The Preservation Of Childhood
A few weeks ago, I was asked to compere the Sidmouth Donkey Sanctuary summer fair. It was surprisingly well-attended, and even though I was told that a good 15,000 people had been through the gates last year, I was truly taken aback by how many were in attendance. In amongst all the performances from local singers, ascending stars Sound Of The Sirens, local vendor stands, hand-made items and donkeys, I took the opportunity to take Dragon, my radio co-host and loyal companion, on a few walks round the site with me.
Though I was naturally conscious of being a bearded, adult male strolling round a busy country fair, cradling what others would see as a toy dragon, I felt sure in myself with my kindly, green pal. I found that, rather than treating me like a lunatic, or insanely creepy, those who were manning the stalls would smile and asked about Dragon, instead of being unkind. I found that if I talked about him sincerely, and make no apologies for his presence, the fact that I was not ashamed of having him with me meant that I wasn’t made fun of, something that would be all too easy to do.
During a conversation with Johnno the soundman, a gentleman some years older than myself, he divulged with some pride that his family have a pig called Arnold (although he did not initially explain that this was a toy pig, which was a bit confusing) that has been handed down between their three children, and gone on a number of family holidays with him. He had been photographed in the mouth of a T-Rex at the natural history museum, in the barrel of a gun on HMS Belfast, and his presence meant that Johnno and his wife acted in a child-like manner, as well as encouraging the family to take photographs. During this exchange, he warmed more and more to Dragon, which was not unexpected, but wonderful all the same.
As we age, responsibilities, family, and expectations both cultural and personal begin to take greater precedence in our lives. When we are young, those of us born into relative peace have the joy of being free from obligations, unbound by deadlines, and are able to go about our lives with little hemming our imagination. Our often irrational excitement can take any number of forms, from a pathological need to have a special t-shirt, to a pebble that we love, and any number of other incidental matters. This is something that permeates every single human being, in greater or lesser ways, irregardless of their upbringing, culture, geography, or spirit, and is truly fundamental.
One of the most important things that happens in our early lives is the acquisition, gifted or otherwise, of a special toy, generally – though it is by no means a hard and fast rule – an animal. People I have known and spoken to over the years have had monkeys, bears, rabbits, horses, or confusing half-animals that aren’t really anything, but the one thing they have in common is a huge presence in that individuals’ life, that sticks with them as they get older. The most scarred fighter, fearless soldier or bloodied surgeon can return to their childhood when presented with their Brownie, Flatty, Kessington, or Pom Pom, and the effect of this is something magical.
We are told, particularly in this day in age, that we’re supposed to be hard but understanding, compromising but fair, politically correct but not sensitive. Children get to be babies then adults, with little in between. This is predominantly because of our access to the internet, that limitless, unpoliceable cascade of information, and the unprecedented flood of thoughts, feelings and polemic that pummels our morality through the likes of Twitter. Though it is an obvious statement, we live under the illusion that everyone who thinks like us is alright, and that everyone who doesn’t is stupid and will never be anything but. A scalding missive or hurtful, clever soundbite is far more significant than any thought-out, considered approach, and scoring points off one-another is more desirable than being supportive or knowing anything.
Young children carry less of this blindness-they don’t sexualise things like adults do, or feel as much of a need to be backhanded and hurtful. I am reminded of the story of the two best friends – one black, one white – who shaved their heads so their teacher couldn’t tell them apart. They didn’t see their skin colours as being a divisive factor in their friendship, and while it took an adult to share it to the internet, the two boys acted in the spirit of good humour, not from a perspective of self-aggrandisement, point-scoring, or unkindness. These are traits at which adults excel, as they are instructed to leave their goodness behind, and become toughened by the world.
How much we must miss out on by having such an outlook. There is no definitive approach to life, no one way to live it. We are less forced into being normal than we are to not stand out. Hold your bear; hold your dragon, and remember being young. It will do you good.