54

Uncomfortable birthdays...Little Harrowden Primary School...the tin-legged farmer and the willy incident 




Tomorrow I will be 54 years old. Sixty in six years, if I make it that far. Fuck, where did it go? I can still remember the school playground at Little Harrowden Primary, and most of the kids running around in it. I remember how we used to be able to see the flame burning in one of the high silver towers of Corby steelworks tiny in the distance if we stood in the right place. Ten years later steel in Corby would be dead because of Margaret Thatcher's march of progress.

I remember standing with the rest of the school in the playground watching an eclipse of the sun. The admonition of the teacher that looking directly at the sun would blind us never left me; I am still, even today, awestruck by the terrible power of a star that can blind you from 93 million miles away. And when I picture that playground I still see the farmer who owned the adjoining fields, Mr. Belgrove, chasing Robert Tilley back through the gate aiming a kick of his tin leg at the boy's backside because he'd ventured into the fields, calling him a dozen names none of us had ever heard before as he tried to catch him.

And before those memorable scenes from a childhood that still seems within touching distance came the willy incident. That was in the older part of the school, near the bottom of School Lane, where there were buildings that were easily 100 years old, if not more, with girls and boys toilets of similar antiquity across a tiny playground used only, I believe, by the first years. So when the willy incident happened I was probably 5 or 6.

I had been to the toilet. When I came out I was met by three girls in my class who asked me to show them my willy. Never one to turn down a reasonable request, and as keen to make people happy then as I am now, I did as they asked and took my little pre-pubescent willy out. And wouldn't you know, all three girls ran off screaming and crying and reported me to the headmaster. I can't remember how much trouble I got in, but I probably had a serious talking-to at least.

It's so weird, with my 54th birthday coming fast over the hill, to think that that happened half a century ago. It's weird, and a little sad, although the memory is a warm and funny one. What's even weirder is that my mother died when she was 54. So I will be as old as Mum. I'm sure that happens all the time, but it shouldn't when the child is still young enough to recognise most of the current pop stars.

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