Play­ing to ex­tremes

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Devon Life - - Upfront -

The bet­ter half and I were at a “bit of a do” and got into con­ver­sa­tion with the hosts’ young son. He was telling us all about the sports he loved liked moun­tain BMX and snow­board­ing.

He was lovely and we learnt a lot about what he called “ex­treme sports”. When we got home the bet­ter half men­tioned he’d prac­tised all kinds of “ex­treme sports” when he was young. I had vi­sions of my brave boy soar­ing over the Devon hills on a paraglider or white wa­ter raft­ing on the River Dart. Not quite. He told me that back in the day when it used to snow more reg­u­larly in the win­ter here in Devon, he and his friends used a sheet of gal­vanised iron as a sleigh. For those of you not brought up in the coun­try, sheets of gal­vanised iron are cor­ru­gated and mea­sure about 6ft by 3ft. They are thin sheets with edges so sharp they could am­pu­tate a small boy’s hand if he fell on it at a funny an­gle.

They rolled up the front of the sheet to make it vaguely to­bog­gan-shaped. Then four or five of them piled onto it at the top of the steep­est hill in their vil­lage and set off, even­tu­ally reach­ing eye-wa­ter­ing speeds. As if this wasn’t bad enough, when they reached the bot­tom of the field they all had to duck to get un­der a barbed wire fence. It makes me go cold just think­ing about it.

Then he was on about rid­ing hel­ter-skel­ter on a bi­cy­cle with no brakes, he stand­ing up and his friend hang­ing on for dear life sit­ting on the seat as he ped­alled as fast as he could down the hills. Oc­ca­sion­ally a bram­ble-filled hedge got in the way of their shenani­gans and the only way they could avoid se­ri­ous in­jury was to bail out just be­fore bike met hedge.

He got me think­ing about “ex­treme sports” in my own child­hood. We made our own toys from worn out farm machin­ery and built the most amaz­ing go-karts (we called them trol­leys). There was one, in par­tic­u­lar, which had the steer­ing sys­tem from an old car. My old­est brother, Ross, was a dab hand at re­cy­cling old ve­hi­cles into ex­cit­ing play things. He made a round­about from the axle and one wheel of an old cart. He made huge cat­a­pults from trac­tor wheel in­ner tubes and the shafts of old carts. Home­made swings were of rope and old planks of wood.

Our trol­leys were the envy of the neigh­bour­hood and some­times even the de­liv­ery men took a break from their rounds to have a go!

Pram wheels were great for trol­leys – brakes, how­ever, were an­other thing en­tirely. Pram brakes in those days con­sisted of a pulling a lever to ap­ply a small block to a wheel. You can imag­ine how ef­fec­tive this was on a trol­ley go­ing at 40mph down a 1 in 4 hill!

When she was very young my sis­ter was taken for a ride on one of these things and fell off af­ter hurtling down a steep hill, im­preg­nat­ing her leg with bits of gravel. Know­ing my dad he prob­a­bly dabbed some neat io­dine on it and told her to stop sniv­el­ling. Some 30 years later, a stone worked its way out of her thigh – clean as a whis­tle.

Then there was ex­treme pony-rid­ing, rac­ing around fields and clear­ing (or not) home-made jumps and weav­ing in and out of home-made ob­sta­cle cour­ses.

We lived on a farm in pre­health and safety days, so in some re­spects we took part in ex­treme sports ev­ery day, whether it was ex­treme cowmilk­ing (some of those cows had a kick like a mule); ex­treme trac­tor-dodg­ing (my fa­ther was the world’s worst driver); or ex­treme geese-han­dling (I swear, geese are the nas­ti­est crea­tures on God’s earth. I’d rather meet a rabid dog than a hiss­ing goose, any day).

As for con­ven­tional ex­treme sports – it’s won­der­ful that young peo­ple are tak­ing con­trolled risks and go­ing out and hav­ing fun. But as for my own ex­pe­ri­ence of child­hood ex­treme sports, I feel I ought to add a rider for any sug­gestible read­ers out there: DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME.

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