Everyone knows that writers don’t just write.
Aside from walking dogs and riding horses with a soupcon of parenting and bill paying on the side, I do festival talks, a bit of journalism, some teaching, and run a monthly storytelling group called True Stories Told Live with three other Londoners (Kerry Shale, actor; Kate Bland, radio producer; David Hepworth, all round music eminence gris). We do it for love (as opposed to money) and it’s turned into a pretty successful evening out.
And now I’m getting to the point.
Last night in Camden, at our monthly packed evening, we heard from Bobby Baker about how she was about eight when she and her brothers found a bomb in their basement and a constable on a bicycle borrowed a shopping bag from their mother to package it up and take it away. We also heard from Julia Eccleshare about a family assault on Ben Nevis (before mobile phones) that ended with two young sons being sent for help in a stranger’s car flagged down on the road.
In a recent class I taught, I asked a group of kids about the most dangerous thing they’d ever done.
After a long pause, a boy of about 13 put his hand up.
“I once left the top off a pen on my mum’s sofa.”
And I remembered being ten when we put pennies on the tracks behind our house for the trains to flatten (having been strictly forbidden to play there). And jumping over waves all day in wild seas while our parents chatted away up the beach. And hitch-hiking. And sailing. And lighting fires in the woods. And riding our bikes (no hands) down the steep hill we lived on. And huge raucous neighbourhood games of hide-and-seek that once resulted in my sister being locked in a post box for hours.
Without health and safety and helicopter parents, things happened. Not all of them good.
I remember a 13-year-old drowning when she got caught under a big anchored wooden raft we all used to jump off at the ‘quiet’ beach. And my father talking on a scratchy line to a French doctor one night when the child of a neighbour fell off a horse (presumably helmetless) and died in a French hospital.
But I don’t remember self-harm or insomnia or suicide attempts, and maybe that’s because no one talked about those things back then. Or maybe it’s because kids are a bit like dogs, in that the tired ones are happy ones. And we had too many adventures back then to lie awake at night worrying about homework.