I was intending to write about the numerous trees that are found in Portugal – and there are a good few varieties – and it got me thinking of trees in general, and I have been sidetracked by memories.
When I was a kid, there was a holly tree just around the corner from where I lived which was a favourite place to make a ‘camp’, where generations before had fashioned a den inside, and a gang of us kids would climb inside it and take food and drink in there, or pretend we were aboard a pirate ship, or whatever. Whoever got there first claimed it for the day, sometimes the girls got it, sometimes the boys.
When my kids were growing up, we had a banyan tree in the garden, and the neighbourhood kids would play inside the ‘roots’ that grew down or hung ropes between the roots, and if anyone fell, there was a bed of leaves to fall into, so nobody got really hurt.
Trees sometimes are just begging to be climbed and used to be magnets for kids, and I look out of my window now and see avocado trees, ancient olive trees and alfarrobeiras, and almost wish I could have a go at climbing one!
I will tell you my fateful story of tree climbing. As a 5-year old growing up, I suppose I was allowed a certain amount of ‘roaming free’, with rules of not going out of sight of the house and keeping off the road, pretty easy instructions even at that age. But of course, round the corner was not allowed, which made it all the more desirable, and inevitably I sneaked off out of bounds to climb a small tree.
Unfortunately for me, this was my undoing, because being a small child I wasn’t yet an experienced tree-climber (well you have to start somewhere don’t you?), and I slipped halfway up the tree – but got caught by the straps of my dungarees, and ended up hanging there, like a failed parachutist. The little boy I was with had the unenviable job of running home to my mother to confess where we had gone, and she had to rescue me. I was more frightened of the repercussions of this than actually hurting myself!
My husband tells stories of climbing a mighty oak, with footholds of 6-inch nails hammered in years gone by, and even though the boughs were sometimes wet or mossy, he and his gang showed some bravado by climbing up as far as they could and hung on tight as the branches waved to and fro.
Nowadays kids don’t play like this. Too much ‘Health & Safety’ abounds - are kids becoming too precious? We would fall and scrape elbows and knees, give it a lick and wipe it with a dirty finger, and carry on playing. Today it would involve washing in sterile water, application of antiseptic and a band-aid. Children seem to be glued to keyboards, obsessed by computer games these days – playing indoors instead of being outside in the fresh air using their imaginations, and maybe pretending to be fighting with sticks (and accidentally hitting each other or skinning knuckles in the process!). We would chew on grass, with never a care that a dog might have peed on it, made mud-pies and ran around playing games.
It seems a shame that modern technology has robbed today’s youngsters of a chance to explore, experiment and use their imaginations in play. Or have I got it totally wrong? Is the digital age of play a good thing?
Is this the way to prepare them for the real world? Perhaps I am looking back through rose-tinted glasses at a post-war age when we played with nothing because we had nothing else but our imaginations.
But I still think nothing compares with climbing a good tree – the excitement felt as you climbed higher, the fear that you might actually fall, the trembling limbs as you reached the ground again. I still vividly remember this though many years have passed, but will today’s kids remember successes at winning a battle at a keyboard?