Browsing the map above, I was able to consider some of my memories for my life up to the age of seven, when, as a family, we became £10 Poms and sailed off to Australia, to return nearly four years later via a homesick mother. Perhaps another blog...mapping childhood to eleven?
Looking at the map, it is interesting to note that from an early age, perhaps four-ish, the cul de sac nature of our road, which was a bit of a hill and very few people owning cars, meant that we were able to play with friends in the road, easily able to get out of the way if a car was moving. Back alleys and easy access, meant that the large field behind the road also became part of our playground, enabling us to make dens, climb trees and generally be independent. Falling from a tree and landing in a nettle patch showed that I could come up in huge lumps, but, apart from that and a few scrapes and grazes, it was an outside existence, meaning that we were out of the hair of our parents.
Bury Meadow meant kick-about football, with the jumpers for goalposts and as many a side as wanted to play, usually after school on light evenings, after tea. Returning home at dusk, because no-one had a watch, we had time to have a wash, a cup of milk and a biscuit, clean teeth and off to bed. It also occasionally meant arguments and fallings out and agreements to meet again the following evening and mean to keep it.
School was St Sidwell’s Primary, which was the basis of “The Turbulent Term of Tyke Tyler”, by Gene Kemp. Her daughter apparently was a school contemporary, which I found out many years later, as my class, in 1987, wrote letters to her and she replied with a signed copy.
It seemed, as a five-year-old walking alone, to be a very long way to school. Perhaps it was having to pass by Exeter prison, the army barracks, loiter on the bridge over the railway bridge to watch the steam trains pass or cross the busier roads. There was a parent line on the playground, with day one meaning a teacher meeting families as they arrived and sending us children to a specific class line, to troop into school together. School memories include outside toilets and little boys seeing how high they could reach; PE outside on rush mats; being sent to read outside in the sunshine -Janet and John- because I had finished my work early; having a piece of writing about science printed in a school booklet; having the school bully push me against a wall during playtime causing a scar on my forehead that is still there. It was a very happy time, though. I enjoyed school and it was a place that encouraged and fostered a love of learning across a wide range of experiences.
We got a pair of mice from a kind teacher, to have as pets. Of course, they breed exponentially, so finding people to give the resulting offspring to became more and more difficult.
We took in lodgers, who had the second reception room, some through the British Council; Bhati Vadgama, Mr Offer and Miss Alawi are names that come to mind. Miss Alawi’s father was Sheikh Alawi, who was the head of the scouting movement in Zanzibar. He took us to the cinema, but not on Saturday morning, to see a proper film, which was a real treat. Wonderful, generous people, who added significantly to our life experiences.
Saturday mornings were children’s cinema; "We come along on Saturday morning, greeting everybody with a smile…" so started the song that started the screening with the “bouncing ball” on the screen that took over from a man with a pointer.
There was a corner shop at the corner of Hoopern Street which became the happy recipient of our returned glass bottles and the provider of a small bag of sweets, at four a penny, or a wrap of sherbet, to take on our adventures. We often came home with coloured tongues.
We were independent quite young. Playing didn’t cost anything, perhaps apart from the cost of a plastic football. There was a lot of sharing and swapping, so toys and tea cards exchanged allowed access to a wider range of opportunities, although inappropriate swaps did sometimes upset parents. A chemistry set for Christmas was a real highlight, but not when the potassium permanganate solution spilled on the mantlepiece and me.
Childhood is a time of exploration, of making sense of the world around, geographically, seeking landmarks to offer orientation. Wandering around, with friends, allowed this to be a reality. Being responsible for getting myself to school added another dimension. Childhood necessarily has to be different now; the world is busier and, in certain environments, perhaps less safe. Car travel can divorce children from their environment, enhancing their dislocation from the real world.
So, I’d hope that, as young children, they would walk their locality with parents, talking about landmarks, constructing their internal maps, so that, when the time comes, they can safely negotiate the roads and get themselves to specific places and back safely, alone or with friends. To me, it is also the beginning of an interest in geography, enhanced through a variety of relatively simple school experiences, such as making sketch maps of their walk to school, mapping the school grounds or giving instructions of how to get from one part of the school to another, developing an appropriate vocabulary.
Keeping children safe means giving them independence skills.