‘I’m grateful for the innocence of my childhood’

Jan 16, 2020
Have today's children lost the innocence of childhood? Source: Getty Images

Compare my images and memories written here with a 13- or 14-year-old girl of today. Her world will be social media, selfies, sexting. Today’s girls seem to have no time to dream and slowly become a woman. I feel it’s the same for young men, they have images thrust at them, which change the way they think.

The world they see offers instant gratification and very little time to transition slowly. They are being shown an adult world and too many easy ways to destroy themselves. I am sad for innocence lost. Sad for the way adulthood is rushed into.

It has been proved that boys especially do not have a fully developed brain, a brain able to handle complex emotions until they are in their 20s, so perhaps this is why so many become lost and find life so hard. Suicide rates for teenagers are rising all the time. Perhaps it would be good if we turned the clock back … If only we could.

Soft woollen knitted vests, liberty bodice over the top as it was so cold. Hot water bottles , hard and solid, and not good to stub toes on. Long since having lost their heat; frost on the inside of the window. Snow falling outside. This was how we dealt with winter in the years around 1950 and onwards.

Mum made porridge with golden syrup drizzled in circles on the top. We’d get dressed in a hurry, but don’t forget your boots and the thick socks and the gloves on a string through the arms of your gabardine raincoat. Sometimes we had chunks of stale bread with hot milk and sugar, the bread had substance then, it wasn’t a sloppy mess.

I’d walk to school through snow up to the top of my boots, then get wet feet as it melted. When we got to school we put our socks on the pipes to dry. Worse still they warmed the small bottles of milk on the pipes, the taste was not improved by that.

Home again and more frozen feet, but a beautiful smell as we arrived at the kitchen. A lamb stew, dumplings rising to the top. I knew it was a real treat when there were dumplings. Mum served ours in big basins to keep it hot. After that even better to come, chunks of bread pudding, made like a cake in a huge meat tin. A concoction blended with suet and bread, spice and rich with dried fruits, we had the crunchy sugar topped sweet with hot thick custard. Bed meant cocoa and an arrowroot biscuit. We slept under old feather quilts. And Dad’s old army coat over us too.

Summer was my favourite time. We lived in a place where the orchards dipped down to a stream. Trees full of fruit dropped ripe sweet bounty everywhere; we had bushes that had loganberries blackcurrants and green gooseberries, we had inherited this land when my father searched for a place to build us a home. He built a seven-room house on top of an old cellar, so we had 10 rooms. He called it Spindrift.

Trees produced dark plums, apricots apples and pears … I loved the years at that house. We even had a nectarine tree spreading along a sunny wall in the old greenhouse. I used to sit dreaming in the orchard. Early in the year it was a pink paradise as blossoms fell all over the long grass.

I had a dog and two cats, and looked after animals I found. Once I rescued a baby water rat and tried in vain to keep it alive with an eye dropper, but it was dying I knew. My time as an innocent child was also dying as I was 14, and soon we were to move on as Dad was building a housing estate in the next small suburb, away from this lovely wild place with the orchard.

I remember not being sure how to let the rat die. I watched his small heart pulsing, realised he was not going to be around long, so I decided on a Viking ending. I placed him on cotton wool in a matchbox and let him float down the stream. After all you never know he might have felt at home in the water I reasoned. And as I let him go, I sat on the damp muddy bank and realised as we left this place I would never be the same either.

It was a childhood of freedom and innocence ending. A time of looking forward, to a new life, but one that frightened me.

Within weeks I was in a new house, with a normal backyard. I was catching buses and going to watch boys play cricket. School and life soon swallowed the last of my childhood, I was becoming a woman.

I knew I wanted something different from the life others had. Now when I look back nearly 70 years I realise I attained that — my life was different.

I had a trip to Paris when I was still a school girl. That was what made me want to see more and do more. I was elated as I wandered around the beauty of Paris. I drank in the art, the fashion and the shops. I loved the buildings, the food, the coffee; I immediately wanted to become a traveller, I wanted to see more of the world. It was a turning point in my young life.

I might have been a shy gangling young woman, but from then on I knew without a doubt I could embrace new experiences. By the time I was 19, I had married my wonderful artist husband and was on my way to New Zealand. I have lived in three countries and had amazing experiences.

We’ll celebrate 61 years of marriage soon. How many of the young of today will be able to even maintain a relationship, buy a home, and follow their dreams? I hope they can, but they way the world is now the odds are stacked against them.

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Do you think children today are rushing into adulthood? How do you remember your childhood?

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