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May 2019
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2003-07-15 Changing Childhoods

Recently my sister and I took her children, aged 8, 6 and 4, up Knocknarea. The half-hour steady climb from Primrose Grange to the summit of Maeve's cairn barely phased the kids at all.


It struck me how privileged these children are living on a farm, and with Sligo's beauty at their backdoor. Their quality of life, to me, is second to none, and they also nurture a deep respect and appreciation for nature and for the animal world. I realise they are in an unique position, and not everyone has a huge farm as their backyard, but we all have the countryside nearby. It made me think of my own childhood, and how childhoods appear to have changed.


At the risk of aging myself further, and sounding incredibly patronising, I grew up before mobiles, play-stations, email and the Internet were commonplace. We had two TV channels, books, a piano, the radio, and our imaginations. My nieces and nephew watch relatively little TV, but they do have an extensive library of videos, board games, books and music for inclement weather.


I spent much of my childhood building tree-houses, rebuilding and converting attics, assembling trolleys and carts, playing in straw and hay, and walking the dogs. On one occasion, I built a shack out of corrugated iron and scrap, and gave it it's own sign - 'Ivy Lodge'. Sadly, 'Ivy Lodge' collapsed in a light wind soon after. Luckily I was not in residence at the time. When we got nettle stings, dock leaves brought relief. Once, on a scout trip, a rusty nail entered the sole of my foot. In 2003, one might have sued the scouts, but then, I got a penicillin injection and life went on, without the ensuing lawsuit.


There was never any problem playing with friends across the road, or popping into town on the bike, just so long as we were back for tea. If we were involved in a scrap, we normally got over it. Games were improvised and playtime seemed to involve imagination and creativity. In bad weather, baking and cooking was a favourite, just so long as we got to lick the bowl. In the evenings, we walked the dogs on a beach or by the lake, thus inducing tiredness. I would like to think I know Sligo fairly well, though I have still much to see, and it is thanks to those adventurous daily walks of my childhood.


Before the advent of airbags and before seat-belts were compulsory, I learned to drive (way below the legal age) on the back-strand at Streedagh.


As regards food, we had no sell-by dates, we ate everything and cleaned our plates. We ate lots of bread and butter, cheese and cakes, but were constantly burning it off. Nowadays, I get irritated when I see children who, for example, 'only eat chicken nuggets', and who need constant bribery in order to be convinced to eat healthier foods.The high sugar intake and high ingestion of artificial additives (E-numbers for example) must and does lead to hyper-active and badly behaved children. Shouldn't a treat be a treat, and not part of one's normal diet? While losing weight, I realised part of my problem had been that commodities which ought to have been treats, had become part of my daily diet.

Ironically, the selection of foods available to us in today's shops, especially fruit and vegetables, has never been greater.


In general, previous generations seem to have taken more risks at mealtime and playtime, and risk-taking remained part of our lives. It didn't seem to do much harm to our generation.


Years ago, in remote rural areas, recreational music-making was the norm, and when there were no instruments, their imaginations led to practices such as 'mouth-music' (an improvised, usually rhythmic, 'sean-nos'style of singing). Music-making seems to have suffered, and possibly even the art of conversation. Our imaginations are no longer employed the way they used to be. Children's 'imaginary friends' seem to be less common nowadays, which is either a good or a bad thing!


Are we in 'the age of the acquaintance'? Are 'true friends' more thin on the ground?


Yes, I am constantly texting, and online, and I rarely miss "Coronation Street". I have also been known to consume the odd E-number, but despite all of this, I still realise by my attitudes, that I am indeed getting old!


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