I loved walking in the fresh almost electric air of the springtime morning. Endless school holidays, spent my early teens in Harlow Town Park with friends from school. Enjoying the freedom and the sheer size of the open spaces around us. Mostly around the stage area, pretending to be performing in front of a huge crowd, imagining how famous we were. Just in front of the brick-built stage was a huge drop into a moat like area, filled by the little stream that ran through the park. It would hold back the hordes of fans clamouring to touch us as we performed.
Our imagination ran like wildfire, each of us feeding on the other. I was pretending to be David Bowie, Ziggy Stardust, pale thin and interesting. The complete opposite of me, but my friends were all enjoying my accomplished routine. A perfect day to add to our memories.
Today was proving to be one of those days until Jim ran in front of me, to take over the show, wanting his slice of fame. He slid to his knees, electric air guitar in hand, but misjudged how close he was to the end of the stage and also just how slippery polished concrete could be.
He tumbled over the edge into the water below, catching his forehead on the edge of the stage as he plummeted down.
Suddenly our haze of pleasure and self-indulgence came to a screeching halt. David and Phil jumped down to haul Jim out of the water, not realising just how heavy an unconscious, water-soaked lad would be. We were all shouting, wondering who would be the best to run to the local pub and nearest phone. Lorraine was chosen, as she could run for England, not literally, but had won a medal recently at school. She was sent off and we all tried to keep Jim above the water.
It seemed like an age before we heard the sirens and saw the blue flashing lights.
A beautiful memory turned into a nightmare in an instant.
They filled in the moat just after that.
Several times during my life I returned to the same park, no longer with school mates, but with boyfriends, and later with my first son.
The park remained unchanged, if a little greener. The open spaces were wonderful for a young child and I was able to enjoy the freedom again through the eyes of a youngster.
We often walked past the stage area on our way to Pets Corner, an area where children could meet animals and pet them. Horses and sheep were dotted around in the fields, chickens and ducks ran free, avoiding over friendly youngsters. The piggies were always a favourite, despite the odour, especially when they had had a litter of tiny pink piglets. Pets Corner was free to use, and run by mostly volunteers, a large part of Harlow Park which became important to me and my children.
When I was lucky enough to own a dog, again the park played a huge part in my life, especially as I was lucky enough to live within easy walking distance, it became my daily release from stress. Seeing the trees in spring, bloom with their lace like flowers, watching the daffodils and crocus poke their heads through the grass, hoping it would be warm enough for them.
After losing my canine companion, and my son growing up and more independent, I forgot about the park and became too engrossed in everyday life to take time out there.
Then when my son was 16 years old, I was lucky enough to have my second son. Once again, the park became an important part in my life again. The adventure playground had been improved over the years and watching my toddler practice his steps and climbing skills was thrilling, maybe because of the memories of my first son’s early attempts. Memories of having a picnic lunch sitting on one of the benches, or on the wooden train before making our way across the pitch and putt area on our way to Pets Corner. Every time I passed the stage area, the memories of that day as a teenager would come flooding back.
Watching my new baby son, toddling around, screaming with laughter at the animals, trying to stroke everything, but mostly his favourite were the chickens, their odd antics would always reduce him to peals of giggles.
Time moved on again, as did we, moving away from Harlow. Visits to the park ceased, memories stored away, only sometimes revisited through photographs.
When my second son turned 16, coincidentally, I became a grandmother. I was lucky enough to see her every week, to look after her for the day. Again, as she grew up, finding activities to amuse her became important. Although we had moved away from Harlow, my first son still lived quite near, so visits to the park seemed the natural thing to do.
I was able to enjoy the beautiful park, albeit using a wheelchair, but again through the eyes of a child, eager to see everything and running free and safe in the wide-open spaces the park offered. The adventure playground, even better than before, although some areas had been closed, health and safety gone mad. Sitting on the little wooden train, eating our sandwiches, just as I had done with both my sons, over a period of the last 32 years.
Passing the stage again, memories of my friends from school, would rush into my mind, I still speak to all of them regularly, apart from Jim obviously because he found his happiness in another big open space, Australia.
943 words – Sandy Bryson
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