The entrance to my primary school was a gateway in a wall built from the flintstones of Reading’s ruined Abbey. Running across the playground could be painful, if you were not careful and collided full tilt with an array of sharp-edged fossil chunks. It had a Dickensian feel, not least because on the far side the grounds abutted on the wall of Reading Gaol, where Oscar Wilde had been confined. Some of the doorways and walls of the Abbey are still standing, so there was a strong sense of being close to the distant past.
My mother, like other mothers, would leave me at the gate to venture into the turbulent uncertainties of other families’ offspring and the sense of multiple undecided destinies. She also took me and my sisters one evening to a special event held in the ruins to the right of the school in this photo. A live, open-air performance of Shakespeare’s Macbeth was given amongst these craggy walls. Special lighting behind each hollow, empty window space captured the shadowy presence of the three witches up above our seats. Fierce, battling Scots rode in on real horses. Fresh breezes tugged at our hair and threatened to prevent us hearing the actors’ words.
So this was a place on the threshold of imaginary, dangerous turmoil. Here also I was commended for spotting the alert voice of the New Testament evangelist, using the words, ‘At that time, Jesus went…’ Yes, Jesus sought mercy amongst the pressures of social upheaval.