A Survivor’s tale: The child who was allowed to play out

I discovered a website yesterday called The Wild Network: Roam Free, Play Free. It showed me how much the world really has changed. I am not going to bash computers or technology or lay blame at parent’s feet but reading the account of a parent allowing her school children to walk home from school unaccompanied (they’re probably even allowed to play in the local park!) made me realise how lucky I was as a child.

I ran with the Romany.

Playing outside for me was natural. If you were to ask my parents: should she be playing outside? – Do women have a place outside of the kitchen? The first question would have been as incomprehensible as the later. Yes, lah.

I spent my childhood running around the village visiting friends and playing in the park, wanderings along coastal paths clambering down rocks to hidden beaches, making wishes in woodland springs, even playing in old stables and abandoned barns. I never once thought that anything I was doing could be in anyway controversial.

There were times when people stopped me ‘playing out’, from paedophile scares to busy roads I can understand their concerns in much the same why I understand why people still tell me not to go out alone at night. I remember when I was 7 or 8 I had been walking the 0.2 miles (4 minutes) home from school every day for roughly 6 months when one day the school gate attendant prevented me from going. I explained that I had permission but it fell on deaf ears – I then told her that if she was not going to let me go until my mother arrives then she will have to phone my mother so that she knows to come and pick me up, something that was apparently out of the question. By 4:10 my mother still had not arrived, I was scolded and sent on my way with the warning that she better pick me up tomorrow. “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” Needless to say I survived the single road crossing into my quiet street.

When I was 10 my life changed dramatically and I had to grow up fast, we moved house and moved again, my mother became debilitatingly ill and I began to struggle, bullying started at school. I began to wander far and wide, play and my imagination became a substitute for my childhood only this time it was forced. 14, 15, 16 the older I got the more I wanted to revert, I read about children going off on epic adventures and I went off on my own. I spend hours stomping coastal path after coastal path, tor after tor. I studied hard at school and got to spend my evenings and weekends staring out to sea. Nature was there for me when nobody else was.

I’m afraid I cannot list the benefit of this part of my childhood, or quantify the hard and soft skills I gained from it but it was my childhood and formed the foundation of who I am today, for better or for worse.

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