This afternoon, in order that I could have a few hours to myself to recreate my CV, my husband took the children swimming at our local sporting village. Also, I had just been upstairs to put on my swimsuit and was so nauseated by the image in the mirror (I’m not entirely convinced it was me – there were body parts I simply did not recognise), I decided I shouldn’t be seen in public. I felt bad not going with the boys but the fact was that I would be doing them a favour by not exposing my fleshy bits to the outside world. (Thinking about it, I’m starting to see the benefits of a burka.) So off they went all excited and chatty as I waved them goodbye from the front door.
A few hours later they returned with slightly wet hair, big smiles and a bag of chocolate buttons. I was of course happy to see them but it was the buttons that brought the biggest cheer. Yippee, chocolate! A woman can never have enough. Licking my sticky fingers we sat down and started chatting and I was shocked to learn that at the swimming pool, you are not allowed to jump in. My five year old had been standing on the edge and had launched himself into the water when my husband was politely instructed not to do that please. Not to do what? Display this rather rotund belly in public? No sir, please do not allow your child to jump into the pool. Really? No jumping? Yes sir, health and safety. Health and safety? He was speechless. I was speechless, which is in itself a shocking occurrence.
I can understand no running around the edge of the pool – one could fall and hurt themselves. I can understand no bombing – one could jump on an elderly person or small child. I can understand no smoking in the pool – at nearly £10 a pack you’d simply be wasting your money. But no jumping into the water? Really? What else is it there for?
When I was a kid we jumped in. We actually ran, yeah ran, and then jumped in. We didn’t die. We saw other people jump in. They didn’t die. When my husband was little he jumped from diving boards that were 12ft. high. He didn’t die. Years ago you were allowed to wear a snorkel and flippers in a public swimming pool. What fun! You could be a deep sea diver searching for lost treasure. You could be the Man from Atlantis (obviously with the help of a snorkel otherwise you could well have died if you didn’t come up for air). A couple of years ago my eldest saved his money and bought himself a snorkel and flippers only to be told that he was not allowed to use it at the public swimming pool. Why? Because there weren’t enough lifeguards and he would need constant watching. What? Why? Surely it’s the kids in the deep end without a snorkel that you should be watching, the ones that are clearly battling to make it to the side without drowning. (Where are her parents?!) What has gone wrong with our society?
Did you hear the one about the bar staff who wouldn’t let a customer carry a tray of drinks because he/she had not been health and safety trained? Then there was the one about the charity shop who said they could not sell knitting needles for health and safety reasons. Yo-yos were banned from a school playground. Footballs were banned in the playground unless they were made of sponge. There are so many. I could go on but I’m getting so angry I’m in danger of finishing this bottle of wine.
For goodness sake, the authorities turn a blind eye to dogging in case it takes away someone’s human right to sexually express themselves in a way they feel fit ,and yet swimming pools in Bournemouth a few years ago were told to stop lending inflatables to families who hadn’t brought their own, because they couldn’t guarantee they’d be free of bacteria. But it’s okay to take your children for a walk in the woods on a sunny afternoon and accidentally witness two men shagging a woman on all fours whilst wearing nothing but her birthday suit. Hello! Is anyone out there?!
Our children have less freedom today than they’ve ever had before and the little freedom they do have, we seem to be constantly losing control over. What we did when we were younger, kids would never be allowed to do today – and if you do allow them a little more freedom than is the ‘norm’, you are portrayed as an irresponsible parent. They are so wrapped in cotton wool that when they do accidentally hurt themselves it becomes a major issue and only a colourful designer plaster will do.
I let my youngest, who is five, light candles with matches – under my supervision of course. He’s burnt himself a few times, I won’t lie – very minor injuries, no scarring, mentally or physically. (I can just imagine Social Services warming the engine as I speak.) However, he has total respect for matches and fire and he is well aware of the danger they pose. He does not go near a match without asking me first – he wouldn’t dream of it. And if I say no, then it’s no. He knows he needs supervision because it’s dangerous. When my husband was his age he was playing on bomb sites in the East End – often setting fire to them just so they could wait until the fire brigade arrived. What jolly japes..!
I realise we have moved onwards and upwards and there are things that are no longer appropriate for children today and some of them I agree with. However, if we’re going to give them a childhood, let’s make it an interesting one, let’s make some of it ‘on the edge of your seat’ stuff. Safe and supervised ‘on the edge of your seat’ stuff. It teaches children a lot about themselves when they are given a little more freedom – it helps them make choices for themselves. They won’t always make the right choice but hopefully they won’t make the wrong choice twice.