Friday 27 October 2006

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The Village Green

© John Sawyer - Dec 2005, Oct 2006

I live on the edge of a Village Green. Well it's not really a village green, it's an inner suburban primary school playground that offers the same recreation and livestock facilities that were offered by the traditional English common.

The area is broken into 5 main sections. The equipment, the barbeque area, the shelter shed, the big stretch of grass and the main green itself.

The main green is a petroleum based ever-green mat. It's a sort of inferior rebound-ace laid across asphalt and marked out in different colours for a number of indeterminate games that probably include basketball and netball. I was a bit doubtful at first, but the "green" has proved to be very popular.

On any evening, this area is usually dominated by the ball game players. The games vary from time to time and generally reflect the most recent sporting event on TV rather than the traditional meteorological based seasons. I liken the activity to a sort of migration zone with the migrants driven from their homes by social events. They generally colonise the space in waves but never really take over completely. Like a true multi-cultural environment, the arrival of a new wave merely adds to the diversity with the previous dominant group leaving behind its stragglers when they go home to dinner, homework or TV.

After dinner, the ball games generally make way to individual pursuits although the one-on-one basketballers are often still going at midnight. Ba-doom, Ba-doom ... Ba-doom.

On one afternoon last week, the activities began with soccer games but as the evening progressed a particularly vigorous and noisy group developed a game of cricket. Most players seemed to be from the sub-continent but included one obvious anglo. I don't know if they all knew each other beforehand, why they decided to meet, who coordinated the event or who brought the cricket bats. The wickets were just rubbish bins but other than that the game was a pretty serious affair, with form based pick up teams chosen at the start of each innings. The basketballers kept testing each other while the cricket ball flew around their heads

The cricketers were replaced by a young woman with a cassette player who proceeded to choreograph a dance routine. Step, step, twirl, step, step, bend, - no, bend down, rewind, play, again ... After about 10 minutes she was joined by a couple who she coached as they rehearsed a dance routine. My daughter reckons they are rehearsing the bridal waltz for their wedding. (Let's not ask, it's more fun to dream)

The cricketers were back again at the same time next night and one fast reaction catch from silly mid on brought roars of delight. The sledging of the batsman indicated that he was probably a tall poppy cut down to size. When I later walked the dog home across the green I noticed that there were no dancers but two young men and a woman padded up and kicking each other. Hmm!

During the last ashes series, there were lots of kids playing cricket in the cold and drizzle, preparing themselves for a call up to save the national pride. The evening after the Socceroos won their place in the World Cup, there was frantic activity with soccer balls flying everywhere. Even the basketballers had retired from the field or had they just joined in with the other round ball?

Based on my observations, the AFL should be a bit concerned about the future of the local game. While there is a lot of end to end kicking during the finals, aussie rules is generally limited to the father and son skills training that sometimes develops into a two-way competition.

The green's livestock is generally limited to dogs and children. The dog owners tend to be younger pre-child adults and empty nesters who allow their charges to run and gambol together while they discuss their workmates, the stock market, pension options and the grand children. The dogs do forage for food but there are very slim pickings amongst the chip packets and the occasional discarded play lunch.

The shepherding of children is a serious business with parents and grandparents comparing notes. One very regular group of shepherds is the after school mothers club. Membership changes from day to day and while a grandfather is welcomed to the fringe, I have never seen a father join them. The dads are really missing out.

One day while Boy Wonder II sat in his imaginary castle talking up a battle between a rubber dinosaur and F1 car and Noodle tried to break her personal best for rings skipped on the monkey bar, I talked to a young mum in overalls and blunstones about child care centres, maternity leave, vehicle building quality control and the latest bastardry done under the brave new IR laws.

The equipment is about measuring. From that first step up the ladder to the backwards walk up the edges of the slide with a ball in one hand, the cry of "look at me" is pretty superfluous. The shepherds have already experienced the mixed emotions of fear and delight.

The grassed area has a hillock or grassy knoll at one end. The steeper side is great to roll down and the flatter side is a good take off point for those bike riders who have progressed from the plastic green. My heart jumped into my mouth the first time my grandchildren hared off down the steep side on their bikes, but I'm much easier with it now. They have to keep testing and measuring their progress.

Weekend mornings are about skills transfer with carers teaching their kids how to ride their bikes without training wheels, how to shoot goals, how to dribble and how to get a bat, racket or foot to move a ball back in their general direction while showing delight and encouragement. Sundays appear to be about Dads and access visits. In some busy families, even if Dad still lives at home, quality time might be restricted to Sunday mornings.

A regular Sunday group are the Tongan teenagers who have escaped from their parent's nearby church service to engage in less traditional pursuits.

People generally cope with the other players. Preschoolers weave their bikes between players on the basketball key and the mums showing their sons how to kick a footy. I could only just contain myself one morning as the dad from hell demanded another 10 shots for goal before his 7 year old was allowed to go and play on the equipment.

On one Saturday afternoon, all activity almost came to a halt while a particularly bossy dad attempted to get a battery powered helicopter to stay airborne. Dad positioned the helicopter and manipulated the joystick while the shepherds and basketballers smirked at the failures. A 3.5 second flight was considered successful by the Wright Brothers on their first day - so "OK James you've seen the helicopter fly we're going home now." James had not touched helicopter or controller. My wife says that men are lucky - they can play with toys all their lives.

The barbeque area is often used on weekend afternoons by family and ethnic groups sitting around and undoubtedly discussing their aspirations while occasionally allowing their kids to goad them into some sort of competitive activity - any sort of activity to get Dad's attention - any sort of activity for Dad to show he's not getting any older.

Not all activities on the Green are fun and at night, there is sometimes an appearance from the dark side. Walking home from the footy one night, I noticed a bloke on a mobile phone lurking in the shadows while his spotter hovered somewhere nearby.

This happens less often than you would think although one idiot dealer set up shop on the school steps one Sunday morning during skills transfer. A few mobile phone calls from the shepherds saw a prompt response from the police. Unfortunately the dealer escaped while his spaced out client tried to convince the young constables that he had no more drugs in his shoes. He could not get them off and kept falling over.

Former pupils occasionally come back to the school and have noisy all night drinking parties and the shelter shed sometimes resembles a poor mans Byron Bay during schoolies week. The bored teenagers sometimes break bottles and leave the shed a mess, but this is usually cleaned up before the first kids arrive for Monday school.

One afternoon, a group of angry teenage boys started to destroy the shelter shed by kicking off the weatherboards. While chasing them off, I acquired one of their rucksacks and gave it to the police when they arrived. It had in-line skates and a phone. The kid was back a couple of hours later with dad, a couple of hammers and some nails and they worked together and repaired the damage. Pretty smart cops. Pretty smart dad. The faster kids who didn't get caught missed out.

While there is sometimes talk about putting a security fence around the Green and limiting out of school hours access, wise heads have prevailed. Only the good people would be locked out and the baddies would break in and go about their activities unobserved.

The Village Green is an important community resource and its ongoing use during out of school hours keeps the community healthy while generally protecting the school.


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