A Field in Scotland

It might be alarming for some teachers to not be able to see any of the pupils they are responsible for. Normally this would be true and I would do everything in my power to not allow this to happen. In a school for pupils labelled with social and emotional behavioural difficulties it could even be downright dangerous. But not at this moment. They had dropped completely out of our sight because that’s what we had told them to do.

“I’m going to turn my back and you lot have twenty seconds, to run, drop and hide. And me and Mr Hughes here are going to hunt you. Go!” We faced the road. Sean shouted to twenty and when we turned around we couldn’t see a single one of the seven boys aged 11 and under that we had a duty of care for.

“Oh this is great”, Sean exhaled. I don’t know if it was directed to me or if he would’ve said it anyway. We scanned the tops of the damp field, mostly made up of waist high dying nettles and ferns, without seeing a flash of a tracksuit, a cheeky face looking up, nothing. They had hidden themselves well. We patrolled with our ‘weapons’, mine a long dead branch I had found in a log-pile back in the woods. Sean’s hand carved walking stick, looking mysteriously like a shillelagh, held high like a Winchester in an old cowboy movie.

As soon as we turned around I felt it. I don’t know if there is a correct word or term for it, but I have a suggestion. I liken it to a visual trick some filmmakers use, but again I do not know the technical term. It’s like when everything comes into focus for a character, the pieces of his or her story and life come together and the world collects into one part of their consciousness, usually the front of the forehead. The camera focuses on the character experiencing it whilst the background spins or blurs. Think James Stewart in Vertigo. Its more than deja-vu. The closest word to the feeling I can think of, is time travel.

Instantly I was taken back to some 30+ years ago, to one summer in particular. I believe I was 11, I was one of the youngest in my years at school. I might have been 12. It might not have even been summer, it could have been Easter. The weather would probably have been better then anyway as it seems to be now. I was still hanging out with the friends I’d had at primary school. Local boys, the kids I’d known since nursery or P1. We all probably lived within a square half mile of each other. Some lived on the same street, none on mine, but they did live near my granny. As a result, I played around there a lot and always had a place to stop off for a drink.

That summer, or Easter, my parents were away and I was actually staying there and we had new friends. Our range had also extended. We were at that age where the whole town suddenly opened up to us, not just the boundary of the park, or the high school hockey pitches. We were now at an age when we could go out west. This was a big deal for me as I lived in one of the last houses in the east. Granny lived a lot more centrally which meant I could stay out later, I wasn’t always last home and I had a little more freedom with my trusty yellow mountain bike. I say trusty as my previous bike, the black and red racer was the exact opposite. It was actually deadly. The chain would slip any time it felt like hurting me, regardless of speed, sending me directly over the curved handlebars. This bike was the devil’s work and I was glad to see the back of it. Many times I ended up in a painful pile in the middle of the road or at the bottom of a hill. That thing cut my nuts once. Death trap, good riddance.

Our new friends were from the west. They had gone to a different school but we were destined to be at least in some of the same classes at high school after the summer. Sometimes we hung out in the holiday camp chippy. This may not seem very appealing but for some reason locals were not allowed in the campsite parks or arcade. We’d be chased off the park or kicked out the arcade. I always thought this was mental; we were there to play games after all, to spend our pocket money on Double Dragon or Operation Wolf. The chippy was most likely run independently so we didn’t have that problem. It also had a room with a pool table, a jukebox that had Run to the Hills on it and an arcade machine that I could have sworn was about the show Monkey Magic. However, the internet has proved my childhood memories have lied to me again as the Monkey Magic arcade game never made it out of Japan. It was also made in 1979, ten years before this story is set.

But the chippy was for the long summer evenings, eating Mr Freeze ice poles and drinking Pepsi because it was cooler than Coke. During the day, I’m not sure why, we played in fields. We tried many different fields, but it was one in particular that fulfilled our needs perfectly. It was a big one, on the edge of town, next to the park out west that I had barely ever been to. I think it was an oilseed rape field as they all seemed to be in the 80s and we played hunters in it. Hiding in the entire field while a team tracked the others down. I can clearly recall tearing through the thick reeds on hands and knees, hiding, escaping, laughing, exhausted. And also in the hunting, scanning the crops, much higher than 2020s dead nettles, though it is entirely possible it was because I was much smaller. Every time we played this game when I went to bed my thighs hurt from constantly walking or crawling against thick growth. My hands hurt too, but I slept gloriously.

I loved this game. We played it every day, at least it seemed like it. It might have been just a few times, it might have been an entire two weeks. There’s a lot about this I don’t remember and have no real way of finding out. I don’t even remember who was actually there. Nor do I understand why it was so important to me that I’m writing about the impact it made and the memories I have of that time three decades later. All of this is what goes through my head when I turn round. Here I am, standing in a field, a fully grown man, with children of my own, playing the same game, with new friends and I love it just as much as I did when I last played it. And I’ve just time travelled.

“Bang! Got you Josh.” Sean shouts off to my right as I patrol my part of the dead nettle field. “This is my new favourite game” he says to me.

It’s always been mine I reply, but only in thought. 

Live deliberately


Currently listening to: Criptadel: The Goblin Market, available from Gondolin Records. https://gondolinrecords.bandcamp.com/album/the-goblin-market

If you know, you know… ; )

Black and white images from the excellent Ben Wheatley film A Field in England.