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A kingdom of one's own. | by Fray Bentos
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A kingdom of one's own.

A terrace of houses at Peasley Cross, St Helens, photographed on Tuesday 15th September 1970. The closest car is a Mk I Ford Cortina; the other is, I think, a Standard Vanguard. The terrace is still lighted by gas.

As a boy I was never very keen on parks, municipal playing fields and the like. Muddy goalmouths impressed by the studs of innumerable football boots, swings and "sliders" rooted in concrete, flowerbeds and bandstands ...these things held no charm for me. Far more I liked untidy, rough, unused places, which is why, even now, when I look at this photograph my eye is drawn along the row of houses to where, on the right, the edge becomes ill-defined and a tract of waste ground opens up. Were there once houses on that side as well? What rare plants and interesting creepy-crawlies might dwell there, awaiting my investigations? Beyond the houses a low, flat-topped spoil heap rises ...for this area was heavily mined for coal. Where the puddled, unmade road surface ends a network of little tracks, laid down by the feet of the local children, would have fanned out through the sparse grass and up onto the heights, for everyone loves a view.

Here were no shaven lawns, manicured parterres, bowling greens or asphalt paths: here the imagination could gambol and frolic. Places like this were truly a kingdom of one's own, a miniature country with hilltops and valleys, jungles (for constructing dens), wildernesses and expanses of water, with a web of intercommunicating thoroughfares and byways. It might even, if there were a council estate in the vicinity, suffer incursions of wild tribes from across its undemarcated frontiers.

Remember all those "adventure playgrounds" that sprang up in the 1970s, each attended by a Council-appointed "play instructor"? In the modern world words stand for their opposite. There was no adventure, and the only play was of a kind approved by sociologists and child behaviourists. When did children ever need to be taught how to play?

 

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Taken on October 28, 2008