Today I walked around Blenheim Park. It was also a trip down memory lane. In my early years it was my regular playground of preference and I had spent many an hour hanging out in the park, along with many of the numerous kids that lived on my estate, although after moving away that ceased to be. Today, instead of going to the gym for my daily dose of exercise, after first dropping my son off to school and then my wife off at her work, I decided to visit my childhood haunt instead, which conveniently happens to be fairly close to school and work, and there to do a brisk walk.
I used to live at 34 Harridge Road (until aged 12), a road next to the school, which is next to the Park. One of my fondest memories was the wood and orchard adjoining my back garden. Sometimes I took the short cut to school, via the wood and a hole in the fence and lo, I had arrived. Alas, the wood gave way to housing long ago. A fair bit of the school ground has also made way for development and more open space was taken away when they made Blenheim Chase a dual carriage way and knocked down the old dilapidated building with its overgrown garden to make way for a fire station. I parked in the car park by the station and took the imaginary anti-clockwise path around the Park perimeter, absorbing the surroundings en-route.
First up was walking along pleasant turf between the magnificent oak trees (with more in the distance) and, from what I could make out peering through the greenery that separated, the well maintained gardens backing onto the Park, and then onto the children’s playground. I remember the time when there was no playground but it was not a big deal as we invariably found lots else to occupy us in the Park. There were few adults around then for those were the days parents felt they could allow their children to play unsupervised and sometimes it was for nigh on the whole day. But then the playground was built and we children were delighted even so. These days, no witches hat of course; this and a lot else besides have given way to other items on health and safety grounds.
Continuing my journey around the playground to the far end of the park, I turned left and went past the pond, which looked, I am sad to report, to be in an unhappy state compared to what it had once been and still could be, and walked parallel to the boundary separating the road (Mountdale Gardens). In fairness to the Council, whose responsibility it is to maintain the parks in the town, they continue to do a good job despite the cuts and the meadow like development with some younger trees and bushes, between the playground and St. Christopher School, which I do not recall in my childhood, was impressive and well thought out. Further along just past the little ridge long remembered there was open park once again. I recall there was a hockey pitch in winter and a cricket pitch in summer in that vicinity, and it was by one of the large white sight screens where I attended Sunday School during the school summer holidays.
Continuing my journey around the park perimeter with its impressive vegetation, I found myself coming up to the boundary to Blenheim School, which was the infants and junior school I attended. I could see children with their distinctive bright red tops going to school with a parent in tow (there is these days a side entrance via the Park). It brought back memories as I viewed the old buildings that are still there, including my old class room, and peeked into the playground where I once spent many hours playing all sorts of games. Not all happy memories, but most were.
As I turned a corner toward the opposite side of the Park to where I begun, I noted the daunting tall staked fence that had replaced the wired mesh diamond affair I recalled from my youth, and behind it an allotment (something else not around in my day). But regarding that fence, there was in my day one of those large rubbish bins pinned to it, and this served as a wicket for the many hours of cricket we used to play, with the fence negating the need for a wicket keeper and behind the bat fieldsmen. As I continued down to Blenheim Chase, there was the old ditch to my right and the ditch between the Park and the border for the second carriageway of Blenheim Chase ahead of me. It is all rather overgrown these days, not hideously so but enough to do away with many of the hiding places that we children used while playing out many hours of our games of hide and seek, and a special favourite – tin can copper.
In that corner of the park was one of the main places we used to play, notably football, and the games used to last hours sometimes. It was often about picking scratch sides from whoever happened to be available and with children coming and going and thus keeping the sides evenly matched. I also recall in those days there was a lot of adult sporting activity going on. Besides hockey and cricket, there was football and rugby being played (mostly Saturdays – I don’t recall much organised sports wise going on, on a Sunday – and it was adults only, each schools had its own football teams), and in the middle of the park was a building comprising changing rooms, toilets and refreshment bar, long ago demolished – vandalism I believe. It was also the place where various summer cub activities took place – and there was the Mormons teaching the kids baseball.
So I continued my journey, pensively back toward the car, thinking about a few of the incidents that had taken place over 50 years ago and the people involved. Almost all are no longer around. As walks go this was a little ‘un and the walk was hardly brisk (something to remedy next time). But the meandering and meditating did stretch the time out though, and pleasantly so. I was glad that I did it and grateful for the memories, realizing there is a lot to be thankful for.