This column first appeared in the Lancashire Evening Post...
It’s a bleak Monday morning and I’m cutting my way through the driving rain to meet a friend I had agreed to meet before checking the weather. I didn’t like this friend that much. I’d call them an acquaintance.
We’d been friends of friends and met at a party one Saturday night. My senses had been warmed by lager, blinded by flashing light and deafened by loud music. It was the sort of loud music you don’t particularly like but your friend Chris likes it and you want to be a bit more like Chris so you pretend to mouth the lyrics and hope nobody notices you’d rather be at home.
But I wasn’t at home. I was at Chris’ party. And then I was talking to Chris’ friend. And Chris’ friend and I had something in common. Except we didn’t have anything in common at all because I’d pretended to be interested in boxing because that’s what everybody else seemed to be talking about. It was a great party.
“We should hang out! I’ll send you some dates!” said Chris’ friend and I agreed, safe in the knowledge that this is one of those things you say to somebody you’ve just met at a party on a Saturday night and that it’s absolutely never going to happen.
Sunday morning and my headache was being eased by the smell of bacon in the oven. Then, ‘ping’. My iPad. An email. Chris’ friend. DATES.
Really? This is happening? We’re ‘hanging out’?
‘Hey Darryl’ began his message. What kind of adult says ‘Hey’? ‘It’s half term next week and I’m free tomorrow morning if you fancy a coffee?’ I didn’t. I needed an excuse. My Mum is staying? Yes. Mum. Solid choice. You can’t deny a man the chance to see his dear Mum.
‘That sounds great mate. See you tomorrow morning.’ It’s what Chris would do.
Monday. Bleak. Driving rain. I approach a crossing and hit the button. A child and his mother crept into vision on my right. The child was excited, hood up with little mittens dangling from his puffy blue coat. Half term and he was eager to get going. He reached out and hit the button to call the crossing, still illuminated. Again. Again. A fourth time. I huffed and he noticed. His eyes caught my gaze. We were locked in a stare. He knew what he was doing. He had me. His little fingers slowly reached towards the button, taunting me. Smack. He hit it. Once, twice, three times in quick succession.
“You’ll break it!” I said, because that’s the sort of thing adults say to children.
“I’m sorry!” said his mother, knowing she didn’t need to but defusing the situation as the child did a victory twirl around the post. “The world is his playground. We’re off to ride a steam engine, I’m hoping that’ll tire him out”.
And it struck me. This child cares not that it is a bleak Monday morning and he isn’t even slightly fazed by the driving rain. He’d never go to a party he didn’t want to. He’d tell his friends their choice of music was pretentious and overrated. He’d never fumble his way through a conversation about boxing to look interesting. He’d stay at home on a Saturday night and watch Bridget Jones, if that’s what he really wanted to do. I bet he starts conversations with ‘Hey’ and doesn’t make plans with people he doesn’t really want to see, just because it’s what his friend Chris might do. This child is carefree and the world is indeed his playground.
This world used to be my playground. I used to be carefree. When did we give that up?
“Hey mate” said Chris’ friend and I beamed my new found admiration for the word ‘Hey’.
“I’m sorry,” I said before he could take his seat, “I don’t like boxing. I don’t like boxing and I don’t like that music and I really wanted to stay at home on Saturday night and watch Bridget Jones and I no longer want to live my life doing things Chris might like. Why are we spending our Monday ‘hanging out’? Is that really what we want to do? Can’t you see the world is our playground? I have an idea! Forget the coffee, let’s go and ride a steam train!”
“Erm…” he hesitated, stunned and stuck for words for a moment, “I’ve actually just remembered I need to dash off. I’d completely forgotten, my Mum is staying.”March 05, 2017 | No Comments