A bucket, a broom, a few uncalloused tiny hands and previously presumed lost baseballs
So that Sunday morning, I recruited a few friends from that section of our street to help me with my project. With house numbers running into hundreds, I drew a line at the first telegraph pole. Nobody told us to do that, not our parents; not some municipal officials and certainly not our teachers. It wasn’t even a punishment that had befallen us for our misdemeanours.
One day, I decided that something had to be done. So I did it. It was a team effort.
Yes, we had caused complaints by playing games on our street. We always had; the street was our nearest playground. When we were not digging out the melting tar to make drum sticks, hop-scotch, hide-and-seek, skipping, marble billiards, elastic-band and round-card flicking and dodgeball provided us with hours of fun and sometimes arguments. Some of the games required physical strength, some mental agility, whilst some a little bit of devious ingenuity to win.
Improvisation was essential to keep our games fun and challenging. Sometimes, we invented our own games and devised our own rules. We hammered flat metal bottle tops into discs for a game for two players. The game went roughly like this: we scattered a stack of ten or so discs on the ground. Some of them would overlap, some not. Each player used one disc of their choice as the flipper to flip all the rest of the discs over without upsetting their original pattern. The person who succeeded to do so in one sweep won. There were other games which also required rule-making by the children themselves. The rules could vary slightly from group to group, even from street from street. It’s all about consensus.
However, as we grew older, we graduated into team sport that required certain kit. Without much money, we continued to rely on improvisation from discarded household items and building material. Newspapers were made into gloves and batons were picked up as bats. And we had a game of baseball – right outside our houses, in the middle of the street. The nation was gripped by the Little League and the Senior League World Series fever.
With houses facing each other across a narrow lane without front gardens as buffers, it was hardly an ideal venue for games that were designed to be played in an open filed – such as baseball. Still, we set up bases and we played a reduced version of the sport that required only very basic equipment – a baton, a rubber ball, a few newspaper gloves and the telegraph pole that doubled as the only base. For days and weeks – during the baseball World Series – we played with relish, emulating the pitchers and imitating the stance of the big hitters on the television. And how we whacked! And how we cheered when someone stole a base or hit a home run. Invariably, when a home run was hit, we all expected the ball to land on one of the neighbours’ balcony. On most occasions we could get the balls back by asking the neighbours to retrieve them for us. We, however, never expected to get the ball back if it ended up on the balcony of Number 10.
The lady in Number 10 lived on her own. We hardly saw her and the house was shrouded in mystery. Out of fear, no one would knock on her door to ask for the ball to be returned.
It would be nonsensical if we missed out her front door, though.
On that Sunday morning before the sun lit up our street, a small gang of my play mates was assembled. We were armed with brooms, buckets and dust pans. We set about sweeping the little section of our street, including the bit in front Number 10 as it was on our side of the telegraph pole. None of the adults knew about this impromptu street cleaning. We learned how to sweep from our daily cleaning routines at school: you splash water from the bucket to dampen down the dust, you sweep in one direction to form dirt piles, then you sweep the piles into dust pans.
Soon, hearing the different kind of activity out on the street, the mothers began to appear in the doorways, looking bemused. Some gave further instructions whilst other simply looked on with silent approval. When the sun eventually crept up the street, the result was pleasing to see. The adults were congratulating us for our community service. We felt rather proud of ourselves.
One. Two. The familiar thuds were heard behind us. A few rubber balls with red and blue markings bounced into view. We looked up. No one was out on the balcony.