The third week in August is about to begin and memories of the puddle return, as they do in the second half of each August each year.
The puddle was across the road from our house at the edge of a little Somerset village. Cars and tractors would swing wide to turn into or out of the lane that ran beside our garden and as they did so would cut into the verge opposite the house. The big agricultural tyres would cut deep into the soil, leaving a hard packed rut. When heavy rain came, as it always did, there would be a deep puddle, the width of a tractor tyre and stretching for two or three yards.
It was a puddle sufficiently deep to command the interest of small boys. I remember standing there one Sunday evening, feeling sick in the pit of my stomach. The school summer holidays, that had promised to last forever, were over; how could six weeks pass so quickly? Nothing could pull me from the slough of despond in which I stood, facing the bleakness of returning to school. There would be desperate childish hopes that perhaps the school would burn down, or that a mysterious illness would force its closure; they never materialised.
Memories of the puddle remained so vivid that when in England one summer five years ago, I walked across the road to check: the puddle had gone. No future generations of boys could walk ankle deep through its dirty water.
For years that puddle had the power to evoke feelings of fear. No matter how old I was, I could be pulled back to the thoughts of a lonely nine year old standing in the mud at a country roadside. It was hard even to articulate what the fear was, once school began, it wasn’t so bad; it was just a sense of a loss of time and freedom and feelings hard to bring into the imagination, let alone express in words.
Talking to an eleven year old just in from a pony ride this morning, I asked if she looked forward to returning to school at the end of the month. ‘Yes’, she said, ‘I like school’.
‘I hated school’, I said, ‘from the day I started until the day I left’.
She gave me the sort of look that young people reserve for strange old people.
I wondered if walking through puddles had also died out along with a dislike of school.