Today is the 2nd of September, a beautiful month that heralds the beginning of Autumn, my favourite season and the start of a new school term. We seem to be having an Indian summer today …..and yesterday too, for that matter………. as we basked in golden sunshine and warmth. Quite often, as the seasons turn, summer tries to cling on with its fingertips, reluctant to give way to autumn mists.
As I stand at my kitchen window I watch squirrels running up and down the branches of the hazel tree, gathering nuts in readiness for the winter. But, every now and then, they cease their endeavours and play among the leaves, teasing next-door’s dog as he lies in the garden and making him jump and bark as he tries to reach the cheeky rodents. It seems that even squirrels make time to play ………… to enjoy the day.
Earlier this morning, as I walked through the village to buy some eggs from the farm, I noticed children going off to school after the long Summer break and my mind wandered back into the dimmest parts of my memory, back to my own childhood.
I can remember those first days back at school.
The summer holidays had seemed endless. Full of laughter, of picnics and tents in back gardens. Of dipping nets into silver streams to catch sticklebacks; of ball games, using a jacket and someone’s jumper as goalposts. Of sneaking into the allotments and grabbing pea-pods and gooseberries.
We had wandered, hair tousled and wild ………. limbs berry-brown …… through summer meadows, free as birds. Then, suddenly it ended and we were herded into hot, stuffy shops to be measured for new shoes and uniforms. Boys had their unruly hair cut and girl’s flowing locks were, once more, braided into neat plaits. Off we went, with our morning faces, scrubbed and shiny as a bright new penny ………out of the door and back to school.
I can see us now, a few reluctant stragglers dragging their feet, but most of us eager to meet up with friends, to see what they had been up to and to show off our new tin of Lakeland pencils !
The awkwardness of our stiff, unfamiliar clothes soon forgotten, as we chattered and giggled, comparing cuts and bruises that we had gathered by falling off our bicycles or tumbling out of trees; each injury worn like a badge of honour.
Scuffing our new shoes, as we kicked through the first of the falling autumn leaves, our white socks spoiled before we reached the school gates. Swinging our leather satchels and dragging them along the pavement as we stooped to collect conkers and pine-cones; the lads stuffing them into the front pockets of their brand new, neatly pressed, grey trousers. We would have great fun later with conker tournaments at playtime and we would keep the pine-cones to decorate for Christmas.
I guess it was over a mile to my Junior school and the walks, there and back, were the highlights of the day.
We played tag and hide-and-seek; copied each other’s homework; recited our ‘times-tables’; walked along the tops of garden walls and skipped rope. It was just part of our day and it never occurred to us that there was any other way to get to school.
Rain, snow or shine, it was what we did.
I now live in a very small village. Much smaller than the rural, market town of my childhood. The whole village is probably less than a mile from end to end and the village school is right in the middle. The children I saw, going to school this morning, were not kicking through leaves or gathering pine-cones. No satchels were being dragged along pavements and all socks were sparkling white……………… At least, I think the socks were sparkling white …. it is hard to see when children are all secured behind metal and glass, as they travel in the sanitised vacuum of a huge 4×4 ‘people carrier’ !
What a waste of a beautiful autumn day.