One last playtime

It was Geoffrey who had found it, so it was always his den.  He guided David down an alley between two rows of shops, along an overgrown path and through a broken fence panel into the secret world.  The sun scorched the ground and there was a smell of grass and creosote in the abandoned yard.  A few houses overlooked it but there was no main entrance the boys could find.  It looked like a bombsite and, as it was only fifteen years after the war, it probably was.  There were piles of building materials, bricks, tiles and sand.  Nettles and cow parsley grew nose high everywhere.  Butterflies and bees flitted around them.  It would be their secret summer hideout.

Geoffrey showed David around the kingdom.  He was the taller boy, a tassle of ginger hair and freckles all over his face gave him a look of Swallows and Amazons.  David, still in shorts, a constant embarrassment, and a recent haircut by his mother made him look even younger than his eleven years. Geoffrey’s long trousers and height confirmed him as the leader.  Geoffrey showed David the Headquarters.  A broken down greenhouse with most of the glass gone but it would serve well as den HQ.  Geoffrey had found some old paint tins for seats and the boys sat to plan their last summer together.  Geoffrey was signed up for the local Secondary Modern School and David was going to Christ’s Hospital, a boarding school in Sussex.  But that was six whole weeks away.

Through the summer weeks the boys met at the yard almost daily.  They reenacted battles, made sorties out to the corner shop for supplies of sweets and grog and made the yard their Shangri-La.  As the weeks wound on they explored the far corners of the yard, dragging back logs and broken fence panels to serve the games they played.  Geoffrey would mostly be the leader, but occasionally would let David take over, particularly on dangerous missions where a lone soldier was needed to rescue the platoon.  If it was Dan Dare then David would be Digby, Dan’s assistant, and together they defeated Mekon and the evil Treens.

The last Saturday afternoon came.  The boys met as usual at the yard but neither felt like starting the game.  The unspoken truth that this would be their last day together hung over them like a cloud. Tomorrow David would be going with his parents in their car down to Sussex.  Geoffrey had been at his new school all week.  He was already different and distant. They kicked around for a bit without speaking, then David picked up a roof tile from a pile and threw it hard at the wall.  It made a pleasing smash.  Another followed and soon both boys were fully engaged.  ‘Here’s for you Mrs Jackson’. Crash. ‘Here’s for you Green Glass Goblin.’ Smash. ‘Here’s for you Mekon and the Treens’. The boys laughed as their enemies were reduced to rubble in the growing pile of broken tiles.

They didn’t say goodbye, just parted at the end of Geoffrey’s road.  David had to call at the flower shop on the way home.  Miss Heathcote had something for him.  The bell shook on the door as he pushed into the overpowering sweetness of the shop where he had worked on Saturday mornings, delivering flowers for weddings.  A tin of Quality Street chocolates and a card with a ten shilling note awaited him.  ‘Good luck in your new school’.  He waited while Miss Heathcote fussed her goodbyes and left as soon as he could with the tin under his arm and ten shillings in his shorts pocket.

Coming in through the backdoor, David knew someone else was there.  His mother was usually in the kitchen but he could hear her in the lounge, speaking with the voice she used for important visitors.  There was someone else there.  A man’s voice.  David tiptoed to the lounge door, waited, then opened it.  On the sofa, his helmet beside him, sat a policeman. 

The man who owned the yard had reported the damage and the boys had been recognised.  David was in trouble again.  This time it was a serious warning. By a real policeman. The ten shillings was sacrificed to help pay damages for the man’s loss.  Geoffrey was blamed and banned.  The following day, David was taken in the family black Rover to his new boarding school. It felt like punishment for all his past deeds, and he would always be angry with the place.

All the best from a road near you,

Mr Alexander

Mr Alexander