Tag: childhood

The Play Way

It’s almost three weeks since my previous WordPressing and so – concerned that I might be starting to run out of steam – have just gone back five years to my first ever post in search of fresh inspiration …

My voyage of exploration begins. I want to recapture the spirit of childhood, when we would set out from home with the deliberate aim of getting hopelessly lost. No point in going over old ground, after all …

freerange

Reading that again, I’m somehow reminded of these opening credits to a groundbreaking TV show:

Many people of my generation will know every word of this off by heart. Back then we wouldn’t have missed the adventures of the Starship Enterprise, ha, for the world! Pre-moon landings, outer space was still sexy and post-Beatlemania but pre-Woodstock we were eager for alternative experiences. Boundaries were boring and Star Trek, by definition, didn’t have any. Plus it employed some clever sci-fi screenwriters to explore some radical new ideas … well, radical by comparison with the fusty old 1950s of our childhood! Yes, in 1966, Warp Speed was the only way to travel …

In many ways they were confident times in which to grow up. The following opening credits feature two stylish special agents with a refreshingly chilled-out attitude to the Cold War hanging over their – and our – heads:

Looking back, the appeal of both shows was their optimistic and playful approach to serious subjects. Escapist, even naiive, their exploration and make-believe brought welcome extensions to our childhood. And come to think of it, much of our playing had involved pretending to be grown-ups. Adults appeared resourceful, capable, powerful. The very last person you’d want to be was Peter Pan – I mean, what sort of lunatic would want to stay a kid forever?

But now, looking back with a nostalgic eye, how we revere those precious moments of innocent discovery! As so often, the philosopher Nietzsche nails this idea:

‘In every real man, a child is hidden that wants to play.’

Ironic, isn’t it, that children yearn for adulthood while adults still feel like children? I suppose this doubleness in our nature is the basis of empathy between the generations. I find in playing with my grandkids a way to re-live my past through younger eyes as well as sharing in their fresh discoveries. I’ve just read what follows and every word of it struck a chord:

Play is the most valuable way that children learn. Play allows children to use their creativity while developing their imagination, dexterity, and physical, cognitive, and emotional strength. Play is important to healthy brain development. It is through play that children at a very early age engage and interact in the world around them.

As young children struggle to create a desired effect with a toy, they discover that it isn’t always easy. They realize that there is perhaps a problem to be solved and that they have to practice to acquire and improve the skills necessary to achieve their goal.

Studies have proven that play with other children is also critical for the development of children’s social skills, They are developing skills and habits and attitudes that will stay with them throughout their lives. Play is children’s work, and they give a tremendous amount of energy and effort to it. It promotes emotional well being – awareness, acceptance, personal integration, coping skills – and builds values including empathy, trust and respect for others while they play.

It’s good to know that even an old codger like me can help in this valuable process! And through it I learn that life goes on and – who knew? – that it isn’t all about me!

Melodious Mirth 5

It all started when comedian Allan Sherman received letters of complaint from his son Robert while the boy was attending Camp Champlain, a summer camp in Westport, New York.

Did Daddy rescue his poor child? Or did he tell the little chap to man up and pipe down?  Good old Wikipedia is silent about all of that, alas, though it does tell me that Allan and Lou Busch turned Robert’s ordeal into a song which went to #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 list for three weeks beginning on August 24, 1963. The song is a parody that complains about the fictional “Camp Granada” and is set to the tune of Amilcare Ponchielli’s Dance of the Hours. It became an international hit and seems to have struck a particular chord in Scandinavia with versions in Norwegian, Finnish and Swedish.

The Finnish version is included in the Finnish Boy Scouts’ songbook so must have been quite respectable. But the Swedish version notably doesn’t revolve around the camper hating the camp but is about the kids running roughshod over it and chasing away all the counsellors, one of whom has committed suicide after they let a snake into the mess hall. The organizer of the camp is arrested by police after the kids start a forest fire. The song begins with the boy writing the letter to ask his parents for more cash, because he has lost all his pocket-money playing dice with the other campers. It ends with the boy having to wrap up his letter as he is about to join the others in burning down the neighbouring camp lodge.

Kids, huh?

But you know what? I reckon you can’t beat the original, with Allan capturing to perfection what it’s like to be a kid away from home. Try to watch this without smiling. You’d stand a better chance of eating a sugary doughnut without licking your lips …

 

A Backwards Look

If I’ve taken my eye off blogging in recent months, it’s because of my single-minded sorting through old stories and memories with a view to writing a first-person narration which uses actual experiences in a lightly-fictionalised form. I expect some of this to surface here in due course, but just for now let me share a little of my stimulus material.

If this nudges any nostalgic feelings in you, I’d love to hear about them!

Top 50 most common childhood memories

  1. Christmas dinner
  2. Going to the beach
  3. Going to your grandparent’s house
  4. Hearing the ice-cream van music
  5. Playing in the park
  6. Getting pocket money
  7. Buying penny sweets from the village shop
  8. Learning to ride a bike
  9. Playing playground games
  10. Getting a pet
  11. Pick n mix sweets
  12. Buying your first album/single
  13. Building sandcastles
  14. Counting down the days until the summer holidays
  15. Playing conkers
  16. Climbing a tree
  17. School dinners
  18. School sports days
  19. Your first crush
  20. Fish and chips on the beach
  21. Listening to your favourite song on repeat till you get bored
  22. Caravan family holidays
  23. Blowing out the candles on a birthday cake
  24. Skimming stones
  25. Swimming lessons
  26. Singing hymns
  27. Searching through rock pools
  28. Sitting cross-legged in assemblies
  29. Learning to read
  30. Going out with your friends for the first time without your parents
  31. Sleepovers at a friend’s house
  32. Being in the school play
  33. Catching frogs, newts, tadpoles in a pond
  34. First day of secondary school
  35. Family holidays abroad
  36. Spelling tests
  37. Flying a kite
  38. Watching films which were above your age rating
  39. Being read a bedtime story
  40. Winning an award
  41. Your first time on an aeroplane
  42. Painting / arts and crafts
  43. Bath time
  44. Jumping in puddles
  45. Finding a rope swing in the woods
  46. Buying a school uniform
  47. Going to theme parks
  48. Playing with leaves
  49. Going to church
  50. Handwriting lessons

Tree Story

After an enjoyable school-reunion lunch the other day, I was making my way back to the mainline station on a London Underground train. It suddenly struck me there was plenty of time before the mainline train was due to depart and, on a whim, I got off the tube-train near a large park where I used to play as a young child.

I hadn’t been back in 60 years and the wild, overgrown place I remembered was no more. Streams we used to dam were culverted or piped underground, rough meadows had become manicured sports pitches, sheep or cattle paths turned into tarmacked walkways and the wonderful trees we loved to climb – yes, you guessed it – all long gone!

Back home and continuing my rummage through old papers, I unearthed a draft poem that seems to fit my faint feeling of hollow disappointment. I present it here unedited. The form involves repeating end-of-line words in every verse and adding an envoi – perhaps someone reading will know if this has a name.

 

Last Refuge

When you were younger every tree
Was yours to climb right to the top
Where all alone you’d view the world
As if she was a brand-new place –
Her secrets open to your sight
With nothing there for you to fear

But as you climbed so grew your fear
That you began to hate the tree
You really couldn’t bear the sight
That lay below so watched the top
As if there was no other place
You’d rather be in all the world

You told yourself the whole wide world
Was greater far than any fear
For up above there was a place
A gift to all who climbed the tree
And dared to reach the very top
Which opened up its secret sight

It made you gasp that sudden sight
So deep and far into the world
A bird’s-eye vision from the top
For now you’d flown beyond your fear
As if you had become the tree
And found you somehow owned the place

You never since have left that place
Nor lost one detail of the sight
If foresters have felled the tree
It still lives on within your world
And death for you is not a fear
While you are still there at the top

So still – still at the very top –
That time runs backwards to the place
Where there was not a gust of fear
So far and wide and deep your sight
For you had there become the world
And all because you climbed a tree

Envoi

Your new world more than just a place
Where each new sight gives rise to fear
When down you came from the tall tree top

 

Dave Kingsbury (2013)

 

Image result for phantom trees

 

Image: The Crichton Street Gallery

Fun and Games – a story in 100 words

Struck by lightning, the ancient oak would have blazed for a day and smouldered for a week. In place of its wooden heart was a blackened hollow, hardened and burnished by centuries of sun and rain and ice.

Climbing up to its rim, children saw a sculptured bowl like a womb where they might rest like dozing emperors. Here they could lie, unseen, overhearing private conversations far below. No longer paupers in the balance of power, they could sip the nectar of the gods and experience a measure of divinity – invisible, ever-present, omniscient.

It beat the hell out of hide-and-seek.

 

Image result for hide and seek

 

Image: MoMA

Beached!

What follows was inspired by questions from my little granddaughter who, like millions of other children, is a big fan of Moana.

So you – sights set on far horizons – ask
for tales of years gone by when I was young
and just set sail myself. This shore you’ll leave
me standing on, it’s easy to forget,
is where I ended up when time and tide
grew tired of play and cast me like a doll.

Please don’t confuse salt streaks upon my cheeks
for tears, nor think me mindless when I let
fine sand fall soft and free between my fingers.
The voyage was long that brought me here and full
of stories, some you may not care to hear
and others I’m not ready yet to tell.

That fog far out at sea is what’s to come
for you, uncertain here. For me, it shrouds
the past – makes dim and distant days I’d love
to lay before you clear as here-and-now.

Just wait awhile. Let sunshine burn through haze
and scents upon the breeze bring memories
so sharp they entertain and teach by turns.
Let nature take her course and nothing’s hid
which hidden ebb and flow cannot reveal.
So ask once more and what was lost I’ll find –
foresee a future from a past restored to mind.

 

 

Image result for moana sets sail

 

Image: Everything Film – WordPress.com

 

Digging Deeper

So, no more WordPress Daily Prompts!

Like any addict with supply problems, a week in and I’m still wrestling with a cold turkey – feathers everywhere – if you see what I mean. It’s been hell. Sweats, cramps, fevers, insomnia, the works …


Image result for addict

Actually, it’s not been that bad. In fact, I haven’t given it a moment’s thought. It feels like the school holidays have started and I’m climbing trees, having escaped that old bossy-boots of a teacher who kept giving me random things to write about.

Oh yes, the ball’s well and truly in my court! All I have to do is pull back my racquet and let fly … but where to place the shot?

Aarrrggh … decisions! I hear that ball thump into the wire behind me, the derisive laughter of my opponent … curiously familiar, wonder who it is … and now I’ll never know because I’ve just woken up to the sounds of birds and bees, the scents of garden flowers and an unsipped gin-and-tonic in the arm of my reclining chair.

Hmm, reckon I should stop stressing about style and just scramble the ball over the net any old how. As our bewildering world unravels ever faster, it’s too easy to convince yourself nothing you say will make any difference and – the curse of every passionate perfectionist and thwarted idealist – you don’t bother to say anything. Nothing’s your fault, anyway, though Philip Larkin is as perceptive as usual on the subject of luck:

Bad As A Mile

Watching the shied core
Striking the basket, skidding across the floor,
Shows less and less of luck, and more and more

Of failure spreading back up the arm
Earlier and earlier, the unraised hand calm,
The apple unbitten in the palm.

I think back three years to when the apple of blogging was still unbitten. Here are my first two posts:

My voyage of exploration begins. I want to recapture the spirit of childhood, when we would set out from home with the deliberate aim of getting hopelessly lost. No point in going over old ground, after all …

freerange

wall-kids-no-rites

I find it sad that children today don’t occupy the streets and open spaces like we did when I was young. There have always been risks in such freedom but we made a habit of going around with our friends, rarely if ever alone. We knew the dangers and were able to avoid them. So many kids were out and about, there was safety in numbers. With more adults around, too, we behaved ourselves most of the time because we didn’t want to get into trouble. In this way, we learned how to take responsibility for ourselves.

Sitting alone in your bedroom is not a healthy substitute, especially when you factor in the online risks and bad cyberspace influences that would shock many parents. It’s a case of out of the frying pan into the fire, I’m afraid. Let’s make the open air a place for children again, providing proper facilities and a sensible but not stifling adult presence. It would be quite a challenge but I can’t think of a better way to create the communities of the future …

Back to 2018, I’m struck by the campaigning tone and buoyant optimism above. Plug in to your inner child, I seem to be saying, and everything becomes possible.

Yet here I am, three years on, myself a pitiable victim of those same online risks and bad cyberspace influences … well, aren’t we all, after the surreal horrors of 2016 and their unfolding fake-news consequences? And as for guiding the young, fat chance when the adults appear to lack all direction!

Enough reality already! Or perhaps, less unreality masquerading as reality …

So the other day I was telling my little granddaughter this joke:

There was a vicar who used to visit his parishioners’ homes where they often asked him to stay for tea. They would sometimes serve him baked beans on toast, which he hated but was too polite to refuse. So anxious was he not to cause offence that he always pretended to enjoy them. People would tell each other how much he enjoyed baked beans with the result that he was rarely given anything else.

One day he was given a double helping, so he asked for a glass of water and when his host went into the kitchen he frantically spooned baked beans into the top pocket of his jacket. When the host brought the water, the vicar was licking his lips and polishing his plate with the toast.

On his way out he thanked his host from the bottom of his heart, patting his chest and spurting baked beans everywhere. He ran out in acute embarrassment but his host couldn’t wait to tell the next-door neighbour. ‘Do you know,’ he said, ‘the vicar likes baked beans so much he keeps a big stash of them in his pocket wherever he goes!’

Squeaky clean and yet silly enough to please any four-year-old, I’d say!

It was one of three jokes my dad insisted on telling at every family gathering. I won’t trouble you with the other two. We’d heard it lots and would always groan, of course, but my granddaughter asked for it again … and again!

It suddenly occurred to me that I was telling it just like my dad did – same intonations, same actions, same everything. Our relationship was always a little uneasy – common, I think, between us post-war kids and our pre-war parents – but this  was one of those moments where the present links up to the past in a flash. Gratitude for my old man welled up in me for the first time in … well, ever, really.

Sad but true.

Tell me about when you were little, she says, a frequent request. This time I tell her about my dad and some of his funny ways. All of a sudden, he’s still here.

There’s an African saying, I believe, that it takes a village to bring up a child. And if there’s one thing that should bring us all together, it’s the welfare of children. There is a very real sense in which nothing else matters.

Here is a positive little film that makes the point better than I can. The apple is always unbitten.