Sunday, April 7

Too Cold To Go Outside; Make A Valentine's Card Instead

THE CLUBHOUSE WAS at the bottom of the school playing field, which during the winter months was out of bounds to all the school children on account of the ground being so wet that many would go flying, falling over and getting themselves muddy and scruffy for their afternoon classroom. The grass was left unshaved; somehow the trimmed tops would sharpen when nobody was looking; the colours returned; the white lines marking a football pitch faded, bowed out and disappeared altogether.
Down at the bottom of the hill the swimming pool, too, remained unused, its adjacent changing room shed split down the middle by a wooden partition to separate the sexless young boys from the sexless young girls. The changing room shed and the clubhouse were cut from the same tree and were as old as each other, aging side-by-side, a married couple in single-storey love. The roofs were the strongest thing about the buildings, for the roofs had to keep the rain out all winter long, after all it was no matter whether or not the wind broke in through the windows and chilled the spiders, causing them to shiver as violently as their webs.
The month of February and I was being dropped off for my first Beavers meeting. A faint light, yellow and heated, cast itself out from the open door. I approached full of nerve. The meeting started at six o’clock; many of the other boys had eaten by then, but my family would wait until my father had arrived home from work. In the winter months you had a half-hour of playing in daylight every evening – tops – and then all was in darkness; no ball could be seen for love nor money. Games were halted or moved beneath streetlights. Tonight I would be going to Beavers. I knew some boys from school who would be there. It was an exclusive club. I approached full of nerve.
When my mother presented me to the overweight man with a big greying yellow beard I burst into tears and clung to her – ‘I don’t want to!’ The overweight man seemed nice enough. He was very friendly and his son was in my class – a speechless child; one of those who, as a soft being myself, one suspects will never say anything for the rest of his life, quiet as a barnacle and just as present. ‘I change my mind! I don’t want to go to Beavers! Let me go home! With you!’ I sobbed and sobbed and all of the other boys looked at me, wondering what the hell was going on, confused as to why I was crying. Most of all, I just thought that I was losing my mother forever – though, now, cannot think why – and that one moment away from her would be the hardest thing I’d ever have to endure. She did her best to pry me from her hips. Thick tears ran down my cheeks, red eyes, lips quivering; I could not stay at Beavers, not at all. I would never misbehave again or dirty the knees of my trousers or tread in dogshit again, if she’d just take me home.
It was no use.
I was separated and through my very dizzy and blurry eyes I watched my mother leave me. Alone. Strange place.
With a hand on my shoulder I was introduced to the hall; still with red eyes and sniffing up the remnants of my anxiety, I was pushed into the action. Tables were set up, six or seven of them, latched on to by young boys, hard at work on something or other; heads down. Just outside, ten yards away, was a roundabout where the old village water pump was; forking off in two directions; one to Colchester and one to Coggeshall, through those windy country roads of overhanging trees and flat featureless fields without so much as a crop or a scarecrow. There I could run away, or run, in the opposite direction, to my mother. I knew those small lanes very well and in the dark cold winter night I would have no trouble finding my way back.
Everyone was making Valentine’s cards. Each table was strewn with all manner of scissors, glitter, glue, magazines, crayons, felt-tip pens, stickers and red card; the red card was so numerous and so varying in shade that it looked as if multiple people had taken it upon themselves to bleed onto every table for half an hour before all the Beavers turned up.
I was shown to a table and instructed to make a Valentine’s card.
A Valentine’s card. No problem. I wiped away the tears that remained around my eyes and set to work, first evaluating the articles before me and how they might fit together. Most boys were making a card for their mothers, others – lucky ones, maybe – were making them for girlfriends; their relationships playful and meaningless, only years later to be looked back upon and considered with nostalgic simplicity – ‘Whatever happened to her? I wonder what she looks like now…’ I made a card for my mother and envied those who made theirs for a girlfriend – or the young man making his for Leanne whose hair reached her bottom, croaked with a relaxing voice and whose nose was starched with freckles.
It was an hour. I made my card and when I saw my mother at the end I rushed toward her, very happy to see her again. Those sixty minutes had seemed an eternity. I was in the snug hollow of her car and she was driving me home, along streets that slowly came to life, from desolate lengths of dormant village into something I recognised, the streetlights becoming brighter and more informative. When we reached home, I got out of the car, relieved – ‘I just have to finish the gravy.’ For those few minutes I positioned myself in front of the television set and watched a film about an otter. The otter – in sixties film – was finally slain by a ditchdigger and, once more, I sobbed. Then dinner was served and my body was all dried up.

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