I am a child of the 1970s. I was three in 1970 and so I am well versed in all the cultural touchstones that have seeped into national consciousness. Jon Pertwee is my Doctor Who. Wagon Wheels were bigger. Dog poo was white. We all rode around on Raleigh Choppers, eating spangles and went home to a tea of Findus crispy pancakes before watching Noddy Holder in his mirrored top hat on Top of the Pops. I remember my dad being on strike (he was an electrician, now a retired electrician) and power cuts. But most of all I remember playing out. All day, every day. In the school holidays, after school, weekends. It was expected. I was lucky in that the house I grew up in backed onto a playing field with swings, a climbing frame and a see-saw. My brother and I would go out in the morning, come back for lunch, and then go out again until it went dark.
Playing out meant football on the back field listening to the top 40 on a portable transistor radio; it meant cycling for miles to see how far we could get; it occasionally meant playing on the railway tracks and once, only once, it meant helping the fire brigade to put out a fire that we had started in the long dry grass on the railway embankment. Looking back, particularly at the long hot Summer of 1976 when I was 9, it was an idyllic golden time. I certainly don’t remember being frightened, or scared or worried. We occasionally got into fights and stone throwing with the boys literally on the wrong side of the tracks; my brother was once bitten by a stray dog, the tetanus injection that followed giving him a lifelong fear of needles. Nothing could stop us… Looking back their were brief glimpses of the adult world. A woman in a nearby street was ‘attacked’ in her home (it was many years later when we were much older that out mum told us what those inverted commas really meant).
But apart from that we walked to primary school on our own, came home at lunchtimes walked back to school. On thurdsay night (late night opening) I would walk down to the library, again on my own and stop at the offy (off licence) on the way back for a bottle of Corona (not a beer but a fizzy orange drink) and a Curly Wurly. I felt safe and was never in doubt of my safety.
At some point, everything changed. I can’t put my finger on when this was; it seems like more of a slow gradual process but certainly by the time I had my children they did NOT go out on the back field to play (even though there was one – the one pictured in today’s photograph). I often wonder about why this is? Why do I deny my children the freedoms that I had? Is the world really such a scarier place? We’re talking about the 1970s after all. The only conclusions I can draw is that the media and society’s’ attitudes changed beyond recognition in the intervening years. As attitudes changed, reports of kidnappings and disappearances became national stories, where previously they had been localised or maybe only spoken about in hushed terms by adults in private. Crimes against children have always been there (my mum was within a whisker of being a juror in the trial of Ian Brady and Myra Hindley) but new technologies made it easier for news to spread.
Slowly, over time, parents became scared to let their children play out. In the era of rolling 24-hour news parents like to keep their kids where they can see them and know they are safe. But is this damaging? Probably. My kids have always been driven everywhere, dropped off at school, at friends houses, at music lessons. Their outlook and opinion on their surroundings is diametrically opposed to my outlooks and opinions at the same age. I had a freedom that they do not. Of course I know was probably lucky but this meant that an awful lot of us were lucky. I am still close friends with quite a few people that I knew back then. When we meet we reminisce about what we got up to; yet all of us suffer from the same sense of panic when it comes to our own children. The world seems more dangerous even though it probably isn’t; in fact kids are probably safer now than they ever were.
My son was 10 last week. He wants to start going to the local supermarket on his own to buy comics, sweets, etc. Of course he should do it. Yet I still have this nagging fear that tells me that he is still too young – despite the fact that when I was his age I would walk to our local library in the dark every Thursday night AND go to the local pub (because the off licence was part of the pub) to buy fizzy drink, crisps and chocolate. I know that I have to give him his independence and the fact that I am reluctant to probably says more about me than it does about the ‘broken Britain’ we are living in (wonderful piece of scaremongering by our current government) and the fact that my son is simply growing up and I have to let go at some point.
Comments as always are welcome.
Today’s photograph was taken yesterday on my way to work. I stopped the car because of the salmon pink sky as the son came up. I think its one of my better more recent efforts. It also works pretty well in black and white thanks to the silhouette of the sign…