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‘Tis very windy up north today!

As many teachers and parents will tell you, windy days make for whipped-up kids.

At work this morning, all my little darlings were just that little bit more fizzy. Our building is next door to a primary school where playtime blew bone-shaking squeals through our window, accompanied by the desperate bellowing of a teacher for Theo to PUT YOUR HAT BACK ON RIGHT NOW! IN FACT EVERYONE JUST CALM DOWN OR I’M BLOWING THE WHISTLE. FOR GOODNESS SAKE SALLY PUT YOUR COAT BACK ON. RIGHT! THAT’S IT. INSIDE EVERYONE…

There will be no learning in that school today.

I was the same when I was a kid.

There’s something thrilling and slightly menacing when the wind blows. The way the familiar trees bend out of shape, some of them forced so low to the ground you can almost touch the branches. Coats billow, hair tangles, bins topple. Just keeping your eyes open is a struggle.

At the edge of the village where I grew up, there was a hill and it was always blowing a gale up there, blasting your face and roaring in your ears, like when you stick your head out of the window of a speeding car.

We used to ride out there on our bikes on Sundays. It was the furthest we were allowed to go without a grown-up. 3ish miles, I think. Can it really have been that far? But this was the eighties when there were no paedophiles or drunk-drivers or bike helmets and our parents spent most Sundays reading the papers and smoking fags and generally not being at all parental.

Ah, them’s were the days…

At the top of the hill is a beautiful old Windmill with huge white sails and underneath, a circle of arches, perfect to run around under and dive in and out of.

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The myth was that it was haunted; that it was a famous location for suicides and murders, the victims destined to spend their afterlife riding up there in the breeze.

We used to gather underneath, in the strangely quiet, protected stillness, and then dare each other to take it in turns to step outside the arches and stick our faces right in the eye of the storm of lost souls.

You had to stand there for as long as you could, fighting against their invisible push, as if they were telling us to: go home, go away, get away from this place. And if you screamed out in terror, they’d snatch the sound right out of your mouth, leaving you silently screaming until you could bear it no more and fell back under the arches, eyes streaming, breath gulping and frantically rubbing at your body as if the ghosts had stuck to your clothes.

I know. Please remember, this was before x-boxes or playstations…

After Mum died I used to wonder where she was. The graveyard didn’t seem likely. I remember going there on one tumultuous evening, kneeling by her freshly covered grave and dramatically sobbing that I was sorry and pleading for her to come back. But it was all a bit marred by the fact that the cemetery was a favourite location for us village youths to fornicate and I’d been there only a couple of weeks before with Duncan, writhing about in the bench-shelter, with no care for the sacred earth or any sense that I’d be back there soon to bury my mother.

I wondered if she might have made it up to the windmill. She loved it up there, even though it was hard to light a fag in that wind…

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I chose a warm day in August and took a mate. At fifteen years old we couldn’t really be arsed with the trek up the hill and hadn’t remembered it being so steep. Once up there, the wind was as strong as ever, but it was empty. It was just wind. I looked back to the village, to the perfectly straight line of trees that snaked up the road towards my house, towards the last place I saw her alive, and knew she wasn’t there either.

My friend and I huddled behind an arch and lit a fag. That brought Mum back. As we staggered away from the windmill that day, I felt stupid for going up there, stupid for ever believing in ghosts. But still, I couldn’t help rubbing at my clothes…

I know when I pick up youngest from school in a bit, he’ll tear out into the playground and yelp about the wind, probably flying into the face of it with his arms outstretched like an aeroplane. I’ll shoot a look of commiseration at his teacher and we’ll head home, our eyes leaking from the breeze, mine also for the emptiness of the wind…   

Don’t blow away today folks…

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(Me and Mum, underneath the arches, 1976)