I grew up on a city estate but was lucky to escape to the small town where my grandmother lived almost every weekend, where a harbour, two small rivers, numerous woods and fields replaced the concrete jungle and hard play areas I was used to.
I had a completely different set of friends with a spread of a few years between us and that always ensured a variety of ‘experiences’ as I grew up. The oldest ones always set the pace and probably drove many of the rites of passage.
We spent a considerable amount of time in the woods, playing cowboys and Indians at an early age, right through to full teenage making out sessions and everything in-between. We had rope swings over the river, “death slides” across a steep embankment, dens built in the trees or bushes and an inordinate amount of matches / firelighters and penknives.
We weren’t a bunch of raving arsonists either, well apart from the time we inadvertently set one of the hay bales on fire. In truth we were a bit naughty, but I remember making campfires responsibly by finding a clear area and using stones to build a surround – we knew to be careful. There was the odd occasion where the temptation of spraying lighter fluid got the better of us.
As for the knives, well these days kids all walk about threatening to stab each other. Back then, you had a knife for carving your name in trees and for gutting fish, cutting line and you could just walk in to the local sports shop and buy one without anyone batting an eyelid. Those fishing trips were always hilarious with people throwing worms at each other, running away from the local gamekeeper or stuffing a brown trout down someone’s pants.
Every time we went out someone always ended up soaked either by being pushed in the river, jumping into the harbour or falling off the rope swings.
I also remember we all used to gather empty refundable lemonade bottles from our respective houses and club together to buy sweets from the corner shop…. or sometimes 10’s of Regal King Size when they still sold them to twelve year olds.
Camping in the dark in the woods was also incredible as a kid. I remember bravely setting off with one of my friends as the others all chickened out. We were full of bravado and it was all great, setting up the tent and filling up with food as the sun was setting. By the time it got dark, we were absolutely shitting ourselves, not helped by my mate’s older brothers collapsing the tent at in a horror attack reminiscent of the Blair Witch Project.
As I look back with nostalgia at all those experiences, I realise how different childhood is these days. So, what of my own children. Well, I have to say they have never been
fishing poaching, camping trespassing, built a fire
burnt anything down or pushed anyone in a river tried to drown anyone. I
must be doing something right.