The primary school I went to is located at the bottom of a hill, with a wooded slope rising behind two of the three school buildings up to the road. My strongest memories of primary school are connected not to the classroom but to that little strip of wilderness. We used to play ‘army’ games there, pushing our way into thickets hoping not to be discovered. Needless to say, we weren’t allowed to play in that part of the grounds: it was considered too dangerous. But of course, it was safe: the fence kept anyone who ought not to be there out – even if we ourselves climbed over the fence to run to the nearby park at lunch time, running back at the ‘first bell’ in time for the ‘second bell’ – and if anyone did get hurt there were teachers close at hand. When caught, we lied shamelessly to avoid punishment, morally obligated to disregard unjust rules.
One part of the slope was not wooded, and in the winter we used to carry cold water in Tupperware boxes to the top of the slope at first break, pouring it out to create an icy runway by second break. Then we would take a run and launch ourselves sliding down the hill. This, too, was frowned upon, if not outlawed.
If I went back today, the slope might barely seem like a gradient at all. At the time, it was an adventure. In my memory it is written large – not because my memory is faulty, but because my memory is accurate in a non-factual way; because it was written large at the time.
When you are a kid, you think that the world will get bigger – will open up before you – when you are older: when you can drive instead of needing to be driven. But when you get older, you realise that the world has in fact in many ways grown smaller: when I was a child everything was magnified not so much by my relative shortness but by my sense of wonder at the world. It’s not that I became boring (as my own kids might assume, quite possibly correctly), but that we become knowing. Familiarity breeds contempt, as they say. Ironically, wonder is the casualty of so much formal education, which prepares us to live not in the real world but the adult world.