We played in long grass with thistles in it, sat on burning hot concrete, mixed up concoctions of mud and dandelions, even tasting some for good measure, then let the dog drool on us, and went in to eat jam sandwiches with dusty hands. We survived. We didn’t have a hand sanitiser, or parents who forced us to come in before the darkness fell. We rolled up to the house as the moths came out and buzzed round the lights.
I lived in England as a child, I was allowed out after breakfast, and headed across the fields to a farm where my friend lived. I walked across a lonely wooden bridge across a railway line, dodged a vicious farm dog and stayed to play all day. I was not the most brave or most adventurous child, in fact I was a quiet little child, yet this freedom I had was normal. For the boys, billycarts, skates, and physical combat games were part of everyday play.
Most boys had at least two scabs on each knee and the skin off their elbows. They threw stones and played football on concrete playgrounds, they often had a bike too, nothing flash, but a means of transport at least. Rules about bike helmets hadn’t yet been invented. They cycled to the sea shore and then came back when they had been cooked by the sun all day. Sheets of skin came off a few days later and they compared the size of the shed skin. This was a badge of honour, peeling off skin layers.
My husband tells me they used to walk for 5 or 6 miles to a play area with a stream and slippery rock walls, then they would walk home again, battle scarred and starving. He remembers ice on the windows of his bedroom, and no heating, how many children today could deal with that? Yet we did. We also had to sleep some nights in an air raid shelter, which was a real toughener. We became used to uncomfortable. We never whinged, because that meant a big tongue lashing from Mum and bed with no pudding.
Picnics were rough affairs with slab of cake and lemonade that had become warm in the sun. Sandwiches always contained some sand, we expected it. Imagine the finicky children of today, so protected they often refuse the most delicate offerings. We wolfed it down sand and all, and then ran back in the sea. I used to love that feeling when we drove home, skin warm from sun, sand on my toes. It was a happy memory. Children now expect gourmet food, and every ‘mod con’. All we had was a plaid blanket on the grass. We would travel there in a battered old car, with sagging upholstery, and no seat belts, heads out the window in the breeze.
Because it was England we were taken to the pub Saturdays, all dressed up, then left in the porch with a packet of chips and some violent red fizzy drink. No children allowed in hotels in those days. We entertained ourselves, while Mum drank a half of shandy, my brother put booby traps on the step for the drunks to trip on. We weren’t watched, except for a head round the door now and then.
Parties weren’t catered for by large companies, by the time we got to eat sometimes the cream buns had the cream licked out, and the toffee apples were melting. We fought like mad playing musical chairs, and got our heads pushed down when we played apple bobbing. I can remember having fun though, and getting chased in a kiss chase game. Shock horror! that would be censored now.
We walked everywhere, all my friends walked to school; I never remember any going by car. When they were older they might be allowed to cycle. I hated walking on really hot or cold days, but we still did it. We had to be very sick indeed to stay home. It was about the only time we got cossetted. A blanket on the couch; and cold drinks. Even then we had no nicely flavoured medicine; it was all pretty disgusting . Now it’s cherry flavour, or a pretty raspberry hue. Anyone who managed to swallow cod liver oil as I did was considered brave even then.
Are we really doing our children any favours by shielding them from all discomfort, how will they ever learn that life is not a bed of cotton wool? I didn’t feel deprived, I was loved and kept clean, and well fed, and Mum scrubbed all our clothes and the house. The important things were taken care of, and it certainly made me appreciate life when it became easier.
Tell us your thoughts below: Do you think we were bred tougher and kids these days are wrapped in cotton wool?