I was asked the other day what my most vivid childhood memories were. But sadly, dear reader, I can only recall typical child adventures.
I suppose the first major event that still smacks of any excitement was the day we burnt down the field. Now already that sounds much more exciting than it was, so let me start from the beginning.
I was staying at my grandparents’ house with my mother and sister, whilst my father was with his squadron of vampire jets in Egypt. I think I must have been four or five but am pretty hopeless when it comes to dates and times anyway.
It was summer and my sister, another boy, who lived two doors away, and myself used to go up to a big field at the end of the road and play happily for hours up there. Naturally we boys wanted to play Cowboys and Indians or Crusaders and Saracens, or generally anything that involved death and destruction.
My sister, on the other hand was much more interested in dolls and houses and tea parties. Oh yes, we were totally channelled into what we should play with according to all the stereotypes of the day. But we didn’t care – we just got on with enjoying ourselves playing madly for hours at a time until it was the next meal time.
The grass in the field had not been cut for months and was now waist high. Well, in our case it was head high, as we were still pretty small; and that made it absolutely perfect for making dens.
The morning went well; we ambushed each other, or hid in dens and generally had a great time. We even managed to pay attention to our internal clocks and were already making our way back home as dinner time approached.
The only downside was that because we had been busily playing the boys’ games all morning, it was going to be my sister’s turn to choose what we did after lunch. That probably was going to involve having a tea party and to be perfectly frank that didn’t really appeal at all!
My fellow crusader was equally unhappy about this as we trudged into our various houses for food. But all was forgotten with lunch on the table and probably a fabulous dessert to look forward to as well.
We didn’t actually ever have desserts, we had good old fashioned puddings thank goodness, and to this day my mouth waters at the memory of a rice pudding being brought out of the oven with a nut brown, slightly crispy at the edges topping.
In fact I can recall arguing furiously with all my brothers and sisters about who should get the “skin” as we called it. That was the absolutely best bit and was prized.
We all met up after lunch when our friend, whom I shall call Tom, winked broadly at us and said that he had something special for us that afternoon. We galloped back up to the field and collapsed in one of the many dens that we had created.
“So, what is it?” we demanded. “What is the surprise?”
“Well you know that Judy (my sister) wants to do tea parties this afternoon,” he began.
My face fell.
“Well how about we have a proper tea party with tea and stuff? Look we can even boil a kettle. I have brought some matches from the kitchen and we can have a fire and everything.”
Our eyes lit up. This was really something special. We had always been banned from matches, so this was wildly exciting. We were going to be really grown up and everything. We set to and rapidly prepared the den as best we could. We even pretended for Judy’s sake that we had cups and plates for the tea event itself.
Then came the big moment when we lit the fire on which we would boil our pretend kettle. Needless to say the matches that Tom had found in the coal shed were not in the finest condition and we got through virtually the entire box without managing to get one to strike properly.
By now our patience and interest had waned and besides which we had been made to organise all the various rooms in the den before we got down to the fire making itself. That meant that it was almost time for tea.
We had one last go, but the match broke and disappeared into the grass somewhere and so we gave up. We sauntered home and went in to get washed and ready. We had been sent back twice to make a proper job of cleaning ourselves up when all hell broke loose. Suddenly there were bells ringing and a fabulous fire engine went hurtling up the road. Then there was another fire engine and a third. Wow, what on earth was happening?
We had our noses glued to the window as people rushed up the small hill and soon the entire neighbourhood was covered in smoke.
“The field’s on fire,” came the cry. “It must have been a stray spark or something. It’s gone up like a tinderbox! There are houses at risk, so the firemen are working furiously to contain it.”
Judy and I looked at each other in a panic. If they discovered our dens and all those spent matches then we would soon be for the high jump. We had visions of being carted off to gaol in handcuffs and worse still we would never be allowed to play with Tom again!
Fortunately the fire brigade was used to dealing with field fires and they soon had everything under control. Even more fortunately everyone started blaming the canal boats with their smokestacks for starting the blaze and no-one had the time or inclination to do a forensic search of the field.
I do know that we didn’t play with matches ever again in the field, so perhaps we did learn a lesson from the incident. On the other hand we might just not have had the opportunity again. I have no recollection as to why we didn’t continue our life of pyromania.