Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Changing times.

I'm not supposed to be back here tonight. I have another book to review. If only reviewing actually paid.

However, on a break, I took a look at the Telegraph's site because it usually causes much milder rage than the Mail. Not this time.

When I was a kid, I lived on a council estate. It wasn't dangerous as long as you knew which streets to avoid and as I was only a kid, I wasn't allowed to roam the streets at all hours and break things without consequence. Some were, not nearly so many as today but there were some.

My father worked in the mines so although we didn't have a lot of money and we kids didn't get pocket money, we were never hungry and never without any of the basic necessities. Aside from school, the government did not figure at all in my life and if they had tried I would have ignored them. As far as possible, I still do.

The idea that the government should find things for us to do never occurred to us. If anyone had suggested it, they would have been laughed at or treated to our best display of council estate language. Of course, if that had appeared on TV we would each have been treated to our fathers' display of what the word 'consequences' means.

I make no comment on the woman's appearance. My grandmother looked harder than her and probably was. Some of my aunties could take her down, no problem. Like her, they would be fiercely loyal to family and like her, they would have handed any of their kids in if they'd seen them rioting. We would have been tenderised prior to landing in custody too. She might look 'chav' but she's not. She has a clear sense of right and wrong and acted on it.

What makes her different from the similarly fearsome council estate women of the past is her expectation that the government should be providing entertainment for her children. None of those women would have allowed anyone from the government anywhere near their kids when I was small. The government's role, through the police, was only to tell us what not to do. As long as we weren't caught breaking any laws, we could make our own entertainment.

It wasn't hard. Wildlife abounds even in the cities and can be an endless source of fun for those who aren't terrified of everything with lots of legs and eyes. Those who are so terrified are another source of fun. Put the two together and you can occupy an entire weekend with a single game.

I wasn't the only one to fit together all those plastic boxes that pens and other little things came in to make a labyrinth, place a spider in the middle and insert flies through one of several entry points. Hours of gentle entertainment, as long as you're not a fly. You also need a little bit of damp sponge in there because spiders don't drink water directly. Oh, this was no half-assed job. No spider ever died in my care, all were released when they were too fat to eat any more.

It was inspired by the minotaur stories, because they used to treat us kids as if we were almost intelligent in those days, and teach us things that were actually interesting. Sex education was behind the bike sheds, where it should be.

Political correctness would probably ban all such entertainment now. Along with poking earwigs out of the holes in concrete posts, keeping caterpillars until they pupated and watching the butterfly/moth emerge, watching cats give birth (I was about six when ours popped), and let's not forget the perennial favourite of children for millenia - tormenting flies, slugs, ants and especially wasps. The best fun I had with wasps involved a used jam jar and an air rifle. Now that's real gun practice.

It's not that the government have to find things for kids to do. It's more that they have to stop denying kids things to do. Climbing trees is hazardous and sometimes kids fall out and hurt themselves. Riding a tatty trike with no brakes down a hill when there's a ditch at the bottom is daft but fun. Experimenting with explosives is mad but lots and lots of fun. When I was fourteen I could go into a shop that looked like a Wild West general store and buy a pound of sodium chlorate in a paper bag. A bag of sugar and a little pack of sulphur from the chemists and we were in business. No questions were asked. Nobody was hurt. Nobody was even singed although there was one instance when underwear went prematurely into the laundry. We made the fuses longer after that.

Now, at over fifty, I'd get questions and funny looks if I tried to buy chlorate or sulphur. Fourteen-year-olds have no chance.

So she's wrong. The government must not be involved in finding her kids things to do. Instead, government should stop denying them things to do. Yes they will get hurt doing some of the things we did. Yes they will sometimes break a bone and cost the NHS money. However, if they are occupied, they will not want to spend half their time in front of a Playstation and the other half stealing one.

Attitudes have changed. She talks of ten children and you might wonder how she managed to find someone to impregnate her ten times - but if she asked, would you dare say 'no'? It was ever thus. What has changed is that even though she has that family loyalty and sense of rightness that was always there in the estates, she now believes that the government are responsible for her childrens' play time.

Just one generation ago, she would have flared into rage at the very idea.


RJS said...

can kids get KNO3 or NaNO3 anymore for "poppers"?

Sue said...

We used to feed ants to spiders and watch them being wrapped tightly to save for later. Seeing how many amputations it would take before a spider was rendered unable to walk. Lot's of cruel natural experiments that kept us amused for hours.

I remember constructing mazes for my hamster to see if he could find his way to the food bowl.

But, you're right, we spent hours locked in our imaginations travelling to places that adults could only dream about.

Bill Sticker said...

Well, if someone's kids need a government to tell them how to gainfully occupy themselves, I'd say they weren't much of a parent.

Twenty_Rothmans said...

Being a chav doesn't mean you cannot tell right from wrong - the sense of entitlement is critical. and she has that in spades,

The Government can help her. We build labour camps, scoop up these Untermenschen, and give them work to do. Give them so much work that they're too tired to shag or drink or fight :-)

Why hasn't anyone else thought of this?

JuliaM said...

Spiders in a labyrinth - with me ( given my fear of spiders ) it was a Devil's coach horse. Fearsome predators. :)

Hubris69 said...

Two inches of muddy water in an unused chest freezer (not switched on!) and four frogs my brother and I had "acquired". Were not very popular when said amphibians were discovered - freezer was being kept in Mums bedroom, while space was being created before it could be put to its intended purpose. Muddy frogs hopping around bedroom, howls of parental outrage swiftly followed by due retritibution - Oops, next!! :>

banned said...

Sadly the WW2 pill boxes of my childhood are much reduced in number.
I'm not sure that she does have a sense of right and wrong. Her son was already in trouble with the Courts and I imagine that she was under some directed obligation to keep him under control. Grassing him up would have been the next best thing.

George Speller said...

To augment my much used chemmistry set I used to buy stuff from the local chemists. The only difficulties I had were with potassium chlorate (I wanted to produce O2) and conc nitric acid (just to complete the set|!). Thew chemist was a bit dubious about the ounce of pot chlor, saying "there's enough there to blow up a pillar box". This was incomprehensible to me as I genuinly couldn't understand why anyone would want to do that. I now realise he recalled the original Irish Troubles from his youth. I had to get a note from my mum about the nitric acid, and they ordered it specially for me. It came in the old fashioned ridged medicine bottle with a cork in it. I took it home in a small brown paper bag on the bus! By the time I got home the cork had disappeared. Chlorate weedkiller was also lots of fun. None of us were (badly) injured in all this but we sure learnt a lot,

kitler said...

No parent should ever grass on their own children.

If I found out my little kitlers were rioting i would deal with them myself but never ever would I hand them over to the state.

Shame on anyone who justifies family betrayal.

Oldrightie said...

I wonder what a year without any state activity at all would produce? Couldn't be much worse, surely.

ailz said...

Someone suggested that we send them dealing out food aid in West Africa to find out what hardship really is - but haven't the Somalis got enough problems!

petem130 said...

We got up to all sorts amd survived. Hardly anmy serious injuries just the odd broken bone or big cut. The bad boys were our main concern or their avoidance anyway.

Whenever I hear "what is the government going to do about...." I want to punch the person who said it and I'm not violent in the slightest. This type of pass the responsibility to people who are desperate to entend their control over us is just plain mad.

KP said...

London's East End in the 60's was chock full of adventure for any young boy - deserted buildings, bomb sites and the things they contained. Oooh, I just go all "jumpers for goalposts" at the memories of taking my turn in the U-boat (old boiler at the bottom of a 20 foot bomb hole) while the others lobbed depth charges (half bricks) down. The winner was the one who could still hear their Mum yelling for them to come in for tea! Tell that to kids today, they won't believe you.

O/T - Leggy old son, could you pop into Robert Gordon's sometime and give someone there a slap? Apparently fatties are causing Globollox Warming .... :


Much appreciated.

sixtypoundsaweekcleaner said...

Ditto all of the above, only my playground was the farmer's field behind my parents' house. We used to make houses out of the haybales...oh, the things we used to do. Our imagination was never fettered like it is today. Brings quite a lump to my throat, just thinking about it. What on earth has happened to our nation, that our children can't enjoy the same freedoms? I blame the telly, Jeremy Vile and others.

Only the other day, I visited a friend who has been on benefits for the past 15 years. Her husband (ex-con) took the micky out of me, because I didn't have an xbox.

Just says it all, really.

Tattyfalarr said...

"if she asked, would you dare say 'no'? "
You wouldn't know whether to f*ck it or fight it...and maybe you'd *have* to f*ck it cos you *couldn't* fight it.

David Davis said...

You can still buy some of this stuff, although ebay took off KClO3, KNO3 and Mercury a little while ago. I did however manage to buy "three empty plastic bottles carrying potassium nitrate labels", which were remarkably heavy when they arrived. (The smoke bomb worked very well.)

I think you can still buy sulphur. Not ammonium nitrate though, under any circumstances. Ask a farmer instead.

I remember buying an ounce of potassium dichromate, in the chemists' in Epsom, in East Street I think, in 1966. It came in a little red cardboard cylinder, from Lott's Cemicals with a stuckon, typed label, for ninepence, with a sort of plastic cliptop on it. I also was told "careful with that on the bus now, sonny!"

John Pickworth said...

@ George
I too once purchased some nitric acid way back in 1976 (aged 14 and 1 quarter) with the same response from the chemist - I was so embarrassed having to return later with a note from my mom.

I remember my mom, also explained in her note that I wanted it for an experiment at making soap (the reason I gave her). The suspicious chemist queried this and I admitted straight up that I really wanted to create an explosive and that I already had the turps... he seemed impressed and duly handed over the prized chemical with a warning not to spill it on my clothes! I didn't get it at the time but I'm sure that was probably meant tongue-in-cheek ;-)

But dear reader, I wasn't just a serial destroyer of farmer's dry stone walls. Equilibrium is restored by my impressive works of civil engineering... namely; dam building or tunnelling. Or, day long voyages of discovery exploring the length of a minor river upon an inflated tractor/lorry tire inner tube. We were never bored, quite the reverse, summers were never long enough to complete all our adventures.

And LI is right too about the Governments of our youth... I recall a certain Mrs T. famously stealing our milk. Mr Heath making the lights go out a lot and Mr Wilson chuffing away on his pipe on TV. But the day to day stuff? I can't ever remember being bothered by the Government of the day or even noticing its existence... I guess the school inspector was the closest representative we came across and the local bobby was to be avoided at all costs.

Today? I couldn't even begin to list the myriad multiple agents of the State that involve themselves in a modern child's life. If I woke tomorrow to discover a new State agency for the cutting of the newborn's birth cord I wouldn't be surprised!

Leg-iron said...

Kitler - they didn't expect the cops hold the kid over the weekend and really, there was no need for it. What was he going to do, flee the country on his yacht?

Back in the 60s-70s, parents could take their errant monster to the local cop shop (after pre-warning the local cop, who everyone knew) and the kid would get a stern talking to and maybe half an hour in a cell.

No record, no charge, just a pointer - 'this is where you're heading if you don't shape up'.

It worked, often. Sadly they aren't allowed to do that any more.

Leg-iron said...

JuliaM - A Devil's coach horse? I'm jealous. Never caught one of those.

Leg-iron said...

ailz - send them with food aid? They'd eat it on the way over.

Send them as food aid... now we're talking.

Leg-iron said...

KP - I've kept clear of RGU for some time. I rented a lab there for a while but their ethos of 'no work outside normal hours' didn't work for me.

I'd get funny looks at weekends too. Hardly any of their staff worked weekends or evenings and the place almost shut down completely over the summer.

Now I have lab space where I come and go as I please.

Leg-iron said...

£60aweek - I get ribbed for having no games machine too, and for not watching any of the 'required' TV programmes.

I expect I'd fail a citizenship test.

John Pickworth said...

I just thought of something clever.

The Government does provide something for the kids to do...

... It called SCHOOL!


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