Running through my childhood… and a lesson in perspective

Something pulled me up there, like a homing pigeon running a bit late following a 35 year-long detour. But I knew what had prompted my Return to Base.

I’d taken Tills to run Junior Parkrun earlier this morning, following a couple of weeks’ absence – she’s been unashamedly grateful for the reprieve, by virtue of ‘Mummy’s races.’

The conditions were perfect – beautiful crystal blue sky, a whisper of a breeze, and yet she battled with it. ‘I’ve got a stitch, Mummy,’ she said, clasping at her mini abdomen before we’d got much further than the first corner. And so the negotiations began: ‘Just do what you can, Tills. It’s fine – turning up and trying is what matters…blah blah blah.’ I’d long since run out of original lines – she’s heard them all before.

And then, on the second lap, the tears came. In truth, she just wasn’t feeling it today. Package it up however you like, it just felt like a slog for her little body. She crossed the finish line, and we wrote it off as ‘just one of those days.’ God knows, I’ve had plenty of them myself.

Once she was back home and happily playing hairdressers with her Grandma, I headed off for my own run. LEGS! WHY WON’T YOU WORK? Having apparently come out in sympathy with Tills – my limbs had turned all Tin Man on me, and begrudgingly trudged their way up a normally inconsequential incline with the same kind of enthusiasm one would give an over-zealous parking attendant in a town centre car park.

I knew where I was heading. I was off to retrace the footsteps of those days when my vast, yet tiny world existed entirely within a one-mile radius; where my half-mile walk to school felt like a trek across an endless plane; and when my little limbs would have also protested at the mere mention of chugging 2km around a local park, just because my mum told me it was the only way I’d get to eat that giant chocolate coin which was waiting for me in the car.

I wanted to remind myself how big and utterly overwhelming my world seemed to be at the time when it was actually – like Tilly’s is now – so small.

And so I headed up to the first scheduled stop on my Childhood Tour.

Stop one: Norton Tower, and the home we lived in until I was 4 years old. With only vague, blurry memories of living there, it came back to me – THE FENCE! That’s what I remember – the enormous, towering fence that guarded us from next door’s demented Alsatian which it continually hurled itself against in a demonic bid to eat us alive. I would hear it’s frustrated, maddening barks and the THUD as its body collided with the wooden panel fencing. IT’S GOING TO EAT US, MUMMY! I would look up to the sky and wait for it’s salivary chops to hang loosely over the barrier. Today, I can barely see the once imposing fence as it hides, inconspicuously, behind a modest, grey family saloon.

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Barking Dog Fence

I run on.

Stop two: The top of the world. There was nowhere higher on earth – at the grand old age of four, I was utterly convinced. This was the summit that offered a dazzling, panoramic view of whatever else the entire world had to offer. I looked out over the valley, and saw the very edge of the earth as I knew it back then (it was flat too, I’m pretty sure.) Today, I look out and see all the places I’ve run. I see the lego-size tiny formation of Stoodley Pike, and endless routes I’ve woven in amongst the hillsides. Even now, I wonder how that was ever possible for me. I imagine showing Tilly, and telling her, ‘I’ve run all across this valley, Tills. Do those hills seem a long way away? I used to think they did, too.’

I run on.

Stop three: Warley Village, and the house we moved to when I was four. The 1970s turd brown swirly patterned carpets stunk of cat piss when we first moved in, and our shoes stuck to the cheap kitchen lino floor. That was soon replaced by Mum’s bleach, which ruined endless pairs of jeans for the subsequent 15 years. They’ve got a fancy old conservatory stuck on to our old lounge now. I remember my Dad ‘installing’ double glazing there circa 1983. ‘There’s this stuff you can get, Kay. It’s like cling film and you heat it up with a hairdryer. It’s the next best thing to ACTUAL double glazing!” Days later, he stood endlessly heating the corners of the windows with Mum’s hairdryer. I think she was crying in a corner somewhere, letting her hair dry naturally. I can’t imagine why they divorced.

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I think they may have REAL double glazing, now.

I run on.

Stop four: The ginnel. (Note: this word doesn’t look right on paper (or virtual paper), but it’s how we referred to it, back then. It’s a Northern English, old fashioned word. Which makes perfect sense because this was Northern England in 1982.) This was the (*quote definition of ‘ginnel’) narrow passage between buildings which I walked THOUSANDS of times throughout my childhood. For all of the reasons below (in order of priorities):
1) to the Post Office for my penny sweets
2) to the park
3) to the bus stop
4) to get to school
5) to get to… anywhere at all, really (NOT by car.)
6) to come home from the Post Office with my penny sweets
7) to come home from the park
8) to come home from the bus stop
9) to come home from school
10) to come home from… anywhere at all, really (NOT by car.)

I look at the ginnel today, right here in 2016. And it is TINY! Minute. Teeny-weeny. Tiddly. Has it shrunk like Mars bars and Cadbury’s Creme Eggs (not to mention Curly Wurly’s) have done over time? Surely it was longer, steeper, and more impressive than this? I thought back to Tilly’s Parkrun. It must have felt like a half-marathon for her, today.

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The ginnel. [Why does that word look so wrong?!]

I run on.

Stop five: Paradise Lane. Paradise Lane? That was my bloody walk to school. It was NOT Paradise Lane. I also fell in dog shit along there once when I was seven. Paradise it was not. In honesty, I never even knew throughout my entire time living in this rural utopia, that this lane was in fact called ‘Paradise Lane’. Never even knew. (and for info, I had to walk PAST said Paradise Lane for all of the destinations listed above, at Step 4.) I now feel ignorant, self-absorbed and stupid. But I will give myself a break, because I was too busy dodging dog-shit when I was very small, and too busy checking my insecure teenage reflection out in the cottage lounge windows en route to any/all of the destinations in later years. That, and I am inherently lacking in any kind of geographical awareness whatsoever.

I run on.

Stop six: The playground. Ahhhh, the playground. It looks all serene and safe here now, as H&S inspectors have been and padded the potentially troublesome areas of concrete (how did they not know to do this back in 1982 when countless kids must have taken up space in A&E with cracked heads from climbing frame calamities? What took them so long?) The slide has changed, too. The bench has been removed from underneath where I spent many disappointing / frustrating teenage hours realising the utter futility of smoking menthol cigarettes. The inner geek won (as it thankfully always does) and spared me from yellow-fingered, wrinkled-mouth, bad-breathed hell. Not to mention the ‘C’ word.

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The Playground (or my teenage smoking hangout)

I run on.

Now I’m at school: my very first school, Warley Town School. It seems ironically far more ‘child-friendly’ now. Perhaps they didn’t really like kids, back then? We had no funky-coloured train in the playground, or a wooden wobbly climbing-frame with adjoining foot bridge. We had the faint markings of hop-scotch, largely erased by an overuse of child-size polyvelts. And what looked like an archery target board painted on to the inside wall of one of the (what looked like) cow sheds. I ran towards it too fast on a slight decline once, and smashed my head on the bullseye.

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My First School. Where Dale O’Connor used to chase me round the playground saying I had poo in my sandwiches. The bastard.

I run home.

Tilly is still playing hairdressers with her Grandma. She’s long since inhaled the post-Parkrun giant chocolate coin which was waiting for her in the car.

The run through my childhood has given me some perspective on how 2km might have felt more like 20km for her, today.

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