Sunday, 20 November 2016
I was very. very clumsy as a child. Mum used to say I would fall over a match stick in the middle of the road. If there was a stick to fall over, a lamp post to walk into, a deep puddle to sink into – I was there.
In the summers all the children in our road used to go together up to the ‘big’ park to get out from under ours Mums’ feet. The council used to put on local bands and other entertainment for the kids. Mainly to keep the kids away from the ponds as most of us had no adult supervision.
We used to take a pack of jam butties and a couple of bottles of water or if we were lucky, lemonade and enough money for an ice-lolly or ice-pop.
This one day we were walking around the park, the weather was absolutely boiling hot, but luckily there was plenty of shade from all the trees.
There were quite a few of us kids on this day, probably about twelve of us all told. Some siblings, some friends aged from about 6 years old to about 14 years old (I was about 11 years old).
We were just walking around a bend, when some wild-haired guy jumped out the bushes and flashed at us!
He didn’t get the response he was expecting - we roared laughing, pointing at him and shouting ‘No wonder you can’t get a girlfriend!!’ I think we weren’t scared because there were so many of us.
He got really mad and started shouting things at us and made an attempt to run after us, but as his trousers had fallen around his ankles, he didn’t get very far!
We all ‘legged it’ to the open area where lots of grownups were – just in case. It’s odd thinking back, because we never even thought of reporting it to anyone, we just assumed he was ‘not well’ and as none of us were hurt, left it at that.
We had been at the park all day and we were all hot and tired. We had seen a band playing rock music, looked in on the bird aviary (which was mainly canaries) and had watched people play tennis. As it was getting late and the younger ones were getting a bit tetchy, a group decision was made to all go home. We had to decide to all go home at the same time to ensure no-one got left behind or lost – particularly the littler ones.
We all walked back through the park to make our way out. We got to where the model boating lake was (well - it was more of a big pond than a lake, but that’s what it was called) There were no model boats on the water as the craze had died down a bit.
So it was a bit neglected and the water was filthy with algae growing on the top. An older girl who was with us said to me ‘I bet you could do with a cool down Ginger’ and she shoved me towards the water. I think she thought I would be able to save myself from falling in, but with the momentum of the push and my clumsiness, I couldn’t stop myself from falling forward, head first into the murky water.
I hit the bottom of the pond, which luckily was only about three feet deep. My head narrowly missing a broken bottle as I felt my hands and feet sink into the slimy sludge at the bottom of the pond. Luckily, I had the wherewithal not to gasp while submerged and breathe the gunk into my lungs, but pushed myself up back out of the water.
I emerged from the water gasping for breath covered in slime from head to foot. As I waded to the edge of the pond, I could hear everyone laughing hysterically. It took me a good few tries to get out as no-one wanted to get wet helping me get out (not one adult came and helped by the way – just thought I’d mention that).
The girl who had pushed me realised she was going to be in trouble when we got home and started shouting that she was sorry whilst trying to suppress her laughing. I eventually climbed out of the pond.
Everyone stood back so as not to get splashed by the slime. I didn’t know what to do as it was a long walk home and I had no bus fare. So the children lead me to the Watchman’s hut and we knocked on the door.
‘What dya want?’ said the watchman eating an egg sandwich. I looked at him and thought what does he mean ‘What dya want’? – isn’t it a bit obvious? But no, deep breath. I said ‘I’ve fallen in the pond and I can’t walk home like this’. He just shrugged his shoulders and said ‘What dya want me to do about it?’ ‘I don’t know’ I said, ‘Do you have a towel I could borrow or could you lend me the bus fare to get home please?’
He signed very heavily saying ‘I’m not supposed to do this!’ stuck is hands in his pocket and shoved some coins in my hand, ‘Now clear off the lottaya!’ he said and then slammed the door in my face.
We all walked through the park to the bus stop. Well, when I say ‘we’ I mean I walked ahead and the others stayed at a distance from me to avoid the slime and the smell and hoping people didn’t think they were ‘with’ me. Everyone who passed stared as the ‘Creature from the Black Lagoon’ covered in algae, walked on surrounded by giggling children.
We stood at the bus stop. I was starting to feel cold now as I was soaked to the skin, but no-one would lend me their coat because of the slime, so I was shivering.
Eventually, the bus arrived. The doors opened and I went to get on the bus. The Driver shouted ‘Stop!’ ‘What?’ I said. ‘You’re not getting on this bus in that state. People have got to sit on them seats after you.’
Can’t I just stand by the door?’ I said. ‘No, you’ll drip all over the bus!’ and with that, he shut the doors and drove off.
Most of the other kids had already walked on (as they had guessed what the driver was going to do) and were a fair way off. So there was me, covered in algae and soaked through slowly trudging my way home. People passed me, avoiding eye contact.
The girl who had shoved me in thought it would be a good idea to buy peppermints so she ran to the little paper shop and bought three packets of Polo's. She shoved a handful of them in my mouth saying 'These will warm you up' , nearly choking me. I am standing there coughing up Polo mints and pond snot thinking to myself that this girl was definitely not my friend and was not the full shilling.
When I got to home, my Mum, who had been pre-warned of my condition by one of the kids who had gotten back first, opened the door before I had even knocked and said ‘Don’t you dare come in here covered in slime! Go round the back into the garden!’
So I sighed heavily and trudged my way through the entry, around to the back of the house where my Mum was standing with Marigold gloves on, holding the garden hose in her hand. ‘Strip all of that off’ she ordered pointing at my clothes with the hose ‘and put them in this bin bag’ she says, passing me a black bin bag.
‘But Mum!’ I pleaded ‘I’m in the garden – people will see me!’
‘You are not getting into the house covered in THAT’ she shouted waggling the hose in my direction. I knew there was no point arguing as Mum had her ‘don’t argue with me’ face on.
I was glad I was covered in gunk as no-one could see the embarrassment on my face as I stripped off in the garden and my Mum hosed me down with the garden hose.
The water was freezing and my teeth were chattering passed themselves. Any minute now and I’m going to get frost bite or hyperthermia! I thought (yes I knew what hyperthermia was when I was eleven, I probably would have taken a while to spell it, but I knew what it meant).
She then threw an old bed sheet around me and made me walk on newspapers through the house and up the stairs to the bathroom.
‘Get in there and don’t come out until it’s all washed off. And wash the bath down after you’ She shouted through the door. I could hear her scrunching up the newspapers as she walked down the stairs.
I ran a bath and scrubbed and scrubbed with a nail brush until my skin was sore and washed my hair again and again until I thought my hair was going to fall out and my scalp was sore. I finally dried myself off and threw a bath towel around my hair, pulled on some pyjamas.
I made my way downstairs, tired to the bone, to find a big bowl of hot tomato soup, which was my favourite and a big thick cheese sandwich next to it.
We all had a good laugh afterwards about the pond and I was known as the ‘Pond Monster’ or the ‘Creature from the Black Lagoon’ for a few weeks after that.
I was always wary of the girl who pushed me in after that and never went near the boating lake again.
© Kate McClelland 2016