A Post War Childhood

Roaming Free

If we could have had even a small glimpse into the future I wonder what we would have made of it?

The other day I enjoyed a midweek lunch with my cousin Angela. I like spending time with Angela and it became one of those occasions where we talked and talked.

We talked about Brexit and Donald Trump, our concerns about racism and our worries for the future and we wondered how this awful state of affairs was allowed to happen.

We talked of Angela’s sister Hazel who died a few weeks ago and of how we are still thinking about her and of course, her family.

We chatted about our children and grandchildren and we talked of the grandchildren’s schools and their teachers and our now departed parents, and inevitably we looked back at our own childhood.

Born into post war Britain, we were poor, we didn’t realise it at the time because it was all we knew and if others had more than us we didn’t notice.

I had two older brothers, Vic, the eldest was still an only child and a young teen during the war, but as soon as he was eighteen he joined the Royal Air Force. When he left for the RAF my other brother Gerald and I, being younger than Vic, had our childhood ahead of us, a childhood that was played out for much of the time with our cousins.

To use Angela’s words, one of the advantages for post war children was being allowed to roam free. No one worried about where we were or what we were doing. We came back when we were hungry and always in time for tea.

During the early part of our childhood my family lived in the gardener’s cottage close to the ruins of an abbey, a Cistercian monastery dating from 1152, much of which is still standing. The four of us spent hours playing among the ruins; the abbey was our very own adventure playground where endless games from our imaginations were acted out.

the-abbey-taken-from-morris-lane

The river bank next to the abbey was another play area, long sticks were pushed into the water’s edge as we and other local children attempted to find out how deep the dark flowing water was. It was a dangerous place to play, a river where some had lost their lives, but we weren’t aware of such things at the time.

kirkstall-abbey-and-the-river-aire-antiqu-effect

Another favourite place to play were the woods that were close to our cottage, we had endless fun in those woods and the memory of the sweet smelling ferns stay with me as I remember the dens we used to make that were hidden away from prying eyes. We made our way home with dirty legs sporting cuts and grazes that we never even felt.

woodland-scene

A railway line ran through the woods and on occasions we could be found hanging over the bridge, train spotting with pencils and paper to jot down the numbers. There were no fences and clambering down the bank for a closer look at the passing trains and to wave at the passengers was another pastime.

Not far from our cottage were gardens that had fruit trees and one of Angela’s favourite memories is when we went apple kipping in the autumn. For those not familiar with the phrase ‘Apple Kipping’, it’s when someone trespasses onto someone else’s property to help themselves to the fruit on the ground or pluck it from the trees. We never thought of apple kipping as stealing and luckily we were never caught!

Today’s children have an altogether different lifestyle to the one we enjoyed and the gap between us widens with each generation. It’s a lifestyle that is governed by parental fear. Organised play is the norm for most children. Play-dates are arranged with other parents and there are equally regimented after school activities. Impromptu play in the great outdoors is sadly no more. The fields and woodland have grown silent, and the old tin cans that were used for pond dipping have been relegated to the recycle bins.

It could be said that today’s children are over indulged from the day they are born, with an excess of shiny toys and expensive, unnecessary equipment. Books are no longer encouraged, they’re available online, and playing imaginary games with imaginary people has become a thing of the past, even the eight year old imaginations have been replaced with X boxes, iphones and iPads.

If we could have had even a small glimpse into the future I wonder what we would have made of it? For Angela, Hazel, Gerald and me our childhood was idyllic and I imagine we would have been sympathetic toward the children of today.  Perhaps by necessity, their protected, ordered lives will never experience a childhood such as ours, they are doomed to never have the pleasure of ‘Roaming Free’.

Photo Credits: Barnaby Aldwick, PicClick UK, SHuSHI 168

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