Playing Out

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After overhearing their brothers mention Windsor Playing Fields, Clive and Paul deliberate whether to follow. Hoping not to be seen they flit between gateposts to crouch behind dust-bins. Deftly weaving their way in the shadow of parked cars to squash themselves, often with urgency, behind wooden telegraph poles. Clive gets a long splinter in the webbing of his thumb. Paul plucks it out impressed that he manages it so easily and doubly amazed at Clive’s unflinching bravery.
From a distance they wait and watch as the four figures of Mark, Jason, Darren and Stephen cross the open fields. Only when they vanish down the banks of the brook do Clive and Paul break cover from behind a wall. Keeping close to the shrubbery, avoiding open spaces, they jog along the vacant path leading to the stream. The sloping sides are compact not sludgy. It hasn’t rained recently, the water runs shallow. This allows them, by hopping back and forth over the snaking flow, to tread mainly on dry ground. There are a few dodgy sections. Dark overgrown canopies that steal away the light and sharp low hanging brambles that tangle hair. Segments where water spreads wide at certain flat points or gathers in deep pools. Where caution is required to reach the other side. Paul forgets to warn Clive about the green mossy boulder and sure enough his foot also glides on contact. Only when he loses balance both feet splashdown soaking his trousers to just below his knees. Crybaby Kenny would have run home squealing but not Clive, he simply squeezes out what he can and squishes on. To keep up with their brothers they have to climb out of the brook to run along the bank. Occasionally, like soldiers under fire, they hit the deck or dive back down the bank out of sight. Never once do their brothers look back and so remain blissfully unaware they are being tracked.


At the end of the park they reach the start of the channel, the beginning of the water source. A conduit for rain water and the occasional overflow of sewage. A drainage tunnel leading beneath the road. The entrance is obstructed by iron railings. The bars, slightly warped, allow skinny kids to squeeze through gaining access to the subterranean blackness. Clive and Paul peer inside the darkened mouth with caution. Footfalls and excited talk echo to the accompaniment of bobbing torchlight bouncing around the tubular walls. In silent agreement the pursuers effortlessly slip through the bars and although they can stand without bumping their heads, find it slow going to walk on a tunnel floor so curved. Plodding along with one foot either side of the flow they wade forward like a cowboys who have ridden for days. Up ahead their brothers turn a corner, the dancing light, their point of focus, fades. Behind, the shrinking entrance resembles a silver moon in a starless sky. Selfishly it shares none of its illumination this far along the passage. Clive and Paul are swallowed by the blackness. Reaching out, Paul grabs hold of Clive’s sleeve and Clive does the same. Supporting each other they continue, with trepidation, in to the unknown. Paul's claustrophobia held at bay by Clive’s bravado and the knowledge their brothers are but a goose-honk away.


The pace lagging, time and distance is warped by the stretches of dark. Deprived of sight, it is not their ears that compensate but their noses. The distorted reverberations of man and machine become a rippled drone, the smell of green algae more prevalent. When the two round the corner the torchlight, a faint halo completely vanishes leaving behind a smidgen of hazy grey. As they approach, the tunnel opens into a cavern. The haze, reveals itself to be thin shards of daylight and to Paul’s delight a haven delivering fresh air. Set into the wall, a ladder of steel steps lead up to a manhole cover. The wheels of a motorcar passing over, rattles them. A timely warning of what dangers await should they be foolish enough to climb up. Further along a slimy waterfall ramp impedes their progress. It isn’t so steep nor is it long but with nothing to cling on to, the slippery surface makes it difficult to clamber up it. After four slow and careful attempts, it is Clive that discovers running straight up is the best way to succeed. Paul also manages to tackle the ramp, with a well-timed helping hand from Clive. The next section of the tunnel is not so high, and for a short indeterminable distance crouching is necessary. It reaches a second dog-leg junction before opening out into a larger pipe as before. In front there is no sign of their brothers but growing with each step, is a disc of daylight.


Beneath a blue sky, Clive and Paul exit the dark circular tunnel to enter a square open channel. With tall concrete walls, minus the green slime sides, it is much like a canal-lock. Too high for the children to climb out alone, but perhaps with a bunk up it would be possible. They hear the rush of many cars driving past on a nearby main road. Continuing their tracking, they follow the fresh splashes and the occasional footprints that mark to dry edges of the gully. They scurry past back gardens. Jumping up they see the fences and green hedges, chimneys too. The path becomes obstructed. Blocked by a bridge built across the watercourse. Leaving barely a metre high slot, the width and length of a road forces the pair to squat like Sumo wrestlers to advance. Any worries about wet feet are put aside whilst Paul avoids dipping his bum and brushing spiderwebs with his head. Once through they are able to run to make up for lost time.
Reaching another tunnel mouth, this one without any bars, Paul and Clive continue their adventure by returning into the bowels of the earth. This time there is no torch light to guide and no voices to encourage. Still Clive and Paul brave the dark once again. They travel in a straight line and when the entrance glow fades they question whether to continue. Curiosity pulls them along until they reach a well of daylight illuminating a junction. Two smaller tunnels split left and right. As crouch walking is required, they decide to climb the horseshoe steps to a manhole above. Cautiously lifting the web-plastered lid, greenery is seen. Clive shoves away the cover, his head popping up alongside a rancid compost bin. There is no sign of their brothers. They recognised the collection of vegetable patches and tool sheds to be garden allotments, inner-city green spaces rented to green-thumbed enthusiasts. They rush out of the hole, hastily pull up some carrots and snap a couple of rhubarb stalks. Then like pesky wabbits vanish back into their underground warren. Scurrying through the tunnel they reverse the way they’d come deciding to head towards home. They have to scuttle back under the awkward road bridge but rather than traipse blindly through their subterranean route, they scramble up the high wall of the open channel to join a footpath leading them once again into Windsor Playing Fields.

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