I am wallowing in the past. All it took was a name - Cottons Park.
Mr B and I are reading Richard Madeley’s book “Fathers
and Sons” (watch out for my review on my 2018 Books Page shortly) and have reached the chapters about Richard’s own childhood. He lived just round the corner from the house where I was born - albeit several years earlier - and went to the same
primary school, Rush Green Junior, as my siblings and I. He even went on to senior school at Coopers Company School where my two brothers were pupils, though it seems his experiences there were more traumatic than those of my brothers. At least as far as I
So far, so reminiscent. Then he mentions the park of my childhood - Cottons Park - and the memories come flooding back. I give myself up to a good old
wallow. You know it makes sense.
Cottons Park was our nearest playground. I don’t remember the two slides - one tall and scary, one small and unchallenging
- that Our Richard describes. (I am calling him Our Richard because, as is always the case with the books we read together, Mr B and I grow to believe we really know the people we are reading about. “Shall we read a bit more of Our Richard after lunch?”
I will ask, knowing full well that Mr B will be in total agreement. Reading together is one of the greatest pleasures of our life today.)
My memories of Cotton
Park centre around a paddling pool with stepping stones - and watching my dear Dad play football on a Sunday morning. I was all admiration for my Active Dad. Football, my Mum often told us, probably saved his life. Serving in North Africa during the Second
World War, he was away playing for his regiment when Tobruk fell. He returned (no, I don’t know if his team won or lost, I wish I did) to discover that his entire battalion had either been killed or taken prisoner. My mother could never bring herself
to complain after that about his lifelong obsession with the Beautiful Game - though she was hard pressed when, returning to England after five long years away, he broke his leg playing footie, so delaying his return to the Bosom of His Family for a further
six months. It is biologically possible that without this delay my place as third child might have been usurped by an earlier version so I may well owe my very existence - twice over - to football.
As well as being a pretty brilliant footballer, my Dad was quite an athlete. As a young married man, working as a milkman, I am told he used to vault the gates of his customers, milk bottles in hand, in the sheer exuberance
of living. In those days, long before the Fosbury Flop was invented, he used a wicked scissors movement to clear the bar of many a high jump. His high jumping exploits led directly to one of my Most Humiliating Moments when, watching a high jump competition
in which he finally had to cede defeat as a slightly trailing leg brought the bar toppling to the ground, I wailed: “It wasn’t his fault! It wasn’t fair! The bar was too high!” My whole family - especially my two older brothers - never
let me forget that one.
Years later, rheumatoid arthritis took its wretched toll on my Active Dad. Now that really wasn’t fair. He died at the early age
of 68, younger than I am now. I was 36 - much too young to lose my Dad, I thought, bitterly. I’m glad I have those memories of him on the football pitch, eyeing up the high jump, taking me to watch the matches when he wasn’t playing.
Cottons Park. Thank you for the memories.