Gosh! Was it really 60 years ago today that I was eight years old? Did the sun really shine all day in June back then? Did I really cycle from Westleton to Dunwich day after day, spending nights in a one man army tent on my father’s old ‘camp’ bed? Did the cafe on Dunwich beach really sell Dandelion and Burdock cordial?
A thick fog has descended over the marshes today, madness to drive over the potholed roads, so stay at home and amuse myself with just the aid of binoculars and watch ‘our’ Crane (if you are at Horsey Mere trying to count 22 of them – we have the missing one!) searching for his breakfast. Stay at home and reminisce of a time of conkers and ginger pop and dandelion and burdock, when being eight years old didn’t involve being driven to school in a chelsea tractor for fear of what might happen to you on a bus, and ‘playing’ wasn’t what you did in your bedroom by the light of x-box. Bedrooms were for sleeping, profoundly, at the end of a day of exploration – with lino floors and ice on the inside of the windows they weren’t fit for much else – or perhaps catching a chapter or two of ‘Swallows and Amazons’, still the bible for child rearing in the 50s, but read avidly by small children as inspiration for the next day.
‘Send them out’, ‘wear them out’, and tinned mandarin oranges with carnation milk for an occasional treat. Supply with rickety bicycle or small dinghy if possible. Make do with wooden box lightly fixed to old pram wheels if not. Do not feed pet guinea pig for them, nor clean its hutch, but attend ritual funeral (in an old Kilner jar!) as required as an important part of teaching them to take care of pets and feed them occasionally. Apply bandages as necessary.
Whilst doing some research in order to write this piece, I fell over a ten year old offering from the ‘Commissioner for Children’. He was concerned that children no longer had the opportunity to live with the freedoms we knew as children. His solution?
The commissioner hopes to promote the idea of supervised theme parks, where children could climb trees and indulge in creative play overseen by adult volunteers who could be drawn from the retired. He cited organisations such as the Scouts, Girlguiding, the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award and the Outward Bound Trust as those that offered the chance for children to learn about physical risk.
*Sigh* Risk free adventure. Surely an oxymoron?
Swallows and Amazons, all 13 editions, was quintessentially English. Those long limbed children, full of curiosity, courage, rivalry, tanned from hours in the sun, formed the mindset of a generation – this was what it meant to be English! This was the generation that grew to be fearful of an influx of ‘foreigners’, Syrian refugees arriving from war torn Aleppo on our beaches in small dinghies to take the jobs of our true Englishmen…
True to politically correct form, the BBC has decided, just before a referendum that will surely turn on just how you feel about ‘foreigners’, to resurrect ‘Swallows and Amazons’. BBC Films/Harbour films will have the result in cinemas on August 19th. Young actors and actresses that epitomise teenage ‘english’ girls and boys have been hired to play the parts of the four Walker children John, Susan, Titty and Roger, and the Blackett children.
Titty, for unfathomable reasons, has been renamed ‘Tatty’. ‘Titty’ apparently being too reminiscent of ‘breasts’ to be allowed into a film awash with nubile female teenagers. ‘Roger’ with its many connotations, was allowed to remain ‘Roger’.
Yet the casting of such very ‘English’ faces is not only surprising from the BBC but problematic from the viewpoint of authenticity. For the bronzed limbs of John, Susan, Titty and Roger didn’t come from their open air lifestyle, nor the currently existent English sun – but their patriarchal heritage.
The Altounyan children on whom Arthur Ransome based his magical tales, hailed from Aleppo in Syria…now why would the BBC not want to reflect that?
Since the BBC are intent on updating the stories, should there not be at least one Syrian refugee in the story, preferably in a wheelchair, with an ongoing battle with the DLA to have the Dinghy adapted for him?
Perhaps they could sail off the Sea Paling coast and rescue drowning Albanian ‘tourists’?
And yes, 60 years ago, I could cycle from Westleton to Dunwich, with a wood and canvas contraption tied to my back with rope…
I couldn’t do it today.