Sunday, April 01, 2012

I remember when all this was fields

The small niece-child is learning a bit of Spanish at school, which I think is no bad thing. As is the way with these things, it is the purest accident: one of the teachers happens to be Spanish, it's not in the school prospectus. The idea of a school prospectus bewilders me slightly as I'm of that age when you went to your local primary school unless your parents were particularly keen Roman Catapults in which case you went to the nearest R.C. similar. And that was the end of it, none of this trawling through prospectuses, web sites and league tables and poring one's way through the Ofsted reports. Not that I hold much faith in the latter anyway: every school I go past in the course of an ordinary week has a big banner strapped to the front boasting of its Ofsted plaudits ("Sums were enthralling" — Harold Hobsbon). It pisses me off to think that the money schools are spending on Ofsted Plaudit banners could fund a medium-sized county library service book fund for a year.

Anyway… We went to our local primary school, which was good because it was within walking distance, which was good because hardly anyone had a car and them that did only ever used it for their dads to go to and from work.

Our local school was out in the middle of a big field just by the motorway. Over the years the field got bigger and became a school playing field as the wilder edges were given over to dutifully-manicured grass. At the end of the field, behind the first houses of the estate, was a particularly wild stretch full of mustards and thistles and the occasional haunt of lizards. Through this ran the brook which started off from out of nowhere near the cornflake factory and ran for a couple of miles before trickling into the Irwell at Barton. At the school end it was a bit sluggish and fed a small pond choked with water mint. Further up you could squeeze through the railings behind the builder's yard and look for sticklebacks and stray frogs. I wonder how many kids these days get to see a stickleback; it is a concern.

Over yonder, where the shopping centre car park is now, there was a field of Friesian cows, gently a-mooing and chewing their cuds. Behind would be Barton Power Station, a miniature edition of Battersea. I miss that almost as much as the annual air show, three days of random aerospace history to-ing and fro-ing to the aerodrome for the Sunday event. Gypsy moths and a Vulcan bomber were a given. Sometimes there'd be the thrill of a Hurricane or Lockheed Lightning and, just that once, a Spitfire and a Lancaster. Sunday tea time would see everyone standing in their front gardens to watch the Red Arrows and then it was officially over.

Behind the school was the freight line that fed goods to the western half of what was then Europe's biggest industrial complex (that was the reason why we were semi-rural as far as the rates were concerned). Just the other side was a scabby field of scrubby grass, home to partridge, lapwing and many a courting couple. That's concrete now, with a warehouse stuck on it.

Now it's all cropped green fields, car parks and triple carriageways serving the shopping centre. The quiet Sunday afternoon walk behind the church and round to the main road is an expensive leisure complex. And kids trapped in the school run are taken round the shops to socialise them.

I'm under no illusions as to just how rough things were really in the sixties. But the brook at Longford, now culverted and covered over by concrete and beer cans and old mattresses was once lively with yellow flag irises and water boatmen and I don't think much of the swap.


libby said...

Makes you a little melancholy to see the places you played in as a child doesn't it? will our children feel the same way? I think they might whatever the geography.

A Seasonal Cook in Turkey said...

What a fabulous post - I loved it! So well written and just marvellous. Thanks.

Nota Bene said...

Here, here!

Pat said...

I agree. In the thirties our childhood was idyllic even though the sheep were black.

Happy Frog and I said...

Very true post that I can relate to. The fields I walked through in Oxfordshire are currently being torn up and built on my developers and there's a Tescos where I used to walk in the 70s through long grass in Leytonstone. Such a shame.

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