Christina Patterson: Why we can't resist a little dice with death

They need a ‘gap year’ because they’ve barely been allowed past their front door

Related Topics

There are certain oppressed minorities that most of us don't rush to defend and among them, it has to be said, are the Royal Family. Charles: I'm sorry, but ghastly.

Whiney, pompous eco-warrior, the kind of man, you can't help thinking, more likely to weep over a soggy fried egg than the slow frying of the planet. Andrew: wannabe action-man-playboy and now self-appointed "business ambassador", whose tax-funded jaunts to tell the world how to make money (short answer: be the son of one of the richest women in the world) are such appalling value that reports about them have to be suppressed. Edward: oh, dear, Edward. You almost don't want to go there. Only Anne seems quite a good sport. But that, presumably, is because she keeps her mouth shut.

Edward – poor, dopey, I-want-to-have-a-nice-career-in-telly-but-unfortunately-it-didn't-go-well Edward – has just opened his, in Australia, and it hasn't gone down well. One of the chief attractions of the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme, he said in an interview this week, was that – well, that you could die. Never mind all that stuff about visiting old ladies, or serving in the community, or going on nice, healthy walks, he implied, the real USP was that you were dicing with death.

All hell has broken loose. The prince who isn't Einstein has been branded "insensitive" and "crass". And the word "gaffe", traditionally reserved for public outings from the Queen's consort, has been ceremonially handed from father to son. The context, it's true, wasn't ideal. Edward had been asked about the death, three years ago in the Australian bush, of a 17-year-old participant in the scheme. He responded by explaining how the death of a British boy, early on in the programme, had led to an increase in the numbers taking part. The reputation of the award among young people, he said, had soared to "Wow, this is serious".

He is, of course, right. I'll say that again. Prince Edward is right. If you want adventure, of course there has to be a risk of some kind. (If you don't, join a knitting circle.) The Duke of Edinburgh Awards scheme – along with tourist revenue, Hampton Court and some quite good TV programmes (made about, and not by, its members) – is one of the better things to come out of the British monarchy. It has helped thousands of young people to achieve things they would never have dreamt of. It has taught them, in an age of instant gratification, about the value of stamina and commitment. And, yes, it has given them adventures. Real adventures. Adventures that can, in extreme and terrible circumstances, lead to death.

It's not hard to see why young people today need something called a "gap year". (Actually, the way things are looking, they might end up with a gap life, but let's at least try to write one piece without mentioning the economy.) They need a year to run wild, in Brazil, or Goa, or Nicaragua, because they've barely been allowed past their front door. After 18 years of being marshalled from Baby T'ai Chi to violin and then to Ella's for some lovely gluten-free muffins, they can barely wipe their own bottoms. They're great at Google Earth – great at anything, in fact, that involves digits, a screen and a keyboard – but getting around is something that involves a car, a satnav and a dad. Drop them in a desert and they'd probably try surfing. "These boots are made for walking"? What's that?

For those of us who grew up with the model of childcare that involved the words "fresh air" and the tacit assumption that grown-ups were things you didn't disturb unless absolutely necessary, this is a bit of a shock. My own experience of Girl Guides was limited to a badge in flower arranging and a camp where I learnt to make a washing-up stand from lashed-together twigs, but then my favourite play area, when I was a toddler, was the building site next to our street. There's nothing like the sudden absence of a floor to make ging-gang-goolies by the campfire seem boring.

Children seek danger. Adults seek danger. Humans seek danger. Of course they do. Why do people ride motorbikes? Why do they ski? Why do they climb mountains? Why do presidents have affairs with interns? Why do ugly men drive fast cars? Why does anyone go to war, ever? Sure, some people fight for Queen and country, some might even one day fight for her silly eldest son and country, some people fight because it's the law and they have to, but many, many young men go to war because they want to test themselves, because they want the thrill. Humans seek danger because they want to feel alive.

You can do a bungee jump, if you want to, you can pay to be in a fast boat, or a fast car, or a white water raft, or a balloon, but surely it's better that you actually learn that there are certain situations in life when an escape, or a snack, or a drink, or an answer, isn't instantly at hand, and that when you start a journey, you have to finish it, and that if you want to finish it, you'd better do it well. And that sometimes, just sometimes, but you need to know this, you need to remember this, the stakes are as high as you can get.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketing Controller (Financial Services)

£70000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketi...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Ed Miliband created a crisis of confidence about himself within Labour when he forgot to mention the deficit in his party conference speech  

The political parties aren't all the same – which means 2015 will be a 'big-choice' election

Andrew Grice

Beware of the jovial buffoon who picks fights overseas

Boyd Tonkin
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all