The Day That We Painted The School Playground Wall Poem by C Richard Miles

The Day That We Painted The School Playground Wall



As long as I live, I shall always recall
The day that we painted the school playground wall.
It was part of a day, when all Londoners, workers
And children in schools performed tasks, in a circus,
To clean up their acts, in schemes called “Change the City”
And changes transpired, in our case, not too pretty.
I don’t know who dreamt of it; they weren’t a saint
In my book, on that day when they gave me some paint
And brushes, assorted, some fine and some rough
Some large and some small but not quite enough
To give to the kids, whom they asked me to watch
But their main idea was a bit of a botch
As they daubed all the paint, sometimes fast, sometimes slow
In every place but where it ought to go:
They started all right, with their faces intent
And their tongues poking out, as surely they meant
To give all concentration, as called for by me,
Since this difficult task was not a cup of tea
But required deft precision to dip in and take
Just a smidgeon of paint, not a pool, not a lake
And smoothly to brush it, with actions quite fine
Along the bare wall, in a single straight line.
But they hustled and jostled, and started to rush
Headlong into the bucket, and loaded each brush
With enough of emulsion to paint the Forth Bridge
And some couldn’t share, and these terrible kids,
Since they hadn’t a brush, they did not understand
That it wasn’t quite right just to dip in a hand
And gather a dollop of whitewash instead
To daub on the wall but, in each tiny head,
Bright brainwaves considered alternative thought
That much greater fun could be wickedly wrought
If, instead of directing the paint at the wall,
They’d decorate others, the large and the small
And so, as these notions grew ever so fast,
Catastrophic commotion could conquer at last:
There was paint on the windows and paint on the stair;
Some got paint on their faces, their clothes and their hair;
There was paint on the playground and paint on the grass;
And a streak on the fence but I let that one pass;
There was paint on the steps, and paint on the paths,
Which looked like the pigeons had plastered, for laughs.
And at one point it looked like there would be none, at all,
Of a trace of the paint on the long playground wall.
I had thought that it wasn’t a difficult task
But my terrified face now resembled a mask
With a glorified grimace and dignified smile
That I tried to maintain, though it slipped for a while.
I’m noted for patience and, though it’s seldom frayed,
It plumped for self-destruction, this moment, long delayed
When, like dormant volcanoes which sit on seething fire
Of magma beneath them and then, with flaming ire
They burst in great eruptions, through each open vent,
So I, like them, exploded, serenity all spent
And spat my sudden fury at two delinquent boys
Who were playing swordfights with brushes for their toys.
I marched up to the leader in charge of the day
And pleaded with her, I no longer could stay
And cope, since they’d covered themselves in the stuff,
Not the wall, so I’d had it, and that was enough
And she could take over to give me a break
Since she might soon rue it, for conscience’s sake
When I had keeled over with my last heart attack
And now I was going and wouldn’t come back.
At that tipping point, just as I feigned to flop
She sweetly concurred that ’twould be best to stop
But that wasn’t the end of the mess, as you’ll see
For now they’d to clean up themselves, before tea
And so they were sent to the tap by the door
But, not satisfied, they then chose to explore
And go wash their hands in the cloakrooms, instead
Of the outdoor supply, as the teachers had said.
With the paint on their shoes, on clean carpets they walked.
In hallways and corridors, footprints they chalked
Out of quick-drying whitewash, that needed to get
Removed very quickly, before it could set.
Then the playground was hosed and scrubbed hard with a brush
To remove all the blobs that they’d dropped in their rush.
I was thankful that weekend it decided to rain
And wash all the remnants away down the drain.
And if some one should ask of me, one future date
To do something similar, there’s no way, mate:
You may bribe me with chocolate, or biscuits or cake.
Not with whisky or brandy or wine will you make
Me fall into the trap to get children so small
To join in a job daft as painting that wall.

COMMENTS OF THE POEM
Paul Hansford 10 December 2008

Much applause for this comic tour de force!

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