Monday 15 May 2017

Child's play

The Beavers Beaver
It’s always difficult to remember your own childhood with any genuine objectivity, mine seemed to be one of eternal Summers spent building dens, scrumping apples and pears from the nearby orchard, collecting sticklebacks and frogspawn in jam jars, fishing from halfway up a tree or deep within reed beds because you didn’t have a fishing licence and playing football and marbles in the street from dawn till dusk. It probably wasn’t idyllic but it certainly feels that way looking back on it now.

Playing in the street and just messing about with your friends with little or no adult supervision seems to be frowned upon these days but in the ‘60s that was the way children grew up. I hear people saying, “but things were safer in those days!” Which is of course complete rubbish. When I was a child the number of evil nutcases in the world was pretty much the same as it is now - the Moors murders were taking place just up the road!

No, all that has really changed is our attitude. My parents knew there was a risk involved with me playing in the street but they also knew that that risk was quite low and, most importantly, that every other parent accepted it. That said, I got hit by a motorbike and a mate got run over by a car. Fortunately, I also had a season ticket for the local A&E, so my latest bang and scratch would be cleaned up and I’d be on my way again, just in time to fall out of a tree. In the 60s this was regarded as “growing up” but I dare say that these days it would be regarded as negligent parenting that puts undue pressure on the NHS and the Daily Mail would be running a campaign calling for all parents who indulge in this madness to be put behind bars and all tree-related injuries to be exempt from NHS care.

To make up for ‘messing about with their mates’ children today join clubs, lots of clubs, lots and lots of clubs. This year alone Marty has joined the village Taekwondo club, the village football club, and our local Beavers. During his day off he’s learning to swim and he’s already talking about starting rugby and maybe cricket, this is despite not having a clue what rugby or cricket actually are. Don’t get me wrong, this is all great stuff and he thoroughly enjoys himself but I can’t help feeling that he is missing out, just because everything he does is ‘supervised’.

When I was young, in the summer holidays all the kids on our street would meet up in the early morning and we would all play together until the mums came out and started shouting that dinner was ready. Our ages would range from about 5 to 10, so the 10-year-olds were effectively our adults. They would say something was true and the rest of us would believe them and, with no adults around to pass judgement, comment or contradict, we were left to live in a world of our own imagination. The fantasies fed off each other. One of the bigger boys would say he saw a wood elf in the woods yesterday, some of us would scoff but then another boy would say he saw it too. A wide-ranging conversation about Wood elves would ensue - 90% of which was just made up at the time - and by the end of the day every one of us would be absolutely convinced that not only did they exist but they existed in the woods just down the road, and if we found one they might tell us were their gold was hidden, if we were really nice to them and looked after the wood. This would then set the theme for the rest of the summer. We would meet up in the early morning, all of us kitted out in various shades of green, with our bows and arrows on our backs and head off into the ‘Seven Woods’ to track down elves, fight off poachers and save all the woodland creatures and sundry fairy folk from certain doom. At 2 minutes to dinnertime I’d screech into the house, covered in mud and twigs, happy that our merry gang had saved the day, yet again, and convinced that we’d be awash with Elven gold before the new school term started!

Okay, anyone who’s read ‘Lord of the flies’ will be able to tell you that leaving children to their own devices for any prolonged period of time is not necessarily a good thing but we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and it saddens me a bit to think that the world has changed so much that Marty might never get this opportunity.

On the plus side, we live in an area that seems to be blessed with good and affordable activities, most of them are within walking distance of our home and, because everything is organised by parents these days, I get to watch and be involved, which is good fun.

Because Marty is my only child it’s very difficult to gauge quite where he is; is he bright for his age, is he short for his age, is he fast, is he slow? It’s very difficult to tell until you see him with his peers, and in this respect watching him play football is not only very entertaining but very informative.

For example, with the season almost finished I’m fairly certain that the chances of Marty building a career in football are slim, in much the same way as my chances of waking up tomorrow morning and discovering Elvis mowing my lawn whilst Che Guevara trims the hedge are ‘slim’. However, what he lacks in raw talent he makes up for in enthusiasm and, whilst he might be much smaller than many of the other boys, he is incredibly fast!

Sadly, I’m pretty much housebound at the moment after neck surgery so I missed his 1st goal of the season. Fortunately, Marty has mentioned it once or twice and is happy to describe his goal prowess at great length with little or no provocation, so much so that it now feels as if I was there at the time after all.

It’s probably a reflection on modern football but whilst most of the boys still struggle to kick a ball properly they have all practised and practised their goal celebrations. So, whilst half the lads are crying their eyes out because they’re a goal down, the other lot are sliding gracefully along the grass on their knees, arms raised to greet the imaginary crowd before starting a series of elaborate handshakes with their teammates. 

Much to my surprise taekwondo has been considerably more sedate than football. I must admit that I was a bit reticent about teaching Marty how to fight. As great ideas go I suspected it was right up there with trying to put out a small fire by smothering it with petrol, but so far my fears have been unfounded; he enjoys showing off his latest ‘moves’, he looks cute in his little uniform and, despite his greatest efforts, he still carries the sort of threat level more commonly associated with hamsters.

We bumped into his taekwondo instructor this weekend as he was wandering around town, which confused Marty no end:

Marty: “Is that you Malcolm?”
Malcolm: “Yes Marty.”
Marty: “Are you sure?”

The other club he really enjoys at the moment is ‘Beavers’, which is Cubs for the under eights. Again, it was surprisingly cheap to join but all these uniforms can eat away at your finances. For some very odd reason Beavers opted for a bright turquoise uniform, which makes the kids look like they belong to some sort of Barclays bank youth programme or have joined a cult created by David Icke. It’s most odd!

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