Summers past

Sometimes memories create false illusions about dimensions: buildings seem taller, bullies seem bigger, distances seem longer. Time, though, never seems to expand or contract, for me. Especially summer time. And for a 9-year old, what that meant, over 30-years ago, was endless time to be outside; endless time to play; endless time of sunshine.

I am sure the bit about sunshine is a trick of the mind, because I grew up in Northern England, and it was many things, but no, not sunny. But the summer of 1986 felt like that.

I remember that summer for one of three reasons: two peculiar to that year, and one consistent over the four years we lived there.

The first was the onset of a summer Ramadan – my curiosity at what fasting felt like took over my sensibilities and I opted to try and go without during the daylight hours a few times. I found out that it wasn’t water or food that was my undoing, but the crinkle of the crisps packet my two younger siblings were devouring near me. I actually managed a respectable six days out of thirty that year.

Second was the World Cup, and the introduction of pain, heartache, disbelief and a sense of injustice that has stayed with me as an England fan ever since. Maradona’s Hand of God goal, I think, destroyed my belief in the system, and had me shaking my fist (clenched not unlike Diego Armando’s) at the sky in anger for the first time. I don’t think I have completely regained my faith in my fellow man since.

Third – and this, not peculiar to 1986, for it was a recurring theme – was being able to play outside until well past 8pm. Once school was out, bedtimes were stretched and it wasn’t uncommon for me to still be playing as the sun dipped behind the taller buildings of Kepier Court. Often, it was past nine before I made it back to our flat – knocking furiously on the door wanting to be let in, knowing full well I would be met with scorn and potentially a twist of the ear; not to mention a barrage of nagging which I would conveniently erase any memory of the next day.

My mom, in the summer of 86, was about eight months pregnant with number 4, his arrival imminent unlike the setting of the sun on those glorious days when school was out.

Part of the reason why I was home past nine – and well after my sister had arrived home herself – was because I wandered a bit further away from our flat; still within Kepier Court, but to a patch of grass in between two or three buildings hidden from the main paths. The reason why I wanted to be here was because I wanted to play football with the boys, but I could not risk being seen doing so either by my father, who pretty much forbade it for me, or any of his friends or other Malaysians who knew me, because this raised the risk of them mentioning it to my father.

Not that they were tattling – telling on me was the strict purvey of my sister – but because they were unaware that my parent’s firstborn, by virtue of being a girl, was not allowed to kick balls for fun. If they saw me playing, it was likely they’d mention it in passing if they saw my parents, who would smile, nod and give me a right rollocking after they left.

On days when I could not get enough people to play football – or when I deemed the other kids playing outside were not good enough to challenge me to a good game – I opted for a game of rounders. This was much more difficult to manage than it sounds, because there wasn’t that much open space to make up the bases around which we were meant to run past. In the end any old square worked, and as long as the Libyan kids brought down with them their cricket bat and a tennis ball, we could get a game going.

We never played cricket, though, although logistics wise that was much, much simpler to set up. It was a ‘boys’ game’ and I was afraid I’d be caught doing that, because the open space available was right outside our flat: so my mother or my father could just pop their head out and see.

I don’t know what it was that my parents wanted to achieve by not allowing me to play football – or do anything associated with it, bar watching it on tv. (I wasn’t even allowed a football computer game). Or maybe I do, or at least, I am able to hazard a guess.

But the impact of not allowing me made the forbidden fruit much, much sweeter; that all through my life I have never been able to leave the game behind. As an adult I am a fan, a player, an enthusiast, a occasional researcher and now a qualified coach of the beautiful game.
So maybe if you want your kid to be a musical genius the way forward is not to make him play his violin days on end, but to ban him from it, so that a rebellious desire would arise that would quickly spin into an obsession that may forage a path towards excellence.
Ah, those long summer days.

Every day this week that I come home from work well past six but still can enjoy the sun, I am reminded of Kepier Court. In my eighteen years here as an adult woman, I have only managed to visit it once; but funnily enough the same structures I remembered as a child were still there: the rusty slide, the monkey bars, the hamster wheel, the odd tree in the middle of the hill we sled down in winter.

And for some reason, they didn’t feel taller, bigger, or longer, when I last saw them. They felt stuck in time, and poetically, aptly so- immortalised as they are bound to be, in that state forever, because when I was planning to visit a few years ago, I checked and found out Kepier Court is no more.
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