This evening was the puddle-jumping anniversary. 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. Jumping from one side of the puddle to the other on that eve of the first Monday in September, I remember pausing and staring into nothingness, 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?If just a couple of days could be recovered, just enough time to put a distance between myself and the looming shadow of the classroom.
The puddle could not work its usual magic. No matter how many times I jumped it, there was no changing the fact that the new school year began in the morning; even if it had still been only Sunday afternoon, it would have been different. 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.
Sometimes I imagined what a paradise life must have been before reaching school age; the problem was that there were not many memories from those days, and, not having been to school, I did not realize I was living in paradise.
Adults used to say that schooldays should be enjoyed, that they were the happiest days of their lives, but when questioned they could rarely remember what it was that made the days so happy; chiefly, it seemed that being at school meant they had not reached the age of having to work.
Talking to children this morning about the return to school, a namesake looked completely gloomy about tomorrow morning. Attempts to reassure him were not very successful. I thought of telling him about the puddle, but then thought I probably didn’t need to do so. Somewhere on his home farm there is probably a puddle where he stands and wonder how nine weeks of an Irish school holiday have passed in an instant.