My parents broke up when I was very young. Whilst I still saw my dad on a regular basis, I lived with my mum for the majority of the time. Being a single parent, and having already established a career, my mum was the sole breadwinner for my household. As a consequence I spent a lot of time at my childminder’s house during my primary school years.
In retrospect, Margaret had a magical way with the children she cared for. Her style was to be a grandmother-like figure, who kept little rascals under control through warmth and love rather than an iron fist. I cannot recollect a single occasion in which she had to discipline any of us (though I am sure there were times!), such was her ability to positively shape our behaviour.
What does dominate my memories at Margaret’s was the amount of freedom we were afforded. For those few years, I feel like I had a genuinely playful and active childhood. For many a day, upon returning from the local primary school, us kids would be allowed to explore Margaret’s garden. Being a young boy, Margaret’s garden became a landscape of adventure. It was the perfect size, and wooded enough, to play countless games of hide-and-seek. On the lawn we would play football in the summer and make snow angels in the winter snow. We would often play ball games in the small yard near Margaret’s front door.
If the weather was bad, or when we got tired, we would go inside and dress up in costumes. Margaret had a Sega Game Gear, on which I played numerous hours of Sonic the Hedgehog. We would play with a wooden train set, or plastic farm animals. The best fun of all though was had on Margaret’s small, electronic pinball machine.
Most importantly, visiting Margaret’s was a social experience. From very early on I had the pleasure of meeting two local girls, Frances (who was two years older than me) and her younger sister, Lucy (who was a year younger than me). I can confidently say that they were my first two best friends. One striking memory of the three of us together, one that I look back with great nostalgia, was when we invented the game ‘Big Fat Potato’. A simple concept, the game essentially involved one person sitting on a swing tied to the branch of a tree above, and being pushed by the other two in all directions. As we pushed we’d sing a song, the main lyric of which was ‘Oh! Big fat potato!’. How or why this game came about I am unsure, but it brought us great giggling joy at the time.
Now, I am just about to leave university, and I live a long way away from my former childhood playground. As an adult, I often wonder if the generation growing up today still play in the same way? Coming from a rural village I still see a lot of children out playing, but I also know a lot of kids who spend all day inside on video games or the computer. Video games are fun, no doubt, but there is little substitute for the socialisation and exercise that playing outdoors with others can bring.
Thankfully, I am still in (irregular) touch with one of the sisters, Lucy. All three of us went to the same secondary school and sixth-form. I suppose our childhood connection has kept us on each other’s radar. It is strange to think that Lucy herself is now away at university! I sometimes walk past Margaret’s house when I visit home, and have a little peek up the drive way. It has changed a lot since my childhood, but it still emanates a magic, a tingle of excitement. Sometimes I think to myself, if I walk through the gate, could I go back to being a little child playing at Margaret’s?