Moving on from the playground – A Short Story Part One

I was always shy at school. My brother was the extrovert, fearless sporty one. I remained close to the school wall at playtime with a few classmates. Two years older than I am, he was usually with fellow athletes. Girls adored him and he could get away with murder teasing them. It was as if they craved being singled out by him to be made fun of. They’d blush with pleasure and gaze up at him, doe-eyed, eager for more. I could never have got away with anything like the way he treated them.

The upside of having an elder brother at school was that I didn’t get picked on by older kids – at least while he was still at that school. By the time he moved on to secondary school I was two years older and less of a target. The downside was that I never got to be noticed by the girl I adored. I would always be in Graham’s shadow even after he left.

Pauline was taller than I was, slim, clear-complexioned, long dark hair and lovely grey eyes. The only reason that she ever seemed to smile at me was so that she could copy off me when we had classroom tests. Eventually, we were separated by our eleven-plus examination results. For those too young to remember, in England in the 1940s and 1950s, there was a compulsory ‘scholarship’ examination for that age group to decide which children should be selected for ‘Grammar’ schools. The remainder would attend State or faith-based secondary schools. From among the grammar school kids, further exams, four or five years later, decided which pupils were suitable for university entrance. I passed for the local boys’ grammar school. Socialisation with pupils of the girl’s’ grammar school was, technically at least, forbidden though that rule was generally ignored in practice. Pauline went to the girl’s secondary school and it was years before we were to meet again.

The way it happened was totally by chance. At twenty-three, I’d finished all my exams and had a good job in the Civil-Service. Together with a few colleagues, I’d taken up hill-walking as a hobby. We’d often hire a small coach on Saturdays to take us to the Lake District, Snowdonia or the Peak District. Less often we’d head out to the North Yorkshire Dales. One Saturday, when there was no trip planned, and the mountain weather forecast was good, I set off early – very early – in my car to get a parking slot at Pen-y-Pass. I wanted to have a go at the Snowdon Horseshoe – a tricky hike over three linked peaks. The first hurdle was the Bad Step up to Crib Goch. A rough English translation of Crib Goch is Red Ridge, and it’s quite a ridge even in good weather. In poor weather it’s a nasty razor-edge arête with a history of serious injuries, even fatalities, for inexperienced or poorly equipped walkers. Still, it pays to get there early.  By ten a.m. you can get queues of people wanting to have a go.

As I say, I was there early, and by just after nine I was at the start of the ridge, but I was surprised to see that two other people had got there before me. Both were clearly young women who seemed to be properly dressed for the day. One had reached the first Pinnacle at the far side of the 200 metre long ridge, but had not yet started to tackle it. The other was sat astride the middle of the ridge – one leg either side and a drop of several hundred metres to her right. The drop to her left wasn’t quite as steep or as great. I realised quickly that she had ‘frozen’ – sometimes people suddenly realise the potential danger and fear locks them into immobility. All along the ridge it’s possible to follow a narrow ledge, a few feet below, in safety, with the top at hand height, but for anyone who’s been walking along the top and, part way across, is struck with that kind of terror, the safer option doesn’t always seem to be available as a way forward.

Featured Photo

I took this shot on the approach to Billinge Beacon, the highest point in the area and roughly halfway between St Helens and Wigan.

I used my Pentax KP camera and a 35 mm f/2 lens. The EXIF data were 1/250 @ f/4 and ISO 200

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