The National Trust has put together a list of things that every child should have done before they have reached the age of eleven and three quarters. Their aim is to encourage children to have a better relationship with the outdoors than most have nowadays. Of course I couldn’t help looking to see how many I had or hadn’t done but as I am now well into my eleventh lustrum, at the ripe age of fifty one (and three quarters) it was always going to be difficult to remember at what age I had ticked them off the list.
For much of the period in question I lived in Shincliffe, High Shincliffe to be exact just outside Durham and our house backed onto farm land giving me and my friends ample opportunity to play in the fresh air. To be honest I don’t really recall ever being in but then your mind plays tricks after a while. We would wander for miles over the fields, through the woods, along the railways embankments and splodge through streams. I recall us going far away from home to watch the new motorway being built which fascinated me so much it became the theme for my school project. We poked everything with sticks, spent hours up trees, made dirt tracks to ride our bikes on threw stones, fired arrows shot catapults (though I note this is not on the list) and made dens from bits of wood that we found or managed to purloin from our fathers’ garages.
We used to hide in amongst the straw bales at harvest time and explore the spooky house by the old mineral line that rattled and shook as the goods trains used to rattle past, or camp out in an old tent on a nearby bit of waste land until the rain brought out our considerate parents to take us back into the warmth of the house.
I’ve looked through the list and was pleasantly surprised to say that I have done forty nine of the fifty, missing out on a full house only because I have no idea what a geocache is (having looked it up they probably didn’t exist when I was a child) but there are some activities that are missing for me. If I had the chance, or was ever asked, I would like to add the following: kick a stone all the way from school to home; make an ice slide; make a ramp to jump on your bike like Evil Knievel; catch a hedgehog in your hat; lie on your back and find shapes in the clouds; do what bears do in the woods; make a daisy chain; make a dandelion clock; build a bogey and have a race; build a sand castle; try to get a sheep to look at you by bleating or a cow by mooing; poke a cow pat with a stick; squeeze a puff ball. I’m sure that there are many more.
The list of things to do is a really fun idea and perhaps is a sad indictment of how we think about childhood these days with children prevented from such activities in case they get hurt or fall foul of some very unlikely danger. Above all though the list has brought back my own childhood and the many happy things we used to do and the happy times we spent playing and exploring, nearly always outdoors.