I tuned into Radio 4 the other day to hear a head teacher from some trendy academy extolling the virtues of shorter summer holidays.
Her students had been begging her for stimulating educational ways to pass the summer apparently but now that the school had shortened it to four weeks they were far happier and less bored.
I can’t remember the name of the school – I think it might have been the Stepford Wives’ Academy for Perfect Children – I do however remember my reaction; it was the kneejerk kick of my childhood self– the memory of those long summer days wandering about the common round the back of our estate, making bases strong against imaginary enemy gangs; eternal games of football on the goalpost-stripped summer playing fields; whole mornings filled with children’s TV that faded reluctantly into the afternoon gloom of ‘The Sullivans’ or ‘Little House on the Prairie’ – how could they take those six long weeks of summer from us?
The more I thought about those past summers though, the more other, less halcyon memories started to creep in. Maybe my memory, as memories tend to, had donned its rose-tinted spectacles again…
The long mornings of children’s TV were great at first, yes, but there were only so many episodes of ‘Dogtanian’ you could watch before you lost the will to live, and anyway was it really a whole morning packed with non-stop goodness? Once the cartoons were over the fare got decidedly dodgier – ‘Gentle Ben’? ‘Flipper’? I still can’t hear the theme tunes to ‘Black Beauty’ or ‘The Littlest Hobo’ without wanting to curl up into a foetal position and search desperately for a happy place.
Then there were the long, summer days outside spent exploring, playing games, getting into ‘scrapes’ and so forth. How often did that really happen? How often, actually, was I just sat inside, on my own, while it rained outside, desperately trying to get my Han Solo action figure to look like he gave a sh*t about the battle for Endor.
I began to change my mind. Maybe shorter summers are necessary just to get children out of the house, especially these days when kids hardly play outside anymore… But then I suddenly realised that the two things are inextricably linked – the perceived need for shorter summer holidays and the disappearance of children playing outside.
Slowly, almost imperceptibly, over the last couple of decades the children have disappeared from our streets. A combination of computer games, the internet, endless movies and an increasing paranoia of paedophiles have conspired to keep children cooped up inside houses and back gardens.
When I have children, I want them to go out and play all day over the common like I used to. I have a feeling, however, that they will be the only ones there and I will soon be reported as an unfit parent. Instead I guess I will have to tow the line like everyone else and keep them inside, dosed up on an endless drip feed of PlayStation and Pixar. After a couple of weeks of both them and me going up the wall, I guess I and – even more depressingly – they, will be wishing for shorter summer holidays as well.
Perhaps the rose-tinted glasses aren’t misplaced after all. Perhaps we really did have it better back in those fading sepia summers when we didn’t all line up like drones clamouring for more lessons outside the Stepford Wives’ Academy for Perfect Children.