Those were the Days my Friend. Now if you get that reference you’re definitely a pensioner, like me. Mary Hopkin ring any bells? Yes those were the days, when the streets were empty of cars, certainly if you lived in Clerry (Clermiston) and the building site opposite was your playground. Health and Safety had not been invented and we ran amok among the builders’ bricks and perched on top of mountains of flooring planks.
We made stilts from purloined wood, built tepees from the long grass where the church now stands and floored them with bits of old carpet, slugged back foul liquorice water and read our Dandies and Beanos.
We had no watches or mobile phones and only our stomachs told us it was time to head for home.
On summer nights I ignored my father’s calls to come in, although I had been told that children who stayed out late would be victims to polio (a real threat at the time). He had to come out and wave a garden cane at me when public humiliation made me aim for home.
In the winter we played under the street lights and slalomed on narrow paths through Corstorphine Woods in the moonlight. Our street games followed the seasons: peevers, skipping, peeries, marbles. We sat at the pavement’s edge and swopped beads and scraps. We balanced against walls with our heads on our school bags. We invented games out of thin air. We played statues, and of course hide and seek.
My own sons, now in their 40s, lived a country life in childhood and disappeared in school holidays for hours on end. They could be located by spotting the heap of bicycles at one of their friend’s doors.
A phone call would be received around lunchtime from one of the mothers letting me know she was feeding my boys (and the others) sausages and beans. They played in the river at the bottom of the garden for hours wearing their “river clothes “ and wellies.
As the summer grew they and their wee gang walking up the village reminded me, minus the horror, of Lord of the Flies. They were brown and dishevelled and having a great time.
Now I see my own Scottish granddaughter familiar with Skype since a toddler, watched every Disney cartoon in the book, playing under supervision in play parks and the concern of her parents if she is out of sight. It is not to criticise, it’s just another world. A world of digital entertainment, of fear of strangers, of falling.
Now why write this? We can’t turn the clock back, have car-free streets. Well last week I went out with Midlothian Play-a voluntary group which takes out bits and bobs to open green areas having first leafletted to ask the local folk the best place to hold a play session.
Out came the cricket and tennis bats, balls and some crates and a wheel barrow. At first there was not a child in sight, then gradually in ones and twos they began to appear. First picking up the bats but soon walking on the crates as if crossing a crevasse. The wheelbarrow was the star of the show loaded with their playmates and hurtling about with a rewarding degree of danger. You see beneath all the gadgetry, children will be children. The wheelbarrow reminded me of that.
Christine Grahame is SNP MSP for Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale