Park Life & Addressing | Jude Brigley | Flash Fiction

Park Life

 

Today, I was the only person walking in the Municipal Park at the top of the hill, built on what my mother called a slag heap left over from the Iron Industry. It felt as if the place was my private property. The emptiness may have been because the rain was driving down, tamping off the cement pathways, as they say in these parts. You could be forgiven on such days for not realising that the hills look down on the town as they are so veiled in mist as to be rendered invisible. From under my umbrella and taking care not to skid on the debris of yellow leaves, I made my way past the empty bowling green, sodden but enviously verdant and smooth. Looking at the steps going up to the sleek grass, I was reminded of a Sunday or bank holiday when our beloved grandfather, Bill, wiry as a greyhound and witty as a stand-up comedian, escorted my grandmother, my brother, Peter, and me through the park. We paused at this spot and had a photograph taken. The Park felt such an other-worldly place for children who had only a small backyard and the streets around to play on. My grandfather made the flowers seem enchanted, the trees whispering, the paths uncanny. How lucky were we to have such a funny, imaginative guide through our now familiar places?

Wet as a seal in my raincoat, I skirted the old club house where once my friend, from chapel, Susan Watkins had her ninth birthday party. Her father had a small sweetshop in town and her house backed on to the park. This was extremely impressive in my young eyes. I reminisced in my head past the tennis courts, netless and pox marked. I was humming ‘Mrs Robinson’ in homage to an afternoon one summer when with a group of classmates, I cut school to play the game to the accompaniment of a transistor radio. No skateboarders at the graffitied run.  Wet childless apparatus in the fenced off playground. Not even a dog walker on the boardwalks. Water surged under the wooden bridge while the carved miner looked on grim with his hat pulled down, lifting his eyes to ghostly hills. I like parks in all weathers, and I have walked in this one in snow, in shine and in driving Welsh rain. I like their trees, their neat flower-beds, their roving paths and their expectedness. For places are never just places once you have been there, they are always taking you down holes in your head to other yous and other times.

 

 

Addressing

In lockdown, looking through the drawers, I found an old address book that I had in school and university in the late 1960s and 1970s. Out of nostalgia and boredom, I looked up the houses of old school friends on Google Earth. There I was on the streets of friends, working-class kids like myself, who lived on terraced streets, in council houses and occasionally in only slightly posher dwellings. It reminded me of Friday evenings when we took it in turns to gather at different homes for record-playing, miming and partaking of glasses of squash or lemonade. They were innocent times. Drama tended to come from small incidents, such as the time I sat on Audrey’s 78rmp record of ‘Buttons and Bows’. It was already old-fashioned. We preferred top ten hits, especially the Beatles, Elvis or the Rolling Stones. Sitting on the old brittle record is still a great regret as the heavily grooved circle broke into pieces.  We tried to laugh it off in typical teenage fashion, but Audrey was clearly upset.  The record was irreplaceable.

In our small town, we were not bored. We enjoyed our life at Grammar School, taking a train to school, meeting at youth club for badminton, or a quiz or a spot of acting. Twice a week there was a trip to the Plaza cinema, which stood a great blockhouse at the top of our street. As for the library, I considered its reference room, to be my personal office and quite resented strangers. I used it as a place to meet my friends or to daydream or to read its shelves, skimming and scanning the books as young people now search the internet for unconsidered trifles.

In this mood of desultory investigation, I realised the address book also held the home addresses of college friends. It then struck me how different those addresses were from my earlier acquaintances. I started to look at buildings that I had never visited and rethinking the people I had known. The Grange, Chestnut Lane, The Chase, Park Avenue. Some of those houses were impressively large with gated entrances or gabled windows. Some seemed to have history while others were large new-built edifices. It had not occurred to me as a student that their backgrounds were so different. Wasn’t that period the era of the working class, made fashionable by bands from Liverpool or Manchester? I was the first person in my family to go to university, but in retrospect perhaps so many of those students were only pretending to be working class, regular Mick Jaggers in their assumed accents. I remember writing home to say that I was in a hall of residence with a bevy of Princess Annes. Male backgrounds were more difficult to place. Perhaps it was some invisible aura that meant that my best friend as well as my husband both came from council estates. With my best friend, Steve, I travelled to Germany and stayed in the home of a mutual friend. It was an eye opener. At college, Joe seemed scatter-brained, untidy and a mate. His home turned out to be a swish apartment in Dusseldorf where his family sat down to dinner each night with cloth napkins and three courses of food. To Steve and me, it was a revelation. You can’t read a man out of his milieu. Or perhaps we were both too inexperienced to realise those class disparities, although we both felt a certain unease and alienation at invisible differences we only sensed. People tell me that college has changed and there is now truly a different mix of students, but I suspect that it depends where you go to college and who you meet. My father, who worked as an official in the mines, told me that education enables you to mix with anyone, as it is the great leveller. Perhaps, sometimes it helps if you don’t know who it is that you are talking with, and so you are not making assumptions about the person.

 

Photo by Daniel Hansen on Unsplash

 

Bio
Jude Brigley is Welsh. She has been a teacher, an editor and a performance poet. She is now writing more for the page. She has a chapbook, ‘Labours’ and has been published in a variety of magazines including ‘Blue Nib’, ‘Otherwise Engaged’, ‘Sylvia’ and ‘Scissortail’.

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