Original source material
I played with boys when I was young and the world was big. Tunstall was mine, my imagination soared through the streets. The Memorial Park across the road, the sweet shop round the corner and up a steep bank, the swimming and library side by side and visible from my front room window. The market, the big park (with real playground with swings), the greenway, the entry, my school – I owned them all. I was conjurer of it and boys played with me.
They came to my house, they came to ask me to come out. I didn’t tag along, I didn’t sneak into the group, I was part of the group from the beginning. We often took our bikes out with us, my legs were growing and my knees would get nicks from the handlebars, but mostly we slid down the banks of the greenway.
The greenway was long and grassy, it had been a railway track. When I grew older I took sandwiches and a ‘survival pack’ containing a cheap penknife from the pound shop, some paper and some of those elasticated ropes used to keep stuff on roof racks. I walked its length for as far as I dared.
The banks of the greenway sloped high with long, glossy, grass like hair. There were also sandy banks, both were smooth enough to slide down. I was the only girl. Long dark, grass that we put our skin against and it did not cut us. My legs, oozing out of homemade shorts. I slide down the bank over and over because the journey is never quite long enough. Brambles and nettles covered the bottom, threatening to sting and prick, the trick was to catch onto the yielding birch growing halfway down so that you carried on moving but was pulled back at the last minute without so much as a breath from the bushes below. All about timing.
In the playground, I made up stories and games and tried hard to scare my friends and myself, claiming my ghost stories were cross-my-heart true.
The greenway was long with high banks, there was a tunnel that the traffic ran over. Air now clean in comparison with the days when steam engines carried clay and coal, from the earth drawn for a living leaving holes and subsidence.
The greenway those days was a long, long path. Dogs walked on it, teenagers slouched and kissed furtively on it. I played with boys on it. What a rough and ready playground it was, taken not designated. High on the grass verge we would look down to the path below, worn sandy, the walls of graffiti. Going as a far as you could, always a way out, down an entry between terraced houses onto main roads or neighbourhoods.
I listened to the conversations of boys as we sat around with our bikes languishing, the evenings moving on through the post tea-time time sounds of kids in the streets, playing curb ball, a sailor went to sea, sea, sea. We talked as if we were older. Boys dreamed of seeing real girls, I dreamed a dark dream of being one. I stared at boxes in chemists longingly, boxes with pictures of rippled silk, or feathers or flowers. They had names that evoked some beautiful feminine mystery. I wanted to spend my pocket money on them like I did with training bras that were too big for me and funny shaped pencils, rubbers with sweet smells.
I listened with my tomboy demeanour as the boys talked about older girls. Girls who wore makeup, hung around car parks and street corners while I was sliding down banks, holding on at the last minute. Girls whose breasts were already growing and maybe even had hair where I did not.
‘Saw Gary’s sister yesterdee, yer could see her tits sticking out through her t-shirt. She took me down entry te look at’em.’
‘Don’t believe me then.’
‘What were thee like then? Big?’
‘I’ve got tits.’ I ventured. Simon turned and sneered.
‘ave not.’ He put his back to me, I was burning now, desperate to prove to them.
‘ave.’ Simon laughed, but Glenn was eyeing me, searching for a bulge, a bud under my Michael Jackson t-shirt, my favourite after my Muppets one, I’d bought in Blackpool.
‘Show us then,’ Simon said. He knew I wouldn’t dare but if I didn’t dare they’d take the piss all night until I cycled home. We were quiet, a stand off. I deliberated, searched for courage, for nonchalance. Simon looked impatient either to see or begin ripping the piss. Wind blew gently through the June grass, like the greenway was whispering to me.
I lifted my t-shirt and yellow vest beneath. Simon and Glenn stared, they faces became blank and new, without their years. Simon mesmerised, Glenn turned away.
‘Ah, waste of time, nothing there.’ I lowered my clothing, smiling.
‘What, you an expert? I bet Gary’s sister didn’t show you a thing, I bet she told you to piss off. I pushed off on my bike. ‘Anyway, I’ve seen Darren Ellis’s willy and it’s bigger than yours!’ My bike coasted down the bank, I rode towards my friend Tracey’s house, ready to tell her what I’d done.