Tina has a fantastic photo of our children re-uniting after several months apart. As you can imagine they are joyfully jumping up and down, chatting loudly over each other and embracing. Actually I tell a lie: the reason the photo is so brilliant is that it perfectly depicts today’s children; they are all sat closely together on a hotel bed, heads down and deeply engaged in ipads. I found myself wondering if this is a sad sign of our times: where children are losing the art of conversation and spontaneous playing with their friends; preferring the online company of friends or strangers. Or where the creativity of den-building is forever lost to the creativity of city building, courtesy of Minecraft. I suspect the answer is not clear cut; as for some children the anonymity of computers may help develop their social skills and what the picture doesn’t show is the playful moments that came before this, or the cartwheels on the grass the next day. And although difficult to ascertain from a photograph, the way they were bundled together on the bed also demonstrated a deep bond and comfort they feel in each other’s presence.
Nevertheless, the photograph highlighted the stark difference from my childhood in the 70s and 80s: I recall den building, tree-house building, staying out all day, running through a field causing mayhem…the farmer shooting at us…yep, vastly different to today’s indoor, electrical and social media-focused children!
Some of my fondest childhood memories involve the bi-annual visit to my grandparents; who chose to settle three-and-a-half hours away in the coastal town of Clacton-on-Sea. As a child sufferer of car-sickness (although oddly enough, usually only on this particular journey…) my elder brother must have really looked forward to the long journey cosseted in the back seat with me. Predictably an hour or so into the journey, my window would wind down, as I desperately breathed in fresh air. After eliminating the contents of my stomach, the car would stop, out would come my fresh clothes – specially packed for the occasion – and the journey would resume. On one of these journeys I lost one of my favourite Christmas presents; an almost life-sized doll. Taking her out of the car with me for the big-sick-clean-up, we forgot to put her back in and when we drove back minutes later to retrieve her, she had been taken! Sickness and wailing for the remainder of the journey; what a treat for my long-suffering brother!
On another occasion my brother, desperately trying to distract me from vomiting, came up with the ingenious idea of playing hide and seek with some used chewing gum. After several innovative hiding places in the back of the car, I had the inspired idea of hiding it in the depths of my hair – he would never think to look there! Sibling rivalry points notched up for me as he looked around the car in vain. However, my imagined superiority was soon kicked into touch when we arrived at Clacton and I had to endure a bowl hair cut to remove said chewing gum, courtesy of my mum, with my brother smirking in the background.
Unfortunate haircut aside, I loved the excitement of staying at my grandparents house. For a child, it was filled with treasures and knick knacks that inspired wonder and necessitated exploring! Together with my brother and dog, we would camp in the living room and raid their chocolate tin when all was quiet in the house. We assumed they never knew of our midnight feast, but looking back perhaps the tin was filled up precisely for that special occasion! I was intrigued by the small black and white television in their bedroom that had two knobs on it; one to turn it on and off and the other to wind up to locate each of the four television channels. I loved exploring their sheds; one where granddad would show me his war paraphernalia – mostly stored in jam jars – and the other creepy, long-forgotten-shed at the bottom of the garden; where my brother would push me in before him to clear his entrance of cobwebs and spiders. I loved the old-fashioned, musty-smelling board games; particularly scoop and mad marbles.
And was fascinated by their telephone with a wind-up-dial and a secret drawer at the bottom that popped out with people’s telephone numbers written on it. I was puzzled (and still am!) by the toilet paper that looked and felt like crispy tracing paper and really, really hurt! And we used to hang onto the car seat in terror as our grandad drove us speedily into town, minus seatbelts I recall, not a care in the world. I used to think he was reckless, but now, considering the danger he faced as a rear gunner in WWII (Rear gunners: a perilous and lonely war), driving fast probably felt like a walk in the park and I doubt seatbelt safety had been fully-realized in those days.
As much as we might crave those heady days for our children, it’s worth also remembering the less-rosy aspects of the ‘old days’. Walking in the dark to find a vacant phone box to call my parents when I was at University was less-than-pleasant and I struggle to recall an average day at work before the advent of email! Even in recent years, contacting my husband on detachment relied on electronic eblueys, whereas now you can have immediate contact (if they are ever in their tent…) via FaceTime. For me, today’s ideal for our children is a good combination of the old and the new…