• Amber

The Swift


This morning I put on one of my favourite rings; a cheerful costume piece with a sparkling silver bird on it. It's beautiful to look at, wings outstretched in perfect symmetry, bouncing the light around as if it were actually in flight. 

The bird reminds me of the swifts that were emblazoned on my primary school uniform, chosen for the name of the cul-de-sac opposite the school. I remember the distinct shape of the wings, scimitar-like in the sky, a boomerang curve with a body. The tail is forked, and the birds are aptly named, they're so fast on the wing. 

At the time summers stretched out seemingly endlessly, the holidays a vast horizon filled with beach days, homemade ice lollies in the garden, messy craft projects and elaborate games. Equally long were the school sports days, sat melting into the red-hot tarpaulins on the field, wishing we could take off our daps as the sun bore through the black fabric.

I have glorious memories of swimming at Captain Lloyd's house, an annual treat for the entire school, split across several afternoons to get through the year groups. The girls would use the summer house to get changed, while the boys had to get into and out of their trunks in the open air around the back. There was peeking through curtains and shrieking at naked classmates (none of which would happen now), and then we'd all be in the pool for a magical hour of splashing around without a care in the world. Afterwards Captain and Mrs Lloyd would hand out crisps and ice cream in crisp, cardboard-tasting cones. I venerated those lovely people for their kindness, opening up their garden to a gaggle of noisy children. 

The funny thing about primary school is you never really remember the learning process. You remember all the things that happen in between and around it. For example, we had a Japanese lady come and work in the school for a month, possibly an entire term. Her name was Mrs Baba and we even had her over for tea at our house one evening. I don't remember learning a word of Japanese. I just remember the open evening my class held to show what we had learned about Japanese culture, in preparation for which we cooked a number of special dishes. My classmate Daniel and I cried so uncontrollably while chopping the onions that the teacher found us in hysterics in the tiny corner kitchen, collapsed against the sink with tears streaming down our faces.

I also remember being shipped off for a weekend to a special creative writing course. I think this was because by the end of year four I had read all the books in the school and they needed to give me something else to do. I earnestly poured my efforts into assigned tasks and came home with a terrible poem about a lonely bench and some inexpert haiku. Shortly thereafter I wrote and illustrated a short story called 'Frogs for Lunch' which ended up in a compendium of creative writing from the primary schools in the area. 

I suspect (strongly, because my siblings tell me so) that I was a bossy little thing. I meant well. I just wanted everyone to do things properly. I liked organised kinds of fun, and knowing the right answer, and being allowed to ring the lunch bell - a rare treat that involved climbing onto a huge window sill in order to reach the rope. I was mortified when Mrs Browning sent me in from playtime early one day because someone had accused me of pushing them and I hadn't done it. I was even more upset at having to present my hands to be inspected every lunchtime, stomach growling while every student had their fingernails checked for dirt. 

When I think of primary school now I think of how impossibly small we all were, and how big we felt. I think of the church tower I never got to climb because I left before year 6, the year where they finally let you up there. I think of how we'd sometimes get stuck on the way to school behind a procession of cows crossing the road on the way back from being milked. I think of the trip to the Tutankhamun exhibition and the silver snake ring I brought back - and the girl who stole it. I think of how utterly determined I was, at all of 8 years old, that I was going to be a journalist. So young, and so set. 

Little Amber could never have imagined, pulling up her lace trimmed socks and earnestly pouring her heart out to her favourite teacher, just how her life would or wouldn't go to plan. The vast school fence, the woodland by the common, the double decker bus ride to the swimming pool on a Monday afternoon, the conservation area with its tiny pond and the plant that tasted like liquorice - these were the boundaries of my childhood for six hours a day, five days a week, for six years of my life. I lived and breathed them, and the smell from nearby fields, the Autumn games of conkers, the fear of the 'wasp wall' and its nooks and crannies that formed those creatures' nests.

Swift by name, swift by nature. The primary years that shaped me more than I can guess come together now in a jumble of jigsaw pieces - every so often I pull off the box lid and peer inside, but I'm not sure I need to put them all together. I like them this way.

#childhood #happiness #growth #personalhistory

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