On the right hand side of the footpath opposite the church there is an iron gate leading to a large grassed area. In the centre there is a large monumental concrete cross with steps leading up to it: the local war memorial. Giant horse chestnut trees boarder the area. We used to come here ‘conkering’ after school; we’d collect the fallen conkers from the ground and throw sticks at the branches to release the ones still there. To make the conkers harder we’d soak them in vinegar for days, and then bake them in the oven until they were shrivelled and looked liked rocks. The conkers would then have a hole put through the centre, and a piece of string threaded through. They would then be battle-ready. We would take it in turns to try to hit our opponent’s conker as they held it in mid-air. The one that remained on the string the longest was the winner. I wasn’t very good at this to be fair. It was more of a lads’ game and they meant business - besides it was really painful when they missed your conker and hit your outstretched hand instead. I preferred gathering the conkers, rather actually playing with them. Marbles was a game more to my liking. This was popular at school breaktimes. The aim was to push a little glass ball into a hole using the side of your finger. Holes could be found in abundance in the school yard, they had varying difficulties like golf. Marbles could become quite competitive and obsessive as you became drawn into the untiring pursuit of a personal favourite, which you were determined to win from another person; such as a particularly attractive multicoloured one or a rare larger crystal one. At some point, the girls started playing football at breaktimes. The girls and boys had separate yards. The boys had always played football, I don’t know how it came about but the girls started playing their own game. One of us brought in a football from home, and we would take it in turns to be captains and pick our two teams. We would mark the goals on two opposite walls using our coats and jumpers. Our yard was next to the headmaster’s house, and often the ball would go flying over the school wall into his vegetable patch. It was very nerve-racking having to scramble over the wall to retrieve the ball, while the others kept-look out for the teacher on breaktime patrol. We were into football generally though, mainly because we usually had a crush on some handsome football player. I remember tearing a picture of Frank Worthington out of a magazine and sending it off to Leicester City football Club, and being thrilled when it came back signed.
The bridge at the bottom of the hill where the church is takes you over a brook. It’s not very deep, but the water is fast running and typically gurgles, which if you let your imagination run away sounds like somebody being strangled. The current bridge is a modern day flimsy metal replacement for the original old stone one, and with each tentative step a loud clang reverberates ominously into the damp atmosphere. A gang of boys started hanging around the bridge. I surmised they were pupils from the other local primary school, which was of Church of England denomination. There was some animosity and rivalry between the two schools, but I didn’t put this down to religious differences. The main difference I was aware of was that unlike us they didn’t have to wear school uniform. I heard that the boys had ambushed one of our girls on her way home from school and threw her into the brook. It’s only two inches deep and she had slim chance of drowning, but she was nevertheless traumatised by the experience. One afternoon, I’m on my way home and I see the boys by the bridge and my heart starts pounding. I think if I just keep on walking they won’t take any notice, and let me pass without incident. Wrong. As I approach one of them whispers, and they all look at me and start to move forward. Well, Im prepared for this, so I run past them like the wind. I was used to legging it up that hill, so they had no chance. However, they did manage to grab my satchel, so they threw that in the water instead. My mum and I retrieved my sodden bag later, but the boys had gone by then, thus escaping reprimand. The school must have complaints though, because shortly afterwards our headmaster spoke in morning assembly about some boys bullying girls in the vicinity. He said they had been dealt with and assured us not to worry. Thankfully, I never saw the boys again.
To cut a long story short: