A short story about kids being kids
18 Knock Down Ginger
Have you ever read a book or watched a film where a character is desperately trying to get away from someone? They are running as fast as they can, but each time they stop and look back, the dark shadowy figure is still following them. For some inexplicable reason, the one following doesn't have to run like the wind to keep up—they're just there. The fleeing character then stops at a crossroads, trying to make their mind up as to the direction to take, and a quick glance behind reveals the ominous figure still slowly walking towards them: unceasing, relentless, frightening.
Every kid has at some time in their life played a game called "Knock Down Ginger." It probably goes by many other names, but that's what it was called round these parts. Basically, you knock on a stranger's door and the second they answer, you run away. The whole idea is to cause annoyance. I know it works because it's a game that still seems to cause great amusement and annoyance in equal measure. I've been on both sides of that particular equation on more than one occasion, and I know how infuriating it is when you're called to the front door from the comfort of your nice snug armchair, only to see a posse of laughing school kids disappearing in the distance.
I was walking along the road with Cliff and Steve, my two best mates from our street. We must have been about ten or eleven. At least, I'm going to settle for ten or eleven because I sincerely hope we weren't still doing this when we were older.
Anyway, where we were was about a five minute walk from the street where we all lived. There was a row of neat little houses with nicely manicured lawns, and next door was a Sports and Social Club, to the front of which was a ten foot high brick wall.
I can't remember which one of us actually did the door knocking itself, but that's of no relevance. One of us did the deed, and then all three of us ran past the social club entrance and stood huddled together against the wall. We were hoping that the angle from the front door would be great enough so that we couldn't be seen.
We giggled to ourselves while waiting in anticipation, pushing and shoving each other and watching for the disgruntled occupant to reveal themselves.
Finally, the door opened and standing there was a woman. To us she looked like a little old lady, but all adults look old to young kids. She was wearing a fluffy pair of pink carpet slippers, a matching pink apron, and a tea towel slung over her shoulder. She looked like she had just come from the kitchen, probably in the middle of cooking the old man's dinner. In hindsight, I suspect she wasn't really all that old. I'm basing my assumption on what followed next.
When she realised that she had been the victim of our very hilarious practical joke, instead of just going back inside and moaning her head off, she stepped out from her open door onto the pathway. Immediately, she could see the three of us huddled against the wall.
"Come here you little sods! Wait 'til I get my hands on you!"
She sounded really annoyed, so we ran to the far end of the wall where we stopped to see if she had followed. To our surprise, she had.
She had left the comfort of her own property and, still dressed in her slippers and piny, and made it to the other end of the wall, the spot we had just vacated. She looked quite determined, and was now gesturing at us to come back and face her wrath. Well, there was no chance of that.
At this point in time, we still thought all of this was funny. It was hilarious that this little old lady was chasing after us, dressed in her carpet slippers.
We turned, and this time ran to the end of the road and around the corner. We stopped again and glanced back up the street. There she was, still following with determination. She didn't seem to know when to give up. We stayed cowering round the corner for as long as we dared, but she was closing in on us, so we headed off towards the church yard.
The church and all it's grounds were bounded by a wall about four feet high. We made our way to it and dived over, huddling behind it. Slowly, we dared to peer over the top. To our utter dismay, she had made it to the end of the road and was now heading straight towards us!
How the hell did she know where we were hiding? She must have X-ray vision, or she might have been a witch or something.
Well, she'd definitely seen us. In truth, I think we were just really useless at hiding and, more to the point, even worse at keeping quiet. She was still gesturing at us, now waving the tea towel that had been slung over her shoulder. She was relentless. The joke was over, and we weren't laughing any more.
We ran right through the graveyard, which was about two hundred yards from one side to the other, out through the gate on the other side, and hid behind the wall. This time we were on the outside and in sight of our own street and the safety of our own houses.
"We can't go down there," Steve said. "She'll follow us, and then she'll know where we live!"
I hadn't thought of that, so we ran past the end of our road down Perry Street and made it to the playing fields. The fields were encompassed by an eight foot wire fence; surely she couldn't get over that? All three of us scrambled up the fence and flung ourselves over the top. We landed on the soft grass. Up the road, there she was, those pink slippers endlessly padding towards us with the tea towel swinging above her head. This was really scary.
We ran across the field towards the pavilion and our next point of cover. She had obviously seen us climb the fence, but surely she would be thwarted by this obstacle.
I swear to God that when she reached the point where we had entered the field, she stopped momentarily and thought about climbing it. That was a bit too much, but she hadn't given up yet. The main gate was another two hundred yards further down the road, and she was making a last ditch attempt at catching us.
What we knew (but she obviously didn't), was that the gates to these fields were always kept padlocked when not in use. So when she arrived at the gate and realised she couldn't get in, she just stood there rattling them and shouting abuse at us.
Finally, she gave up. We came from behind our hiding place, standing clearly in sight, and gave her a little wave. Still, we couldn't return the way we had come because she had become rooted to the spot.
The whole of that area was our playground; we knew all the routes to and from the street. We left the field via the farm and into the orchard that backed onto our street. Once we were on safe ground, we didn't hang around. All three of us went straight home.
I spent the rest of that evening on tender hooks, waiting for a knock on the door and the sight of those pink slippers.