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'Rolling Oranges'

A Small Window Into English Life

By: Grahame Atkins

Opportunities rarely present themselves so perfectly obvious, especially to a twelve year old boy who had no conscious thought of revenge, but he saw his chance to make amends for the humiliating playground mauling he had received that very week.

In amidst a sea of people of all ages he stood proudly on the grass knoll three quarters the way down the escarpment of the Downs. His father and step mother had made sure they were there early to gain the best position for the Easter event, and he stood guard with military determination. Even his brother, George, failed to dislodge him from his advantageous position. Height was everything, as George found out when he tried to shoulder charge Grahame with a full frontal assault. Grahame's raised knee winded his older brother to such a degree that a second attack was ruled out before it was even thought of. George slunk away defeated, and in despair, to his father's side.

The battle for the grass knoll was quickly forgotten as the density of the gathered crowd increased. It was a warm April 'Good Friday' morning and the population of Dunstable had turned out in force for the Easter fun. But Grahame was not smiling. His eyes were transfixed on the smartly dressed boy who now stood in front of him.

He noted the boy's 'Beatle' cut hair style and recalled seeing it for the first time just before he was pinned down in the playground and punched in the mouth. Grahame, along with George, had seen the Beatles film 'A Hard Days Night' the week before at the local cinema and they had both tasted their first awareness of a world outside of the family and their home town. He was jealous of the boy, his clothes, his hairstyle and the taunts in the playground were only to cover his feelings and the fact that he hated so much his own cropped hair his father had always insisted on. The older boy had reacted to the taunts somewhat ungraciously to Grahame's way of thinking, and the pounding he had received after was totally unjustified. Grahame's eyes narrowed as he focused on the opportunity that stood before him.

For a moment his eyes turned up towards the summit of the hill. He could just about make out the shape of a large man dressed in a robe with what looked like a heavy gold chain around his neck and nearly down to his waist. His chain glinted in the sun. It was the Mayor of Dunstable. Other men were busying themselves around him carrying large boxes to lay before his feet as if in some strange tribute. The smell of anticipation filled the air as the crowd began to shout for the festivity to begin. The Mayor crouched down to the first opened box and with due ceremony spilled its contents down the hill towards the heaving mass of people.

Grahame never knew why it was a custom to roll oranges down a large grassy hill at Easter. All he knew was that it was the perfect venue for revenge among the mayhem of scrambling bodies who, with little less then a blood lust, were charging towards the bouncing rolling fruit. He seized his chance, and with a shrill mock Indian scream he launched himself off the knoll and landed his full weight on the poor unsuspecting back of the Beatles fan. The boy crumpled under the assault but nobody saw him or cared. Grahame gathered even more blind courage and managed to stamp on the spread-eagled victim's hand before he ran with the crowd up the hill. Not even his brother had noticed the attack as he raced to catch up with him, fearing for his younger brother's safety in the toiling crowd. But it was too late.

Grahame fled his imagined pursuer through the dense undergrowth of adult legs and the sprawling skirmishes for an orange. His flight was only stopped in his tracks when he saw a young man tumble down a chalky cut in the face of the hill. The twisted body snagged on some sharp thorns of a hawthorn bush half way down the cut. Grahame watched a gang of men begrudgingly leap to his aid and wondered if the man's leg had been broken. He did not notice to the last second the approach of his father behind him who's heavy hand grabbed the collar of his coat and spun him round on the spot. The punishment for running off without permission was instant and stinging. His suspicion about the man's leg was confirmed a week later when he read the write up of the event in the local Gazzette. The paper clearly stated that all had enjoyed the festivities and that accidents had been minimal compared to previous years.

"There was the usually amount of bruising but only one broken leg and one broken hand" the paper proudly proclaimed.

Grahame smiled to himself knowing that he had witnessed both incidents.

What he did not know, however, was that life can often be like that Good Friday in 1965. Mayhem and brutality in the pursuit of unseen riches and that the spoils of life often rolled by or bounced just out of reach. Throughout the rest of his life he never once caught an orange.

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