Play safe – or not, as long as you have fun.

beach4

One day last summer I went for a walk along the seafront in the town I grew up in. As we walked along I reminisced about the time I had spent there as a child and the things I had got up to;

I described, in detail, a game we played that involved jumping into the sea in a narrow channel where the tide rips through at great speed. We would see how far down the beach we got swooshed before we could get back out.

“Didn’t they have the red flags then Dad?”

“Er…yes, but we took no notice because it was such fun.”

I went on to describe how we would take a running jump from the sea wall onto the sand 15 feet below, seeing who could perform the most exciting aerial acrobatics before landing in a heap on the beach.

“Didn’t you used to get hurt though?”

“Er…only sometimes, and never too badly.”

We got to the cliffs at the end of the beach. We used to wait until the tide was high enough, climb up and leap off into the water in places free from rocks. I thought about telling the kids we didn’t used to cycle this far, but knowing that they can sense a lie I came clean.

“Wasn’t that dangerous?”

“Yes, and I expressly forbid you guys to do that or anything like it.”

I am, of course, a hypocrite.

It was not without a little pride, mixed with parental concern, when the first photos my son messaged us from university were of the injuries he got bombing his new local hills on his skateboard. Play safe – but do play.

A good place to play.

When I was younger, way back when we could go out and play until it started to get dark, and if you missed your tea it got cold – or eaten, I lived near an old, disused, railway viaduct. It was a huge feature of the local landscape. Now long gone, it used to tower over all the houses in the neighbourhood, welcoming people to the town as it stood over the streets and houses below.

Exem6

Like many viaducts, the spaces beneath the arches had become a selection of lock-ups, garages and workshops. Greasy, dirty earthy places that practically shouted out to small boys to go there and play when we were not daring one another to walk the length of the old railway track in defiance of the Keep Out signs on the rickety fencing.

One of the best bits of this shadowy world was the scrapyard, gaining entrance to that was the Shangri La of good times. Old cars, bits of metal, wheels, tyres, you name it, it was there. The real joy of it was that everything was already broken, so it didn’t matter what you did – you couldn’t make it worse.

The absolute best bit of all was that I had access to the scrapyard. My friend Carl lived in one of the houses that backed directly on to it. A hop and a jump and you were in. A similarly small hop and jump back meant that you wouldn’t get caught if the owner came by unexpectedly.

So many summer evenings were spent making dens, smashing things up, getting dirty and generally having fun. The hours would fly by, interspersed only by trips to Carl’s mum’s kitchen to top up our fluid and sugar levels.

By now I am sure that you are thinking; small boys – Playing around all that jagged metal, broken glass and heavy machinery – wasn’t that dangerous? Yes. Yes it was, but we didn’t care, we were having fun. We were oblivious to the impending danger every time we went in, oblivious to the huge risks we were taking, we were young boys and mortality was not a part of our mindset at all.

Until the day that Carl cut his arm. The sharp edge of a piece of metal caught him as he passed it. It cut a short but deep gouge into his arm that bled profusely as we clambered back through the fence and into his house. We showed it to his mum, fully confident that once we had presented the injury to an adult it could all be sorted out.

What happened next still surprises me now when I think back on it. Carl’s mum got out some cotton and a needle and, before anybody could object, popped in a couple of stitches – job done! I mentioned we were young didn’t I? I didn’t really understand at the time that Carl’s mum was a nurse and that this had saved a great deal of time and trouble visiting the hospital on her precious day off. She knew what she was doing and did it.

My lack of understanding meant that for some time afterwards, every time I cut myself I was half terrified that my own mum was going to whisk out her sewing kit when I showed her and set about my wounds like Dr Frankenstein. The other half of me was always bitterly disappointed when all I got was a measly sticking plaster.