Sunday, 28 October 2007


An article in our newspaper yesterday, discussed the views of Tim Gill, who believes that the children of today are raised in so much cotton wool that they won’t be able to cope with the real world as adults. Children in the sixties and seventies, he said, were allowed to roam, find their own secret places and make their own fun. These days they sit at the computer or play their electronic games all day. Everything is regulated – no bikes without helmets, super-safe play equipment – there’s no spontaneity.

That got me to thinking about my own childhood in the north of England in the sixties. We lived in a terraced house, unusual in that though it was situated along a main road, there were fields at the front and fields behind. The favourite place to play for the kids in the neighbourhood was a walk up the road about half a mile, turning down a track between two fields, past the ‘fairy pond’ (a puddle full of duckweed), past the wild raspberries (not without eating a few in season, of course) and round the corner to ‘The Fortress’ – a disused stone quarry. Thinking about it now, as a mother, I wonder if my own mother ever realised where we played. The quarry wall stood about eight metres high and we climbed up and down it like monkeys. How none of us ever fell and broke an arm or a leg, or worse, I don’t know. These days it would be fenced off with danger signs everywhere. The pond would be drained so no one could drown. Even the raspberries would be pulled out, in case some child ate them who later proved to be allergic to them.

My own children are lucky. They live on a farm. The eldest is a typical teenager now – going outside is an obligation, undertaken only to keep Mum off his back. But son number two lives outdoors. The fallen tree by the creek is a secret hideout, the circle of flooded gums a Roman fortress. The garden trolley he was given by his Godfather has become a racing car, hurtling down the ramp from the machinery shed, only just steering into the long grass before it hits the wheat silos. Little sister tags along like a shadow, happily playing the part of another soldier or fighting dragons with him. Trousers are regularly ripped, shoes de-soled and knees scraped, but they’re happy. Of course, I set some rules – no playing in the sheds, no climbing the ladders on the silos, stay out of the long grass in spring – but I sometimes wonder how they would have survived if they lived in the city, where they couldn’t have left the garden.

I wouldn’t live in the city for any amount of money. I want my kids to be allowed to imagine.

Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.
Albert Einstein


Luc2 said...

Very interesting, Kate. I have this discussion with my wife at the moment. I think she's too protective. Kids need to get their bumps, bruises etc.

About the city vs. the country, I'm not sure. i was a country boy, and enjoyed my childhood. But during and after university, I found that my city-friends had street-smarts and a cockiness that I sometimes lacked sorely.

And of course character and education have a lot to do with it. I'm not sure there's a good or bad place to let your kids grow up. It just brings forward different nuances, and that is probably more a matter of preference.

Kate said...

I agree that kids in the city are a whole lot different than country kids. My nephews are very different from my teenage son, (who's going to get a shock when he gets to the city in a few years). My son doesn't even have a mobile phone, because it simply doesn't work here, whereas my sister teletexts her sons to get off the computer and go to bed, because she can't be bothered getting out of bed to go and argue!
But I do think country kids have more room for using their imagination, without the worry of who they might meet along the way. That's more like it used to be.

Flick said...

Is the avoid the long grass in spring because of snakes??? eek

Kate said...

Oh, yes, lovely long, brown, shiny snakes with little beady eyes. They're oh-so-sleepy and lying in the grass just waiting for us!
Actually there does seem to be a lot around at the moment, so we're being extra vigilant.
Do you want to come visit?

Flick said...

er, maybe not. Though we have water moccasins in the lake at the back of our house. My husband told me there was an anaconda in there. I am such a easy target!!