Well, it didn’t go to me.
With childlike and naïve enthusiasm, I recently entered a writing competition staged by a national magazine (with a circulation of approximate 47,000, no less) based on a 400-word piece entitled ‘Memory Lane’ and starting: ‘N years ago . . .’
Not since I gained a Blue Peter badge at the approximate age of eleven (for what, I can’t now recall) had I felt such an excited thrill at the prospect of recognition; accolades; affirmation; publication in print and awards and riches beyond my wildest dreams as the World’s publishers beat a demanding path to my wide-open door.
None of which happened, obviously, dear expectant reader, leaving me to here depart (and possibly disappoint) from the Motorhome-based ethos of this blog and expunge my misguided and wholly premature exhilaration by publishing the now-languishing piece here for your entertainment and amusement.
Just don’t judge me, OK . . .
Forty five years ago, I was one of three brothers (and thankfully still am) who burnt down Sniggery Woods during the school summer holidays.
Don’t be misled by the fictitious-sounding name – Sniggery Woods did indeed exist and through technologically advanced marvels, I can confirm that it has clearly regrown over the past four decades, as I’ve just looked down upon it (presumably from one of Google’s satellites), quietly thankful that it hasn’t been supplanted by a housing estate.
A long, thin strip of nondescript woodland set like a grey and frankly uninviting oasis amidst flat, featureless agricultural fields, the woods were a straggly amalgam of birch, sycamore and – somewhat ominously – ash. Proximity to the urban creep of our small North Merseyside suburb made them a favourite haunt of dog-walkers as well as absconding school-boys from the nearby comprehensive school in need of an illicit lunchtime cigarette.
My brothers and I, however, couldn’t even blame the fire on the careless disposal of a glowing stub-end as not one of us – for reasons now beyond recall – smoked. Instead, as well-read young gentlemen, we were prone to lighting small campfires in emulation of the beguilingly footloose and unsupervised lifestyle of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five.
And of course, it was one of those innocently small, glowing twig-built fires which quickly spread – through sun-dried grasses to similarly flammable shrubs where it embraced saplings, thence onwards into the dry-leaved branches of fully grown trees.
Aware of the glowing catastrophe, we simply ran away – overlooking our shoulders like panicked relay athletes – towards the sanctuary of home, where my father quickly assessed the situation through a pair of binoculars, shut us in our bedrooms and phoned the Fire Brigade.
Coincidental with this semi-accidental conflagration, it transpired that my parents were attending a soirée that evening which necessitated full evening dress. So it was that two fire-engines, each sporting blue-lights and wailing sirens, arrived outside our house to be greeted by my father incongruously dressed in black tie and frilled dress shirt.
Straightfaced and with finger pointing towards the spiral of smoke in the near distance, he simply greeted the Fire Officers with words which have since become legendary in our family: “It’s alright, Officer, I always dress like this when there’s a fire” and sent them onwards towards the burning woods.
Our pocket-money was withheld for several weeks thereafter.