Sunday, May 19, 2013

Sunday Essay - a ride from school

As a young kid, gravel rash was an occupational hazard. Many of Armidale's roads were unpaved beyond a strip of tar in the very centre, while the footpaths themselves were pretty rough.   Those unpaved road sections were quite useful, actually a good source of clay that could be used to make many a misshapen object.

We seemed to run everywhere. Most of our games seemed to involve sometimes violent exercise.  British Bulldog 123 was popular, especially in scouts where we played on a cement floor, while another variant, Red Rover Cross Over, was also generally popular. Chasings, yes it is a valid scrabble word, was popular, as was hide and seek and later wide games, another scouting influence. After I was given a stop watch for a present (I can't remember whether it was for Christmas or my birthday), we used to time ourselves running around the block. This was exactly 880 yards.

Later when we got bikes, we used to ride all over Armidale and into the country around, often with Rover, our red kelpie. Rover was a working, not show, dog and really most unsuitable for an urban environment. Still, he did get lots of exercise, something that can be a real problem today when dogs are meant to be so controlled. Poor Rover. He survived the inevitable accidents with cars, he did like to bark at the wheels, only to die from snake bite.

I suppose in those circumstances prangs were inevitable. I was a slightly clumsy child, so when my feet somehow got entangled, the gravel and I would collide. I don't know that I minded so much, although picking the gravel out of the grazes was sometimes unpleasant! Later with the bikes, risks increased, although there were remarkably few accidents.

Looking back, it's hard to remember just how fit I was. During the football season in my last years at secondary school I played two full eighty minute games of Rugby per week, trained two afternoons a week, and walked, ran or rode everywhere. On boring Sunday afternoons when friend David came across on exeat (he was a border at my school), we would sometimes go for very long walks just to see how far we could get in the time. From memory, our record was eighteen miles.

You would think in all this that I would like cross-country runs, sometKids on horsehing that was popular at the school. In fact, I hated them. To do something for fun was one thing, to do it because you had too was quite another thing. 

I was reminded of all of this by a rather nice tale told by Denis Wright - Five-ex, blood and the zebra twins, Five-ex, blood, and the zebra twins 2. I won't tell you the story, beyond noting that in my world kids no longer rode to school on horses. That stopped with the school buses. And yet, in stories of Australian country life, that ride to school often features very heavily.

The photo, I have used it before. shows a gaggle of us on a horse. I am the tall one. Brother David is just behind, hanging onto me. Its a very placid animal. Note our bare feet.

Despite the photo, I wasn't good on horses. My grandfather sold Foreglen, his property, when I was very young. After that as a townie, I lost all contact with horses. Years later when I came to get on one, it seemed so bloody big, I was a long way from the ground, and I had forgotten what to do. I didn't enjoy the experience.

It would be many more years before youngest took up riding and I learned to ride again. Then the years fell away and I found that, with gentle reminders, I could remember what to do. Mind you, they were placid old nags!

Still, even though I wasn't riding, I did understand those early rides to school that I read about or heard described. I think that you will enjoy Denis's recollections.      


Rod said...

Although I'm quite a bit younger than you Jim there is still a lot of what you describe that I too remember from my childhood.

The working dog as a pet living in town but with lots of kids running around to keep our dog fit. Getting clobbered and bleeding (again and again) in Red Rover Cross Over. gravel rash from playing on gravel or falling off the bike while trying to do too many or too silly tricks (we didn't have helmets back the either).

But looking back I might have cried if my parents were around. but I never cried if I was with friends... I mean getting slightly injured while playing was rarely enough to the stop the game from being fun.

I think that there is still a small number of children that do get that experience. But that is a very rare thing in cities or even country towns.

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi Rod. Sadly the age gap between us is true, although I will put that aside! But your description is a nice one that adds to my picture.

On crying, you are right. The one time I do remember rushing home crying was after a collision down at the Teachers College playing fields playing cricket. Apart from damaging my nose,I drove a teeth through my cheek. Literally! I'm still not sure how I managed that.

I do wonder how many kids get the same experience. Not many, I think.

I am a member of a global discussion group about the novels of a particular romance fiction writer. Across countries, the same theme comes up: the difference between than and now. Of course some is nostalgia, but the actual descriptions of activities now and then are remarkably similar.

We tried as best we could give our girls some access to those things from the past, but it wasn't easy within the changing rules. As parents, you sometimes have to bite your tongue.

After we came down to Sydney, my girls lost the final chance to experience some of the things I had done outside strictly controlled school excursions. I didn't properly realise that likely effect at the time.

The rise of extreme sports is an interesting response example. Statistically, I think that these involve greater risks than other activities now banned or controlled. Then the kids go overseas and do things like tubing on the Mekong. That's hardly risk free!

With exceptions, I suspect that the things that we did gave us a greater chance to understand risk.

Anonymous said...

Jim, I'm disappointed you didn't mention that noble game 'Brandings' - played with a tennis ball and a strong arm, with preferably a schoolyard enemy in sight. Or billy carts? Maybe your youth was played out on flat ground?

I'm finding Denis's blog now very hard to read. He's such an interesting writer, but in the background is playing out the same insidious inevitable disease which took my own wife some years ago. I feel for him, but I lived through his wife, Tracey's, experience, so I feel more for her.

It's like a reverse high jump competition, where the bar is placed ever lower, and you are encouraged - as a carer - to treat each clear round as some sort of 'triumph'.

Best stop.


Jim Belshaw said...

Billy carts, yes, kvd, brandings no. I had to search to find a description. That strikes me as a bit too close to the bone. Have you ever read the bullying techniques described in Stalky & Co? Now that's really nasty.

I didn't know about your wife. While I am aware Denis's condition and feel that Tracy is absolutely bloody marvelous, I still thought that those stories were great.

Jim Belshaw said...

This. by the way, is the link to brandings -

Anonymous said...

Most kids' games were violent. Where was the fun in anything less? And if you blush at the sting of a 10 year old's arm throwing a tennis ball, then you had a sheltered childhood, or have simply forgotten.

Anyway the 'description' you link to was nothing like brandings as played. Quite simply, if you got hit you got the ball. And if you threw and missed, whoever retrieved it got to select from what's now termed a 'target rich environment' - but without the drones and the innocent bystanders.

Denis' stories are great. Not were.


Jim Belshaw said...

i'm sorry if I upset you, kvd. No, tennis balls are fine. And no, I didn't have a sheltered childhood; but later some of the descriptions is Stalky & Co are a bit too close from comfort.

Anonymous said...

No upset Jim - or at least, not of your causing. And I forgot to say that I found your own reminiscences very entertaining.