Tuesday, 28 April 2015
Today, while being walked by the dog (!), I passed through one of those pieces of rough ground that you sometimes come across in towns and villages. At the end of a road or on a piece of land in between the houses of an estate. Just waiting for someone to squash in more homes.
I suddenly remembered that as a child, I spent a whole summer basically living on such a site. That's to say, my parents knew where I was and I did return for meals/sleep but the rest of the time was spent working on the den I built with friends. We made a hollow inside a group of tall bushes in one corner of this waste ground, dragging all manner of rubbish from around the site with which to "furnish" and "arm" the camp. For it was a working military base - we were on a permanent war footing with a neighbouring den. We had look-out rotas, a fleet of bikes and a couple of siblings employed as spies. We started as early as we were allowed out, stayed all day and on nice evenings, went back after tea too.
It was surrounded by the back fences of gardens (not mine) but developers had not filled in this particular blank space yet. Like the land I saw today, it had become a bit of dumping ground but with a bit of tlc, could have been a real asset to the community. However. within a year or so of that summer, builders had found a way to get vehicle access through and building began. One of my fellow fighters even found herself living there after her parents upgraded to one of the new houses.
I did think as I looked around today that I had really quite a lot of freedom while at middle school. Far more than my children. I don't recall any of our parents ever coming down to see where we were. We said we were going to that place, we were trusted to stay there. And no one seemed to think we would come to any harm. Just went home when we had had enough, filthy but happy.
The endless debate goes on, doesn't it? Are there more child snatchers these days? Were we too slack with children's whereabouts in the past? Have mobile phones made a difference? Do children just not want to leave their screens and play such games these days? I really do not have any answers and this is not a parenting blog. However, as regular readers will know, I do like to ponder on how things were different for the generations before me.
My mother grew up in a tiny village. She has memories of wandering all over and often being brought back to the house by neighbours. In one famous family anecdote, she and her younger siblings decided to paddle in the fresh cowpats they found. All very amusing but looking back now, she says my grandmother clearly was not coping with four children, the younger three all being under four at the same time. Grandma simply did not know where they were.
My father spent toddlerdom in India and there are photos of him with his ayah (nanny), on bikes and on the beach. Quite a privileged upbringing in some ways. But when they fled from India, his sun filled memories of India were exchanged for dull and endless factory terraces in Coventry. His first coat and boots. Playing football in the street and against the yard wall. Watching the horse drawn milk cart arrive. I think he did have quite a bit of freedom though. My grandmother was occupied with a new baby once my father turned six and I do know that by fourteen or so, he was off on European train trips with the Scouts. Unsupervised. Given clues to meet their leader somewhere!
Their parents had different upbringings again of course. Some rural - playing out all the time, some restricted and sent early on to boarding school. One in very poor city circumstances, leaving school at thirteen or fourteen. How much freedom did they have while living at home? Maybe they had more freedom but at the same time had less choices. My Anglo Indian ancestors' choices were all limited by their mixed race status. Many of my English ancestors must have been limited by poverty. Freedom to play out is harder to use if you are a drudge at home or in a mill or factory.
Playing out is the new staying in. My motto for the summer. But call me when you get there, darling. I don't want to be a 1970s parent!