For some reason (nostalgia is a funny thing) I've been remembering how I spent my weekends when I was a child. I had a Best Friend, Susie, and we were virtually inseparable. We spent almost every weekend together, either at her house or mine (we lived in the same street). I'm going to sound like I'm having a bit of a Monty Python moment, but when I was a kid, we spent most of our time outside if it wasn't raining too hard. I feel a bit sorry for children today who seem to be imprisoned by their parents' fears of paedophiles, violence and car accidents. We were fairly free-range children: we had to be back by tea-time, but other than that we could roam around without having to be in constant mobile phone contact with our parents â€” imagine that!
Most of our outdoor play involved energetic movement of some sort. We would roller-skate down the hill beside Susie's front garden. This was in the days before fancy in-line skates, and we had those old metal platforms on wheels which we would buckle on to our shoes with leather straps. I don't think that the hill was particularly steep, but to a small child on roller-skates it seemed an impossible gradient. Luckily, Susie's garden was bordered by soft fir trees, so we would dare one another to start off one tree further up each time, and fling ourselves into a tree-cushioned crash-landing in the event of things going horribly wrong.
I remember that we spent most of our childhood days up various trees. My garden had a very nice willow tree in it. The first couple of metres were tricky with a smooth, branchless trunk, but with a couple of rope loops on the first branch, we could get into more climbable territory. We would sit up there for hours, chatting about girl things, unmolested by my little brother. I'm sure that my Mum worried about us, but I think she relied on the Pavlovian conditioning method: the first time we fell out of the tree and broke something, we'd learn to be more careful, or never want to climb a tree again. But in years of climbing trees, neither of us ever fell out.
We even had our tea up the tree, rigging up a pulley and basket system to get the food up there. Tea was almost always the same thing: toasted sandwiches (cheese and Branston Pickle or cheese and Marmite), cake (chocolate, if I had my way), an apple, and a glass of Ribena. Actually, we only had Ribena at Susie's: my Mum had an aversive experience with a broken bottle of Ribena outside Tesco's, and vowed never to buy the wretched, sticky stuff again (see, Pavlovian conditioning does work). The toasted sandwiches were made in a proper toasted sandwich maker, and were neat little pillows with the edges welded shut by pressure and butter. When you bit into one, the melted cheese was hot, but the Marmite or pickle reached temperatures akin to those found at the earth's core. Thus, it was vital to gingerly bite the end off the parcel and blow into the cavity for several minutes to let the contents cool to merely scorching.
We made a go-cart out of an old pram chassis with a board on it, and would hurtle down the garden on it (my brother on the brakes, such as they were) at supersonic speeds, stopping just in time to avoid the garden wall and subsequent 3 foot drop onto the patio at the end. Somewhere at home, my Dad has a fantastic picture of me, Susie and my brother, eyes wide with exhilaration, fun and fear, as we roar down the garden on the pram. I love my life, but I feel slightly sad when I look at that picture: I just don't have that kind of fun anymore.