wardrobe and tipped the contents on to the bed. Spreading out the black and white photographs, she picked out several of the oldest. Some were dog-eared and well-thumbed, but most were as clear as the day they were taken.
“Seems like only yesterday,” she whispered.
Grubby young faces, looking almost like street urchins from a Dickens novel, beamed out from the little paper squares.
Kids posing in tattered trousers and thick jerkins smiled at the camera. Teenagers mixed with younger children as they lined up with their home-made bicycles, some wearing makeshift bibs displaying their team logos.
“I remember my mum sewing those by hand,” Miriam said aloud. “I pestered her to have them ready for the weekend.”
After stepping across the rubble on the building site and seeing the two boys trying to create their own amusement, some long-forgotten images had popped up in Miriam’s mind. These pictures hadn’t seen the light of day for many years, but now they sparked more memories from her childhood.
I was a real tomboy in those days, she mused.
The town where she grew up had been littered with building sites – a magnet for groups of kids playing. Health and safety didn’t seem important then.
You wouldn’t guess at first sight, but one of the smiling faces in the photos belonged to Miriam. Beneath the grime and the leather helmets she was unrecognisable amongst the male-dominated crowd. The boys didn’t like it when she beat them, she remembered.
With very few alternative amusements available to them, teenagers would turn up with shaky old bicycles and race them on improvised circuits around the rubble.
She’d had to build her own bike from several scrap ones. The handlebars were just an old piece of copper pipe. Her mum had