Codgers and crones come out to play
As the years turn, one inevitably approaches one’s second childhood. My first one was spent in the 1950s. Just imagine: there was only one sort of milk, which appeared on the doorstep in glass bottles. We slept under eiderdowns, not duvets: and we were all quite thin, perhaps because when we wanted to change the TV channel we had to get up off the sofa. Such a primitive lifestyle!
Although in those days, lifestyles hadn’t been invented. We ate fish paste sandwiches and spam fritters without flinching. So why, looking back to that benighted era, do I remember so many things with rapture?
Because I was a child. The simplest things gave unalloyed joy. I remember riding on my dad’s shoulders – higher than anybody, I felt like the queen of everything. Or I would beg my dad to let me stand on his feet and be walked backwards. Dressing up was the most fun you could ever have, or if it was fine, hopscotch was the perfect way to spend a summer afternoon, a plasticfree experience.
Back then, the knock at the door was so exciting: “Can Sue come out to play?” Nowadays nobody knocks on the door except to deliver packages from Amazon, and one worries about the people who packed the package: are they allowed enough lavatory breaks?
I’m all ready to plunge back into my second childhood, but I am wondering if I’ll be up to it. Climbing trees, for example. I used to adore swinging my way up, looking down through the branches. Unlike a Dennis Potter character, I never spotted any rural hanky panky. But will I be able to climb trees with the same effortless panache when I’m eighty? Already I need a block and tackle to get me off the sofa.
Driving around Ireland once I came to one of those magical old overgrown estates, and I remember a quaint bridge and a quaint story about a very old lady who had died whilst climbing a tree, aged 100. (The lady, not the tree – although trees effortlessly outlast us which is why they often look so smug. Especially poplars.)
Part of the thrill of being up a tree was the seclusion. Why is hiding so intoxicating? Hide and Seek… much of childhood seemed to revolve around it. The making of dens was a real thrill. My mother would put an old blanket over the dining table and instantly there was a secret place that was mine. I’d crawl under there with my teddy bears and start a small school (such a nerd even then!).
If I covered the dining table with a blanket nowadays – although blankets have become ‘throws’ – would I be able to crawl underneath and sit comfortably on the floor? Alas! Paramedics and possibly even the fire brigade would have to be summoned to extricate me.
My favourite place to hide was the airing cupboard. I’d vault up there effortlessly, and curl up cosily like an embryo on the lovely warm folded sheets. Was all that hiding a little bit Back to the Womb?
When my poor mother brought the clean linen up and opened the door, I would startle her with a horrid yell, and it was clear that the notion of Back to the Womb would not be welcome. I can certainly still produce a horrid yell – in fact when I bend down to pick anything up off the floor, a horrid yell bursts from my lips whether I intend it or not.
Ah! Those old playground games! One could certainly limp stiffly through a few of those. “What’s the time, Mr Wolf?” Deliciously frightening, although I don’t think there were wolves in Britain even as long ago as the 1950s. ‘The farmer wants a wife’. After nearly 30 years as a de facto farmer’s wife, I might sit that one out. “In came a bogeyman and knocked her out.” Somehow that phrase has been spoiled for me by Donald Trump.
But, heck, these are details. Why do we have to put away childish things? Let’s have ’em out again, let rip and then run home with grazed knees, howling!
‘I’m all ready to plunge back into my second childhood, but I am wondering if I’ll be up to it’