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A Shout From The Attic: Greenhead Park

Ronnie Bray recalls the wonders of one of his favourite boyhood "playgrounds'', the local park.

For more chapters of Ronnie's engaging life story please click on A Shout From The Attic in the menu on this page.

I did a lot of wandering through Greenhead Park - which was in effect my back garden. Now when I visit there, I see it in the wonderful vision of memory as it was in my childhood when all the glazed tiled gutters were shiny, unbroken, and straight, and when all the lawns were lawns, not the scrubby patches of grass into which they have deteriorated, and when they ran straight-edged, and all the flowers in perfect beds were beautifully tended, pruned and dead-headed before they faded and dropped, and before Philistines murdered the duck pond at whose edges I made bowls from the clay mud that would have astounded Sir Flinders Petrie and I lost my only ever wind-up motorboat for which I had waited so long, and frightened the ducks and sticklebacks one frosty morning as I plunged to
the bottom to the guffaws of unkind watchers, and rose Titan-like but freezing through the thin ice before fleeing home ignoring the loss of my treasured craft, near where the Philistines came again and chopped and dug out the rhododendron bushes to their present virtual nothingness,
destroying a whole civilisation in homage to progress, which is the chief god of Vandalism.

Greenhead Park was a smart and cared for place before the money ran out and public places mattered in a time when people washed their front steps and donkey-stoned their window sills and picked up litter from their gardens because they cared how it looked and what the neighbours would say about the outside of their slovenly house, not like the tattered and neglected places of our now less grand days. Forgotten too, is the song that was sung in mock irony but contained all the truth about a place that on our best days lifted to its own demanding standard.

Please keep off the grass
To let the ladies pass.
Greenhead Park
Is up to the mark,
So please keep off the grass.

Not only did I traverse the highways of the park, but the side roads and connecting footworn outlaw paths that ran all over the place and through the dense bushery in a matrix that afforded an interesting change of direction from those who wished only to enjoy the park and its sunny days of laughter and good spirits; unseen ways trodden by the feet of the brave
who did not fear bears, lions, tiger, or elephants and other wild creatures that could, just possibly, lurk in the bushes. When I grew to learn that none of these things were there, I envied those children who still feared they might be. It was a passing from something of childhood enchantment that I relinquished with regret.

The bushes were vast tracts of thick-grown and beautifully efflorescent rhododendrons rising like sudden green hills from the pathways to reach back into the dark and almost impenetrable interior of the hidden places of the park. Almost, but not totally, impenetrable, the bushes were interspersed with a network of mud tracks that shone when the rain managed to reach them. These were no more than six inches wide where the silent feet of brave children who knew the hidden entrances and exits entered the secret system and left after roving for some distance through the night-dark undergrowth, unseen and, sometimes, unheard.

From one of the levels of wide balustraded terraces leading up to the temple-columned War Memorial, was such a hidden path leading through the bushes out to the top of a boulder-capped ravine that ran a short distance before dropping to the main level of the park, where it was enclosed and hidden by the bushes that skirted the narrow lawn by the path that ran from the Oastler Memorial playground to the bowling greens.

Water ran slowly down the sides of the red-brown boulders forming the side of the ravine and ferns grew out from fissures between the craggy courses, making it a truly enchanted place. All it lacked was a band of flitting faeries, and although I did not see them, I do not doubt that more spellbound eyes than mine saw them frequently.


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