Hoodies of a different kind

10th August 2012 at 01:00

We're deep into August, and as I bounce my grandson on my knee I wonder how he will occupy himself during the longest of school holidays. Certainly very differently from the way I spent mine.

As a child, I loved the summer holiday. It seemed to stretch into eternity and there were so many things to do with your friends. We made museums, we watched Superman serials at Saturday morning pictures, we flew our home-made kites and we experimented with our chemistry sets. Cars were scarce - only three people on our road owned one - and we played marbles on the kerbside for hours with no fear of being mown down. My parents weren't keen on my scrabbling around near the gutter, though not because of an awareness of health and safety - it just took longer to scrub me clean at bedtime. They much preferred us to play in the parks or the woods.

And playing in the woods was wonderful. A week after seeing Walt Disney's Robin Hood, starring a young Richard Todd, my friends and I took to the outdoors, setting up camp among the trees and dividing ourselves into the outlaw band and the Sheriff's men.

The technology proved problematic, though: unlike Mr Todd, we seemed unable to strip the leaves from a supple branch and fashion it swiftly into a bow, though a solution was found when we discovered gardening canes, bent them and tied string across the ends. Shorter, thinner canes made passable arrows, especially if you slit the end and slid a cardboard flight into it. No eyes were taken out using these things, probably because we couldn't hit a tree, let alone a human being. The only thing our game seemed to lack was a credible Maid Marian.

Love interest did stir one summer, though. I'd been given a cricket set for my birthday and taken it to the common to have a game with Brian, my classmate. Brian was a dab hand with a bat and he whacked the ball so hard I spent much of the game running miles to retrieve it.

Then we noticed two girls, about our age, watching us. Brian asked if they would like to join in. One of them, Seymour, was very pretty; for the next hour I put on my best Len Hutton display to impress her. They promised to meet us the next evening, and when they had gone I found a chalky stone and scrawled "I want to Seymour of Seymour" on the wall of a nearby air raid shelter, which I thought was pretty damn clever for an 11-year-old.

Even more highly prized than my cricket set was my go-kart, built from an apple crate by my dad. The basic construction was simple, but drilling the hole through the steering axle for a nut and bolt took all day as he owned a minimum of tools. Most of my friends had a kart, and we had enormous fun racing down steep slopes in the park. Brakes were primitive, consisting of a wooden lever screwed to the side that pushed against the back axle. This either stopped you in mid-flight and hurled you out of your chariot, or fell apart in your hands, in which case the only method of stopping was by throwing yourself out anyway.

I look forward to my grandson reaching primary age. Things may be different now but there is so much we can enjoy together in the holidays, and none of it will involve watching television or sitting glued to an electronic games console.

Mike Kent is a retired primary school headteacher. Email: mikejkent@aol.com.

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