Not The End Of The Road

I am definitely not one of those women who like to stare through rusty mesh fences at building sites, watching new office blocks sprout out of the ground. Yet today, I find myself standing in Sea Lane, gazing at a young lad digging a small hole by the edge of the road. His dirty, fluorescent jacket is flapping in the breeze, as if waving to the passing cars. On the other side, directly opposite, is a second, slightly older man seemingly doing the same thing. He is also wearing a bright yellow vest. They obviously play for the same team.

The lad on my side briefly stops working, moves one of the battered, red and white bollards and realises he is being watched. He nods in a friendly way, but does not say anything.

I try to return the smile, but I can’t. Not to him; not to the person who thinks he is digging an insignificant, shallow hole.

There is a small gap in the traffic, so I dash to the other side. I’m not used to running across Sea Lane and have to stop at the kerb to get my breath back.

“Morning,” says the man with the shovel.

“Morning,” I reply. Again, I find it impossible to smile.

I cannot help but notice that his hole is slightly deeper than his colleague’s. He must be the better player!

“So, when will they be up?” I ask in a voice that hides my real interest in the answer.

“Well, the posts have been delivered to our depot, so with a bit of luck they should be up and running within the next few days, if the electricians turn up. Whatever, they’ll be working before the school reopens.”

He flicks his head in the direction of the empty school yard, behind me.

“I guessed as much,” I respond quietly.

Of course they will be ready by then; they’ll have to be.

The school fence is covered in children’s, weather-battered art work and letters. They all sway in unison with each gust of wind, like murmuring starlings. Despite the curled edges, the outdoor display still looks fantastic to me. So much time and effort has gone into it.

As I walk towards the exhibits, my face finally breaks out into a smile. Standing in front of the section that has been created by the year one class, I shake out my plastic bag and carefully begin to take down the children’s papers. If I had done this sooner they would have avoided last night’s rain shower. I fold them in half and drop them into my bag. My plan is to make a memory book with all these lovely messages. A little project I can look forward to.

Removing all the children’s work from the school fence takes longer than I had anticipated; partly because there are so many, but mainly because I read every word the children have written.

Some pages I read twice.

You are the beast lollipop lady ever. Thank you. Thank you. Love from Josh

I see you four times a day. You are always there come rain or shin.

Happy Retirment. All our class will miss you’re happy, smiley face. Ali. CLAss 2H


Thankyou for taking care of us. Make sure you X the road CARefully (ha ha). Mendi.

Come in and see us when you have gone. Petra in Miss Harrises class.

My frend lolipoop lady. You help me cross the bisy road evry day. Nadine XX

I will miss miss lollipop. Mandy and my dog Bailey

Some of the drawings are really funny. On many of them it is hard to tell which is meant to be my lollipop sign and which is meant to be me. I presume the pictures with two legs are me, but I can’t be sure.

It is probably best not to dwell too long on the spellings. In a strange way, their mistakes add something. It makes me realise that it is all their own words, their own thoughts; that means the world to me.

I lean against the fence and allow my thoughts to drift through the numerous happy memories I collated over the years. Far too many of them to squeeze into one plastic bag. All that time I have spent at the side of this road, guiding generations of children safely on their way; waving to drivers who once were the pupils that had to wait with me, until I held my lollipop out and told them they could cross. Without realising it, I had accidentally become a stable feature in this ever changing town. A regular, a constant, a familiar face. Dependable and trusted. I had become ‘Miss Lollipop’.

Well, I WAS Miss Lollipop, until that awful day I was suddenly called into the Civic Centre.

During a meeting in a cold sterile room, two young ladies peppered the conversation with words like ‘progress’, ‘the economy’, ‘health and safety’. Harsh, painful, softly spoken words hit me as if being struck by a speeding lorry that had ignored my STOP sign. One of the ladies started talking about finances, but my thoughts had already drifted to elements of my work that could never be costed; the chats, the laughs, the personal connections with the families.

Today, two men in yellow jackets turn up and start to dig holes, which are just big enough for my career to fall into and never be seen again. Of course, I don’t blame these workmen, but I do wonder if they realise that their work will have a far deeper impact on me than the depth of their holes.

“Ah, so you’re the old lollipop lady, eh?”.

The road worker’s voice makes me jump.

I turn round and with a grin on my face say, “Yeh, but you be careful with that word ‘old’.”

He laughs and rests his shovel against the fence next to me.

“Don’t let that young’en see you slacking. He’ll want a break as well.” I laugh, pointing across to the other side of the road.

My first real laugh in days.

“So, they’re replacing you with a Pelican Crossing,” he says softly. “Sorry about that. It must hurt.”

He moves his hand towards my shoulder, as if he is going to hold me, but pulls it back and wipes it down the side of his overalls.

“Ah, that’s what these new lights are called, is it? Pelican. They’re swapping me for a tamed, electronic pelican. To be honest, it’s actually quite painful. I will not miss the rain and snow, and definitely not the fog, for sure. But I’ll miss everything else. I’ve lived for this job. Been doing it for over 40 years. Never missed a day. Only started as a cover for a friend.”

He waits for me to say more.

“Won’t miss looking at my watch a thousand times though. It is a real commitment, you know. Three times a day I had to be out of that front door, sharpish. Couldn’t afford to be late; not even a minute. This road is a death trap. It didn’t used to be. The odd car from the top estate, where those big houses are. Most people used buses, when I first started. Now everyone has a car and they are always in a hurry to get somewhere. I guess, like everything else, things have to change. I’m just not sure whether some changes are for the better.”

He leans forward again and this time does place his hand on my shoulder. I feel his gentle squeeze of understanding.

“You’re right. When term starts the kids just have a button to press and the new lights will flash away, cars will stop and they can cross. But, do you know what? This pelican won’t get a wall full of messages when it’s replaced by something new.”

I do not respond, because I know he’s right.

These modern, green lights will never ask the kids how their new baby brother is doing.

They won’t admire Stefan’s cardboard space rocket flying its way home, high-five the football squad or have a few comforting words for the little ones with tears in their eyes.

No, you can’t replace that personal touch.

I take a deep breath as if trying to swallow all my emotions.

“So, what are you going to do with all your free time?” he asks.

He is a worker clearly keen on extending his extra break.

I think for a few seconds on how I can answer his question, whilst pretending that I hadn’t already given it hours of thought.

“There’s a few things I’ve neglected to do on the house; bits to fix. Go for walks, maybe. Meet up with my friends. Those sort of things, you know. Try to keep myself busy.”

I hold out the plastic bag and give it a shake. “And I’ve got a scrap book to make.”

He acknowledges my words with a slow, approving shake of his head.

Grabbing hold of a few of the children’s papers, I waft them in the air like a fan.

“Great memories,” I say, “can’t be replaced by a couple of fancy, all singing and dancing poles.”

The worker laughs and retrieves his shovel.

“All the best with your retirement, my love. I hope they let you keep the lollipop,” he jokes.

“They did.” I reply. “I didn’t give them a choice.”

I set off and safely cross the road, without any assistance; human or bird.

The younger worker doesn’t notice me, as I walk past.

On my way home an idea starts to develop in my mind.

So simple. So perfect.

Why hadn’t I thought of it before?

It’s Monday morning, 8:15 a.m. The first day of the school year. I check myself in the hallway mirror, glance at my watch, slip on my blue rain jacket, not my old yellow one, unlock the front door and step out onto the garden path. I follow the route, as I have done a thousand times. The lollipop sign is tucked under my arm. No longer is the word STOP splashed across the middle. With a few paints, I found in the shed, I have made it my own. Now it is a bright red circle with a huge, slightly uneven, yellow smiley face.

Leaning against the new shiny post, I see the first family walking towards me. It is the Halls. Always the early birds.

“Hi Mrs Hall. And how’s our Jenny and Jane today? Looking forward to school? Good holiday in Brighton? Hope you didn’t eat too much rock.”

All three of them give me a puzzled look.

It is Jenny who is the first to respond.

“Why are you here, Miss Lollipop? I thought you’d gone.”

“You don’t get rid of me that easily. I’ve got myself a brand new important job.”

Mrs Hall puts a hand on my shoulder, just as the workman had done a few weeks back. I press the new button for them and am immediately rewarded with three beautiful smiles.

Lifting up my newly decorated lollipop sign, I give it a theatrical spin and then stand and watch the Halls safely cross the road.

Here comes Marc. He is always on his own.

“Good morning, Marc. How was your break? And how is that team of yours doing? Didn’t they win the first match?”

I press the button again and chuckle at his confused expression.

“See you at lunchtime,” I call out, as he obeys the green, flashing man.

Next, I see the two Bellingham children approaching. Running, as always. Their whole life seems to be a race. Bella gets to me first and is too breathless to say anything.

I lift the index finger of my left hand and draw frantic circles in the air, pretending it’s out of my control. Finally it slows down and starts to hover next to the new post and rests against the silver disc. Just like the children who cross Sea Road everyday, the pelican’s button also needs the touch of a human; that all important personal touch.

Published: People’s Friend Special 255