We knew it as the Midnight Path but no map ever carried that name: a tarmac path that bisected the park opposite the house I grew up in, dividing playground and ornamental areas from sports fields – football in the winter, cricket in the summer.
Long and mostly straight, lined by trees either side, the path led from Victoria Road to Sweet Briar Walk, where friends lived, and then only a short walk to my beloved Auntie Rene’s house. The Midnight Path was a route to happiness for me.
About halfway down, an oak and a horse chestnut had grown so thick their trunks had bent the accompanying railings out of shape, so much so that we could squeeze through the gaps and access the park in the evenings after the gates had been locked. My dad and I frequently entered that forbidden territory, along with half the other dog walkers in the area. On a clear summer night, we would lie down in the middle of the cricket pitch to identify as many constellations as we could, while our dog wandered around on his extended lead until he became too impatient with our inertia and barked in our faces to make us move.
But the Midnight Path was touched with darkness. I wasn’t allowed to walk through it after dark on my own at any age. There were rumours of drugs and muggings, hints of worse for girls. Perhaps my parents read of actual crimes in the local paper, I don’t know, but it was enough to make me always take the long way round the park’s periphery or persuade my dad to drive me to Auntie Rene’s on a winter’s evening instead. Then I’d be collected later as part of another dog walk.
As a result, the Midnight Path became somewhere Dad and I got to know each other. We debated politics and religion, agreeing on the latter, clashing on the former. I discounted many of his views and experience with teenage arrogance but pondered them and mellowed as an adult when I remembered those conversations. We practised dog training for the Thursday night ring classes we attended and later, the odd dog show we entered. And he told me numerous Greek myths, stories of how those constellations we’d been observing were supposed to have got there, stories I loved passing on to my own children.
In reality the Midnight Path was just a shortcut through a suburban, rather rundown part of London but to me it will always be a magical road to adventure.