Wednesday, 9 January 2013


We took Grandson to a local play centre on Sunday. For those who don’t know, these are indoor soft play areas for kids, with padded climbing frames, slides, bouncy bits and all kinds of things kids love. They seem to be springing up all over the place - round here they are often housed in units on an industrial estate.  

We sit and watch him tear around for a couple of hours while we drink coffee and wave every now and then. What struck me on Sunday was how extremely safe these places are. Everything is padded, soft and harmless. The same applies to quite a few parents are too, but that's another issue. Children would have to be seriously inventive to hurt themselves.

So I pondered on my decidedly less safe way of amusing myself in the fifties. Climbing trees, lighting fires, barging through hedges, jumping streams, playing on railway lines and falling over - all of them were an important, never to be forgotten part of growing up.

And I thought of thorns.

As a child of the fifties, I don’t think there was ever a time when my hands, arms and legs didn’t have their quota of scratches, bruises and grazes. It has been said many a time and oft, but these minor scrapes and scratches must have exposed us to all the common outdoor bacteria. Our immune systems had to work bloody hard.

The trouble is, we can’t easily quantify the value of all those scratches and compare today with yesterday in any clear-cut way. Yes we know about increased prevalence of childhood asthma and allergies, but are we seeing cause and effect?

More to the point, what are we doing about it? Oddly enough, especially when we consider how we now wrap kids in cotton wool play centres, the answer seems to be nothing.

Why nothing? Presumably because we don’t know how to turn the clock back even if it would be advantageous to do so. We have become so excessively risk-averse that don't know how to give our kids the same advantages we had. We don't know how to bring a few sharp thorns into their lives.

In the end, I suspect this problem is seen by government as an issue and an opportunity for Big Pharma.

Or is that too cynical?


Macheath said...

Don't forget the nettle-stings! I wonder how many children now would recognize a dock-leaf, let alone know how to use it.

I know of three older children who have broken bones in indoor play areas - the false sense of security given by all the padding encourages them to throw themselves around in a way that would have been unthinkable for us, and as they get older and heavier, prevents them learning to compensate for the resulting added momentum.

Angus Dei said...

Absolutely agree AK, the only remedy available was "germolene" and a hug from mum.

They don't know what they are missing today.

And let's not forget the hours spent out in the smog "investigating":)

Anonymous said...

Our chemistry master gave a small lecture on the importance of NOT hammering the ends of steel pipe when making - well you know.. Very good advice that stood me in good stead both in and away from steel pipe situations. Safety is an attitude of mind one learns (with luck and credible advice).

Barnacle Bill said...

When I go back to Cornwall and look at some of the cliffs my mate George and I used to climb as kids - We must have been mad!
As for my knees, always scabbed over.
These new indoor play areas for children, they're great and usually the food & drinks are reasonably priced.

James Higham said...

As a child of the fifties, I don’t think there was ever a time when my hands, arms and legs didn’t have their quota of scratches, bruises and grazes.

And without those experiences, we are less than whole.

A K Haart said...

Mac - crikey, breaking bones must have taken some doing if the one we go to is any guide.

Angus - I liked the smog too!

Roger - our chemistry master was young and not of the old school. Very obviously different even in those days.

Bill - yes, the food and drink is so reasonable I always have trouble resisting a huge sausage and egg cob.

James - with only indoor memories.