The joys of a free-range childhood - alcopops and pollution

I SHALL have to give up reading the Sunday papers; they are definitely bad for my anxiety gene. Yesterday we were invited to worry - again - about children and lead: apparently they have found high levels of it in delinquent teenagers (I suspect they also found high levels of testosterone as well, but that wasn't mentioned). Is the answer, then, to keep children at home away from traffic pollution? Ah, no, then we'll just be adding to the problems of "battery-reared" children - subject of another alarmist article in a different newspaper. I find the idea of a kind of golden era when children played out in the street quite mystifying. I mean, what's so great about dodging the dog shit on the pavement, when there's probably a virtual reality version of it on Playstation?

Looking back to my own childhood, I suppose I was a free-range kid who elected for a battery coop. My only memory of playing in the street was sitting on the front garden wall licking my lips and pretending to be Kathy Kirby's cousin (remember Kathy Kirby of Secret Love fame? That was some lip gloss). The rest of the time I was in the back garden looking for fairies and trying to fly. The benefits of playing out in the street, according to this article, are largely to do with socialisation - the very reason I, as a child, avoided it. Around here, of course, parents don't let their children play on the streets because there is a general perception that the ones who do are also allowed to go free-range amongst the 18-plus videos, alcopops, and car ignitions. Which, I suppose, brings us full circle back to the lead.

I ALLOWED my own brood out of their coop on Friday for the annual torture that is the school disco. My eight-year-old spent the last one in tears - and so, consequently did I - because she was too inhibited to join in the Spice Girl dance. I realised it was all my fault - probably because I don't allow her to play outside on the streets, but largely because I had subliminally dressed her as a miniature version of me in baggy linen shorts and baggy shirts. (Remember how sorry you felt at school for the children of older mothers because they always dressed them in home-made cardigans and ankle socks? I'm probably doing the Nineties equivalent of that to my children)

So this time she went as a junior version of Posh Spice, but still ended up in tears: everybody else was All Saints. The five-year-old was too shy to dance (genes again) until the class competition at which she raced on stage and transformed in to Lolita-meets-whirling-dervish. I was too shocked to be pleased that she had won the prize, particularly as other parents presumed she had learned her dancing technique from me in my alternative career as glamour dancer in a topless club.

I recovered just in time to see the year six competition, and my son, the only boy dancing in the whole class - throwing himself about like Michael Jackson on speed. Obviously we have a very strong competitive gene in the family because, having skulked in a corner all night with a bag of crisps, he went out there to win, swiping the prize from under the nose of the girl-vamps doing the Macarena behind him.

The school disco is a rite of passage for year six girls - last year's class ended up slow-dancing together, so this year's had unrealistic expectations of the boys metamorphosing from would-be Ronaldos in to Romeos. For weeks, they had spent break-times pairing each other off and stalking their potential conquests: consequently, on the night of the disco only three boys, possibly the most hormonally challenged in the class, turned up. And one was only there for the crisps.

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