The Day When


The Day When…

Do you remember “the day when…?”

It is a common enough day. Most people remember at least one. But sometimes it can be difficult. Especially if the person you shared “the day when…” with is not present.

More experience brings such a choice of “…days when…” Including all the funny days; the not so funny days; the days that went on for ever; the days that were too short… But age it is and not experience that brings the earliest days back. The remembering bringing back events unanalysed and reactions instinctual enough to preserve then, but to worry now.

Thus I look to think of the days when I left somewhere.

Schools; places of work or jobs; homes, lodgings or houses. And I ought to remember the day that I left school. But I don’t. I don’t remember the day when I left Primary School; I don’t remember the day when I left Grammar School; I don’t remember the day when I left Sixth Form College; and I don’t remember the day when I left University.

I wonder why I don’t?

Oddly, I remember the day when I first went to all these places.

For example, the day I started school, aged four. My father took me to school in the car. The one and only time that he did so.

The local boy that he knew and whom he had also given a lift to school, was asked to take me to the teacher. But he disappeared the instant we walked into the school. I was alone.

Meeting a (really “the”) teacher (a person) of astounding indifference, I had to introduce myself and was told with impatience to “sit over there”. I found a table with at least eight other seated children.

There was one space left.

I sat.

We had rectangular manila cards given to us.

On one side, in print was written our names. On the other side was written our address. Now we must copy. And the copying was incessant.

I tired of this exercise very quickly.

Think what you will, but at the age of four I could already read fluently, and write, and I knew where I lived. I looked across the tables. There were the faces and crowns of heads I would see for the next seven years. Tongues held between infant lips or being chewed, and tufts of hair sticking up like the reeds that Moses’ basket must have lain amongst, I looked at the concentration going on.

But next to me, where the space at the table was, sat a little girl. The object of sly looks from some of the others. I can write her name now because she has recently died. I learned her name from her card.

Maria looked at me, and smiled. She looked again, and smiled again. I smiled back.

Then I looked at her paper, and her card. And although she did try, the paper on which she wrote contained only a few letters and the figure “2”, just like a line of little ducks at a fairground.

Maria did not speak. She only smiled. Her very straight and dark hair was livened and made prettier by a little ribbon. I showed her how she might write “M” for Maria. This worked for a little while. But soon enough, back came the “2” again.

It soon became playtime. We were all sent to the lavatory to relieve ourselves and wash our hands. When I came out of there, there stood Maria. She had waited for me. We drank our milk together. We went outside.


It was always cold at the top of Mainway.

The wind howled and scurried around there in the winter especially. Legs in short trousers turned veiny, red and blue. But in the other seasons, spring and autumn, it was also bitterly cold there, the wooden building standing alone on what had been a moor.

The school doubled as a church on Sundays and sixty years later, I have my doubts about the wisdom or corruption that allowed it to be used as a school at all. The windows, which were never opened, were all of obscured glass. So from outside, stimulus came there none. We were bidden look inwards. It was a place for the introverted examination of the conscious. However, the building was warm in the winter and we were never cold inside it.

Back to playtime.

As we were sent outside to play, we went. There was a path to the street outside and we were told to play on the north side of the building.

The tussocky grass looked unyielding and tough. It wasn’t even a good shade of green. It literally was hard meadow, which had been the name of the (presumably) unlucky farm, whose impecunious custodian had sold up with alacrity when offered another form of hardness – this time, cash – by property developers who would build houses to their own benefit, selling them to the monied and bewildered, all the while sanitising the original names to more palatable versions the better to sell the dwellings.

The inhospitable ground gave rise to rough play and Maria stood amongst the other children who just ignored her as they ran around noisily playing horses in ones and twos, or circle games with songs and actions. I didn’t even step on the grass. I just watched in bewilderment at the antics and burgeoning unpleasantness taking place before my eyes. Frozen in my discomfiture, I decided that I would collect Maria and bring her to safety. So I went on to the patch and took her little hand in mine, and walked her with me to the path, where we sat down on a low wall. Behind the wall were roses with their prickles, so we just sat still. We didn’t talk. But we stayed together.

A whistle was blown and we were told to line up.

We lined up. I let all the others go in and then made sure that Maria came to sit with me. There were plenty more numbers “2” and letters “M” and I copied out from my crappy card. But by the time it came to “Those who go home for dinner may now get their hats and coats” I had memorised the register, and knew the word lists at the back of the infant and junior reading books of the “Wide Range Readers”.

I didn’t realise it but I was already in trouble.


Children go through phases.

We all know that.

During my time at the shed, we seemed to have quite a few, one of which was sticking out tongues to register some kind of infantile defiance or cheek. We all did it. Maria did it. And I noticed that her tongue was indented in a lattice of symmetrical lines. I mentioned this to Mummy when she came home, but she didn’t say anything.

The days went on and so did the years.

One day a man appeared in the school-church-shed with no proper windows. I was told to open a door for him. He asked me my name. I told him and his reply was: “Oh! I used to play football with your dad”. I was no wiser.

Over time, he came again and then one day addressed us all, telling us that we were moving to a new school, and that he would be there to greet us.

All the while, I worried about Maria. I had tried to teach her to write her name. I had also nearly taught her to say my name, which she nearly got too. But one day, I had been to school with Mummy, and it was a day that should have been school, but wasn’t, and the school-church-shed was a church that day. It was a day when something happened.

The first teacher was there and although she didn’t look at me, she spoke to Mummy. She invited Mummy to walk to her home, and I went too. She made coffee. There was a small grand piano in the front room. I didn’t know what was being said. I wasn’t included. I didn’t get a drink either.


We went to the new school. It had proper windows.

There were more teachers. Some were kind, some were of an ignorance that warranted clinical definition or intervention, and some were indifferent.

I remember that day when.

But that day went into many days and then, there was a change, and suddenly Maria was gone.

But I don’t remember that day when she went.

And there were no goodbyes between us. It was hush-hush. And I was seven years old.


I did see her again sometimes. She did remember me too.

There was no conversation, but Maria smiled. As she always did.

I used to see her also through the window near Christmas time, when I took the card to her Mummy and Daddy.


And that was that.

Except that it wasn’t that.

For I learned from my mother what had passed between her and that teacher that day.

The teacher had told my mother that “he’s getting very fond of Maria”.

Hearing that caused my mother’s loyalties to strain and she said nothing.

Not to me.

Not to anyone else.


She waited fifty-five years to unload this.

I remember the day when…


there was no discussion.

Vascular dementia had seen to that.

That was the day when…

And there would be many

But I don’t remember them all


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