This is my story, but it may be that some of you will have done similar things when you were young, or this may come as a complete surprise and say a lot about me. I suppose I will discover the truth when people comment later.
My mother always said that all I ever needed was a cardboard box and then I would entertain myself for hours. I believe that I have always been a creative soul, and I can easily get lost in my imagination. I remember coming out of the Lyric Cinema after watching The Vikings, a 1958 film starring Kirk Douglas and Tony Curtis, and I was lost. My imaginary sword in my hand, I was enjoying wild swashbuckling action in the street as we walked back to the car with my older brother. It was wonderful for me, but probably a bit amusing or alarming for anyone else who was about.
I would like to say that all children can get lost in their imaginations, but maybe I can only speak for myself. Clearly, many do though and watching children play creatively was one of the joys of a teaching career. In the late 1950s there were fewer distractions. Parents couldn’t just sit us in front of the television or iPad, but similarly they couldn’t entertain us all the time, and so they left us to entertain ourselves. Having an older brother helped as he was someone to play with and we would just go out and play with other children in the street. There appears to have been much less anxiety and pressure on parents to supervise children every waking and sleeping moment. The fear of strange men was occasionally mentioned, but I don’t think it was really a major worry. From about the age of four or five, I was allowed to go out to play with my brother or friends as long as we were back at meal times, or at set times. We didn’t have watches, so it must have been the natural cycle of hunger or darkness that guided us. As we got older, we could venture further and the Fairy Woods, Gipton Wood, Soldiers’ Field, Gledhow Valley and Roundhay Park became our playgrounds. This was aided and abetted by having bicycles, and once I got one with gears, getting around became much easier.
Imaginative play developed with toy soldiers, Dinky and Matchbox cars and it didn’t take much for you to live out adventures with car chases, crashes, battles, and cowboy and Indian wars. I remember at Stainbeck Preparatory School excavating tunnels into the rockery. Paul Banks and I even built and fitted little miniature pit-props to support the roof of the tunnels. We loved it and the odd tunnel collapse just added to the excitement. I do remember one teacher, clearly not Miss Blackmore as she was too nice, telling us off and to fill the holes in. I think we just changed location a bit, and that seemed to solve the problem. The girls didn’t take part in such activities and they seemed to spend their time, when the weather was good, playing hopscotch, skipping, doing handstand and high-jumping over skipping ropes.
Living in Australia for the last twenty-nine years, I don’t think I have ever had a bath as the shower is quicker and more practical. When it is hot here, we often shower three times or so a day, but bath time in Leeds was a very different matter. I had forgotten about the rigmarole of having a bath until I returned to visit my mother in Leeds. When I was a child it took quite a time to have sufficient hot water, fill the bath and then have the bath. When I was little, I would play with toy boats as I sat there supposedly getting washed. For some reason, boys would avoid washing and bathing, but once finally forced would stay in for a long time. Again, it was another avenue to explore my imagination. Ships were sunk, toy soldiers forced to walk the plank, and submarines sailed around me in the soapy water. At one point, I got a goggle and snorkel and I was small enough to lie face down in the bath and breathe and see under the water. I could stay underwater for a long time, but I had to stop occasionally to top up the cooling bathwater with fresh hot water. Often I ended up with the bath nearly overflowing. The funny thing was I was happy to do this in the bath, but I never liked the swimming pool and the North Sea was always far too cold. In the bath, I could be Troy Tempest from the 1964 Stingray TV series and you were never in any danger of the snorkel filling with water.
Discussing basic hygiene reminds me of the lengths that boys, myself included, went to to avoid various normal cleaning actions. I can’t believe that girls behave in the same way, but I do know that boys, including my four sons, would avoid cleaning teeth, washing faces and hands, particularly after going to the toilet. The ingenuity and intricate deceptions took far longer to implement than the process that they replaced. Toothpaste would be rubbed on the gums and the toothbrush head wetted to convince a parent that the teeth were clean, a tap would be run and a flannel dampened but not actually be used on the face and hands. When puberty arrived, it became even worse and copious amounts of deodorant would be sprayed to hide the lack of washing, and in the vain hope of attracting girls.
At about the same time as the snorkeling, I remember thinking that it would be a good idea to walk with a pronounced limp. I seemed to have wanted people to notice me and I thought that by walking with a limp passers-by would think, poor boy! Looking back, they probably did, but not for the reason I wanted. It must have been about the same time that other things came into my head. I remember trying to work out which of the senses I could best do without. Sight, smell, touch, taste, hearing were all considered and the pros and cons thought about and eventually I realised I didn’t want to do without any. I actually believe that this was the first indication that I was entering into a new developmental stage of reasoning, but maybe I am just fooling myself. On a few occasions, at around this time, I started considering death. This may have been triggered by the death of my grandad, or just part of the realisation that we are all mortal and that ‘They All Lived Happily Ever After’ was a myth. Whatever the cause, it was a troubling realisation, and to be honest, still is.
Playing is the opportunity that children have to practise the skills they will need in life, we are told, and I think this is true, but I am not sure that I will ever need the skill of scalping cowboys or burning them at the stake. Playing cowboys and Indians was a major pastime when I was little, and it does seem a bit violent. However, I suppose groups of children playing together, occasionally falling out, cooperating, following and setting rules, were indeed practising the skills we would use during adult lives. We enjoyed great freedoms and I don’t think we abused them. We played fairly safely, all things considered, and these halcyon years made us resilient. We knew the dangers of climbing trees, because we climbed them. You learnt your limits, pushed a bit, but not too far, but if you went beyond, you suffered the consequences and didn’t do it again. We took responsibility, and that is something that the current children have had taken from them. If I was in trouble at school, I wouldn’t have dared to tell my parents. They would inevitably have taken the side of the teacher and I would have got into more trouble at home. If you did something, then you learnt to deal with it yourself. Today, that isn’t the case and, as a school head for many years, I know that parents now will predictably take the side of the child, storm in to school and verbally, and sometimes physically, attack the teacher. This is a shame as the learning for the child has been taken from them, resilience lowered, and preparation for life lost.
On a lighter note, I must say that I didn’t always learn as my many near-death experiences show, and one that illustrates this happened when I was at college in London. This was 1974, and I was in a shared house about twenty-five minutes’ bike ride away from the campus. I had bought a second-hand bike to enable me to make the journey back and forth along the cycle path along the Great West Road. The bike was an old racer with six gears, drop handlebars and black. It wasn’t anything special, but it was the best I had ever had. I think I paid six pounds for it. The trip to college was never eventful, but the ride back, late at night, after drinking several pints from the students’ union, Guiness was ten pence a pint, was much more so. For some reason, I was becoming a cocky rider. I was developing the skill of riding without holding the handlebars and, bit by bit, I got better at it and I set myself the challenge of riding the entire way home without using my hands. Most of the route was fine as it was a cycle path, but there were many side roads entering the Great West Road that I had to cross. Late at night it was fairly quiet, and I grew in confidence, but approaching the side roads I had to take particular care and my plans could be thwarted by approaching cars or cars leaving the main road. Beer induced confidence ensured that I persevered, and finally, the stars aligned, and I managed the entire run without once touching the handlebars, apart from the start and end. I was ecstatic and the sense of achievement great, but this came with over-confidence. Pride comes before the fall and I was heading towards the precipice. A short time later, I was moving house and had to carry a large holdall full of clothes to the new house. It was only a short journey, but it meant a ride up to a busy t-junction. I decided I could do it whilst riding on my bike, balancing the holdall on the handlebars. All went well until approaching the t-junction and needing to stop. I had only one hand on the handlebars and the other was holding the bag. I squeezed the brakes to slow down and there was a jolt and the brake-block shot out and the brakes failed. I was about to cross a very busy intersection at speed and had only one option, and that was to fall off deliberately. This worked and possibly saved my life, but I paid the price with major embarrassment and severe grazing all along my leg and arm. My jeans were ripped, and I felt a complete fool.
The bike was ok though and just needed minor repairs and the break fixing, but our days together were to be short-lived. A friend, Patrick, borrowed it and went into Hounslow. He chained it up on the rack outside the tube station, but when he returned, the chain had been cut and was lying on the ground and the bike was missing. This was the end of my cycling and probably was for the best.
The Moonchild (The Moondial Book 1) by David M Cameron
A captivating, sweetly exotic tale that’s hard to put down…
(The Moondial Book 1)
Cameron’s brilliantly crafted, marvelously told YA fantasy, the first in The Moondial series, introduces an appealing young protagonist caught up in a wonderfully complicated ancient conflict. Orphaned at fifteen, Peter Calender is dreading his move to a foster home in Birmingham. But an unfortunate incident sends Peter to a strange world where magic is real, monsters exist, and death and destruction wait at every corner. When he meets the lovely Nightjar, he learns as the last Calender, he is the one who will deliver the seven worlds from the sinister Fell Craven. With the balance of the world hanging in his hands, Peter must do everything in his power to restore the laws that govern the seven worlds. Blurring the lines between science fiction, fantasy, and fairy tale, Cameron’s fluid narrative skillfully immerses readers in his richly crafted fantasy world. The characters, particularly Peter, Nightjar, and Ravenscort come alive in readers’ minds as they strategize their way out of one precarious situation after another while struggling with their inner demons. Fell Craven and Gorn remain thoroughly formidable villains. Expertly interspersing vivid action sequences with the characters’ backstories, Cameron guides the reader through this winding, well-crafted saga. Along the way, he weaves in themes of friendship, solidarity, courage, second chances, perseverance, duty, greed, and control. The novel, with its engrossing storyline and captivating fantasy landscape combined with a realistic characterization makes for a page-turner. Readers both young and old will be enthralled.
Pub date December 17, 2017
Price $7.71 (USD) Paperback, $1.04 Kindle edition