Amid these days of storms and cold I step beyond the warmth and comfort of home, of watching sport and Harry Potter. Well wrapped up and rubber-booted, bent against the wind I walk to the woods.
To enter I must cross a stretch of muddy grass. And the memories return, of a English field, wet and green, whitewashed lines, a gang of small boys in striped shirts, I one, shouting and running around chasing an oval ball. The one grown-up, the games master, embodiment of Doctor Arnold’s Spartan muscularity, picks up the ball and runs, great knees pumping like pistons. A sprinting steam train, he charges ahead, splitting the gang down the middle. Brushing aside a Lilliputian tackle he heads for the line. I am in the way.
He looks like he’s expecting me to move aside. I want to move aside. I try to move aside. But I am the headlit rabbit and my feet are stuck to the muddy grass and I want my mum. Unfortunately she’s not playing that afternoon. Unfortunately it’s not a family frolic on a sunny beach. Unfortunately she is in South America.
I screw my eyes shut and hold out my arms. A mighty thud and my world goes black, no time even for that draining instant before blissful unconsciousness.
In the darkness I hear distant cheering. I feel my head is about to split as if repeatedly hammered with a blunt ax. Then I hear a voice. It starts a long way off then gets closer, louder. An anxious voice. A worried voice. A voice of panic.
‘Wake up, will you!’
Another voice. ‘He’s shamming. Just leave him.’
And another. ‘Don’t move him. Might have broken his neck.’
I sit up, feeling nauseous. The games-master is crouching in front of me, big concerned face.
‘Are you alright?’
I nod. He looks relieved and stands up. ‘Well done,’ he says, ‘Excellent tackle.’
We play on.
I enter the woods. Two magpies, three crows, twelve doves, and a squirrel in an oak tree. Tea and fruit-cake in the café. Then home, TV sport and Harry Potter.