I like variety—so I love travelling, exploring and writing fiction and non-fiction on a daily basis.
The grey council signpost glared down, proclaiming: 'Rosmund Sports Facility' with inanimate arrogance. Standing at its shoulder was the reason for its conceited smugness; a squat, ugly little sign cluttered with silhouettes of Alsatians and padlocks. Nestled among these dark icons were the words: Warning Guard Dogs on Patrol.
Even for February it was unusually cold and although the snow had stopped falling several days ago there was still no sign of a thaw. The snow was thick and sugary on the ground, except where it had been compressed by leather or rubber; there it shone like polished ivory.
A car came tentatively around the corner, sliding slightly to one side like a crab on wheels.
It was a quiet Sunday morning, but for the occasional cough of a car engine or the scrape of a spade clearing a house front. I liked mornings such as these, when the air is clean and sharp and I can feel it cold in my lungs, when the world was forced to slow down and had time to remember and to think.
The signposts were standing to attention like frozen sentinels; secure behind their fence. Inside their fence was yet another, and within that was a football pitch-size patch of artificial grass: that never grew, nor became muddy, or was contaminated by buttercups or dandelions - it was perfect.
In my youth the field had been very different...
To my young eyes, the field spread before me like an enormous green snooker table. Of course it wasn't quite that flat, in fact far from it. In the summer, I would sometimes lay, stomach down, my chin resting on the slightly damp grass, my eyes taking in a rabbit's eye view of the field. From that angle it took on a totally different texture, like that of a living green sea, the ground seemed slightly corrugated, like slow, swelling, but never breaking waves. This effect was highlighted towards evening, when the low red sun would catch the tops of these waves and cast long shadows below them. If the council workers had not been around for a while with their giant grass mower, then the effect would be complete, as the overlong grass would sway gently in the evening breeze, and all I had to do was turn the green to blue, a small trick for a child's imagination, and again I would be adrift in a foreign ocean.
Man-made hills rose in the distance, mighty shoulders lifting the road up to meet the bridge across the old railway tracks. Sandy coloured scars ran down the slopes, like lava trails from an extinct volcano, where generations of bicycle tyres had worn away the grass in the pursuit of speed and excitement.
At dusk I would wait where the hills joined the bridge. The smell of diesel made me light-headed as I watched the freight trains pass below and felt their power vibrating through my body. Under the bridge, the local bats disturbed from slumber, would flit silently on leather wings through the arches of the span preparing for their nightly hunt.
At the height of summer the field was never alone. Even before I turned the corner of my street, and saw it, I could hear the high pitched voices of the children playing there. It was always hot, as we played, the heat from the sun beat down onto the back of my neck, making it red raw before nightfall. My T-shirt would stick to my back like hot plastic, and I would feel small streams of sweat running down my spine and from my armpits. The field played host to many games, during the timeless summers. When the cricket season started, the field became a cluster of cricket pitches, their boundaries overlapping, as every bat and ball from three streets would converge to claim their patch of green. Toward autumn the field would become a football stadium, and the smack of leather against leather could be heard echoing from one side to the other.
As November approached and the nights were drawing in, the field would give up a dense mist in the evening. From the edge of the field, it would seem that the blanket of fog was no more than a few metres high. Walking into the mist was like stepping through a doorway into another world, a cold, grey and featureless place. A few feet into the mist, and you were alone. Even the sounds of the cars in the nearby streets seemed distant and unreal.
It was in the winter when the field would perform its most startling transformation. When the snow fell silently through the long nights, leaving it to greet the morning sun as a gleaming carpet of white. If you were lucky enough to be the first to see the field on those mornings, you could smell the freshness, and it would take your breath away just to gaze upon its untouched perfection. By mid-morning it was a battleground, as an army of Wellington clad children crunched though the snow, and hurled snowballs from frozen fingers. Hastily constructed sleds would appear, leaving a random pattern of tracks across the brilliant white plain. The children would play all day then, until their mothers came to call them in, chiding them all the way home about their freezing hands and soaking wet clothes. The field would be alone again then, with only the moon for company, casting reflected rays over its expanse, turning the field a pale blue in the dark and cold night...
I was shaken from my reverie as a flash of white streaked past my ear. The ball of compressed ice exploded against the grey council sign, leaving a small white hill, like a limpet, clinging to the surface.
"You lost, Mister?" came a voice behind me; a small boy, who was gathering more hard snow to form another missile.
"You lost, Mister?" he repeated.
"No, I'm not lost, son." I said automatically.
The boy planted his next snow ball in the middle of the security sign: he was nothing if not accurate.
"You looked lost!" said the boy, almost accusingly, looking up at me for the first time. His mother had dressed him carefully for the rigors of winter pursuits: Wellingtons, gloves, scarf, woollen hat and a thick padded coat. He, in turn, had carelessly undone all her meticulous preparations - the gloves were sopping wet, covered in clinging ice; the hat was half-stuffed into a pocket; and the coat was thrown wide open to the elements. He didn't seem in the least bit cold.
"I was just thinking back to when I was a boy - a long, long time ago. I used to live near here, down that street there." I said, pointing toward the far end of the field.
He gave a casual glance in the direction my finger indicated.
"I live in the new 'ouses." he said.
"There used to be a really big open field here when I was a lad," I said, looking beyond the signposts "a really big, big field."
The boy wasn't listening.
He was busy sliding down the path.
"Tara, Mister. I'm off to me mate's 'ouse." he shouted half-sliding, half-falling.
The darkened floodlights looked down on the new field like machine-gun towers as I turned to walk back home.
Then the snowball hit me squarely on the back of the head, and the ice fell straight into my collar. I said he was accurate. Looking back I saw the culprit rapidly putting some distance between us. By the time I had formed my frozen retaliation, he was far out of range. His laughter echoed back to me - so I threw the snowball anyway.
The ‘machine-gun’ towers looked down, disdainfully. The chill winter breeze whispered through their cold wires and girders - a foolish boy and a foolish old man - they mocked. The sentinel sign agreed in silent (dis)approval.
A foolish boy and a more foolish old man, yes, I thought. The boy with his future dreams: the old man with his old man's memories. But there was something else, wasn't there? A spark? An essence that would continue long after your shining steel as crumbled to rust; your mighty columns decayed. Yes, just as Spring follows Winter, long after your rein has ended here, the dreams of a boy and the memories of an old man, will play again on a field in the bright summer sunshine.
© 2020 Jerry Cornelius