Playing to extremes
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.