23 Cran­ford

Evergreen - - Contents -

It was a poignant mo­ment, hear­ing again that fa­mil­iar play­ground cho­rus trilling out in the dis­tance; the muf­fled ban­shie cry of a thou­sand school chil­dren car­ried on the wind over chim­neys and rooftops, down al­ley­ways and gar­dens. It turned back the clock and in­stantly trig­gered in my head tiny snatches of for­got­ten youth which hadn’t seen day­light for half a cen­tury or more. It is that old be­guil­ing trick time and mem­ory play when­ever the past is re­vis­ited.

Yes, I’d come back to my roots; where child­hood all be­gan here amongst the close- knit­ted com­mu­ni­ties of West Lon­don. And to the pri­mary school in Cran­ford, built just be­fore the last war which, back in the 1960s, gave me and thou­sands of other young­sters the ba­sic tools to life in the hope we’d shape a bet­ter fu­ture.

It could have been a lifetime ago I last stood in this very spot. Yet so eas­ily yes­ter­day. It is re­as­sur­ing to see that time has not only smiled gra­ciously upon the grand old lady, but also re­lieved her of a cou­ple of un­sightly car­bun­cles in the form of two Sec­ond World War air- raid shel­ters. For a gen­er­a­tion of school­child­ren those grassed con­crete bunkers held a cu­ri­ous fas­ci­na­tion. In an age of in­ter­na­tional un­cer­tainty they stood as a sober re­minder of how pre­car­i­ously the world was poised yet again. Dor­mant giants with one eye fixed on the past, the other firmly on the fu­ture.

For­tu­nately, de­spite the con­flicts in Korea, Suez, then later the Cuban Mis­sile Cri­sis, the un­think­able never

hap­pened. Some­how the world mud­dled through.

On a glo­ri­ous blue sky day in July 1965 I re­mem­ber bask­ing in a mo­ment of eu­pho­ria atop one of those grass em­bank­ments. A hand­ful of us lads from 4B, kick­ing our heels at lunchtime, had been co­erced into a game of Kiss Chase by some fe­male class­mates. Un­like Tag, Chainy or the ter­ri­fy­ing Bri­tish Bull­dog — play­time pur­suits that of­ten en­tailed a torn shirt or grazed el­bow — Kiss Chase was con­sid­ered tame and sissy. Worse still, if caught, par­tic­i­pants risked for­feit­ing their re­main­ing break­time stand­ing out­side the head­mas­ter’s of­fice, hands on head, fac­ing the cor­ri­dor wall. The em­bar­rass­ment of recog­ni­tion from pass­ing teach­ers far out­weighed the pun­ish­ment of be­ing con­fined in­side an empty, echo­ing build­ing whilst ev­ery pupil out­side whooped it up in the play­ground. Nev­er­the­less as the game in­volved girls — those an­gelic crea­tures who, for some bizarre rea­son lately, were be­gin­ning to grab our at­ten­tion — we didn’t re­quire much per­sua­sion.

Amidst all the fran­tic tear­ing about and scream­ing that din­ner time, I was cor­nered by one of 4B’s god­desses half­way up the grass em­bank­ment and in a fit of hys­te­ria we crashed to the ground to­gether, hot and breath­less from ex­er­tion. As luck would have it, the in­stant our lips should have met, the lunchtime

whis­tle blew sig­nalling the start of af­ter­noon lessons. Tim­ing can of­ten be a fickle com­pan­ion, and in our haste to get to reg­is­tra­tion I thought the mo­ment was lost ... un­til she planted me a smacker! You never for­get your first kiss. Like­wise you never for­get your first heart­break.

A year ear­lier, in the April, I joined the can­teen reg­u­lars for school din­ners. In­stinc­tively a homing pi­geon at lunchtimes, that ini­tial Mon­day midday, queu­ing in the push and shove, I felt like an im­poster in­fil­trat­ing some se­cret so­ci­ety. Once in­side the can­teen doors there was eti­quette to ob­serve, grace to “Amen” — not to men­tion a gaunt­let of ques­tion­ing to run from the cu­ri­ously in­quis­i­tive as ev­ery­body plonked them­selves down on ta­bles of four. “Your mum got a job?” “Yes.” “Guessed as much now you’re hav­ing school din­ners. Where’s she work­ing?” “EMI of­fices, Hayes Town.” “Hey, my mum works there too! Say, af­ter you with the wa­ter jug, Benny.”

The an­swer wasn’t a com­plete lie. Just a white one. She had worked at EMI. But the real truth cut deep. Too deep I felt to be the sub­ject of idle cu­rios­ity.

By the start of the sec­ond week the nov­elty of a fresh face grac­ing the din­ner table had fiz­zled out. I had be­come yes­ter­day’s news, and never been more re­lieved. I had also been pro­moted to Reg­is­ter Mon­i­tor and proudly wore the honorary blue badge, though learn­ing the ropes scup­pered my chances of mak­ing first sit­ting. Not that it proved un­favourable: be­sides the can­teen be­ing less chaotic sec­ond time around the din­ner ladies doled out big­ger por­tions as they emp­tied the ovens and off- loaded any last- minute re­serves.

I got to shar­ing ta­bles with a former class­mate; a sea­soned Bstreamer who’d jumped a grade the pre­vi­ous term. Over shep­herd’s pie and cab­bage we swapped class­room gossip on ev­ery­thing from home­work drudgery to sports day ri­valry. Her com­pany was in­fec­tious. The laugh­ter in­tox­i­cat­ing. Then amidst all our ca­ma­raderie she sud­denly caught me off- guard by ask­ing my rea­son for tak­ing school din­ners. The lie I pre­var­i­cated the

The au­thor makes a re­turn visit to his pri­mary school in West Lon­don.

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