Welcome to what I hope will be a regular column in Coastal View. Unlike some other parts of your paper, which have to deal with the real or imagined gripes of parts of our community, or the all too often contrary opinions of local councillors, this column will concentrate on the whimsical, the surreal or the plain silly things that happen in that magic triangle between Guisborough, Whitby and Saltburn, that cauldron that is East Cleveland. Don’t bother to look for messages in it – they are none. It will be strictly Marxist – as Groucho would interpret it.
One of the many good things about living in this part of the land is that the open countryside is literally on the doorstep of our towns and villages. And for kids, that’s a great thing. Adventure was there a few hundred yards from the back gate. What a contrast to today’s boy or girl growing up in a city estate, with only monolithic stretches of streets and houses, all the same and all equally boring. But how many East Cleveland kids now, I wonder, get to experience the thrills, spills and misadventures that we did? In the battle between using your local world as an adventure playground and the playstation, the playstation seems to have won. Chat, gossip and juvenile scandal is bartered to and fro, not outside the door of the local chippy, but via the digital linkage of a mobile or a laptop from one bedroom to another. It shouldn’t be like this. For me and my compatriots, it was the woods, beaches and streams that delineated our world. You learnt about the sea via local fishermen and, if you were lucky, or had the right contacts, got the chance of a short trip offshore. Natural wildlife, you often learnt from direct experience and observation, or for the boys, via going out – under a strict oath of secrecy – with the local lampers, and which, if mum was up to it, a rabbit pie supper the next day. No more. Parental fears, the feeling that a paedophile lurks behind every tree, fears stoked by sensationalist treatment by the red top media, the fears of a serious accident or a simple and stupid over reaction by local residents if a group of young people just get together, just combines to means that street life for youngsters is more and more corralled. There are other reasons too. For a boy, try to build a Go-Cart soap box scooter today and you hit a problem – there are no prams from which you can get the frame and wheels. Everyone’s mum has now got one of these ludicrous fourwheel- drive, six-position, leather-seated, £500 baby buggies that block up the buses. For the boys, playing cowboys and red indians is risky too. Being spotted by some jobsworth in a distant CCTV control room means the despatch of the local police riot squad tooled up ready for action with what looked through the blurred pixels to be an armed mob.
Just kicking a ball near to someone’s greenhouse can be an action leading to the local police helicopter being scrambled, with the would-be Biggles at the thermal imaging controls directing a response team to an 11 year old target. Talking Biggles makes me wonder how he and his chums Algy and Ginger would fare in today’s world. Biggles was the creation of ‘Captain’ W.E Johns, a man who originally served with the 1914 era Royal Flying Corps (but who was definitely not a Captain) at what was once Marske Aerodrome, a bit of Marske now covered by a new 1970’s housing estate. Biggles was an unreconstructed, stifflipped, derring do airman, the ace of the ‘Air Police’ who tackled wrongdoers the world over, and whose exploits nourished a generation of 1950’s boys, was a character who acted as more of an introduction to the written world that any number of ‘phonics’ lessons ever do now. But there are signs that a youthful counter culture is stirring. The first sign of that was the runaway success of an unlikely best selling tome, ‘The Dangerous Book for Boys’, a book that tells us an awful lot about the innocence all children have lost. If you are unfamiliar with its contents, its premise is simple: a compendium of 100 or so subjects that boys should know about, from “Making a Bow and Arrow” to “Five Knots Every Boy Should Know.” Open it up and William and the Outlaws spring to life. Every pocket contains a conker, a fluff-encrusted Olde English Spangle (the inky black ones were the best) and a penknife, used, in this instance, for removing stones from horses’ hooves, rather than for disemboweling an annoying schoolmate. And girls feature too in another example of this counter culture. Amazons – as in the Swallows and Amazons – are back, this time in a new film. The Swallows and Amazons for those readers who have never met them, were the characters in a series of books by 1930’s children’s writer, Arthur Ransome, (an interesting character who, in between writing these books, took time out to become a spy in revolutionary Russia, and who eloped back to England with his trophy wife, Leon Trotsky’s secretary.) The Swallows and Amazons, two families of boys and girls, the Walkers (John, Susan, Roger and a younger sister who suffered from the name Titty) and the two Blackett girls, Nancy and Peggy, spent their days simply sailing on the Cumbrian lakes, the Norfolk Broads, and on one occasion, the North Sea, in a collection of dinghies and small yachts. It was clear on reading these stories that the girls were definitely in the saddle. Unencumbered by life jackets or by sat-navaids, they sailed through a series of adventures which end inevitably, not in the curtained offices of a Child Protection Department, but in a cream tea and fizzy lemonade binge with their adoring parents.
Now, these ripping yarns are to come to our living rooms with the BBC snapping up the copyright from the Ransome estate. The filming of a new Swallows and Amazon series, we are told, will start next year on Lake Coniston, and although to attract the Harry Potter generation, it will be billed as an ‘action adventure, white knuckle ride,’ the series producer, Jamie Laurenson, has said that ‘It will make people realise that there is a playground out there, ‘and that ‘the most exciting moment for a child is the moment when they learn to do something for themselves.’ If Peggy, Nancy (and of course, Titty) can take on and overcome the culture of Sony and the Power Rangers, they might rescue a generation. I hope they do. Hollie Bush