Scott Dunlop wonders if his childhood was normal or a daily dice with death.
I shouldn’t be here. By today’s standards, I am some freakish anomaly who has the luck of a double lottery winner after managing to survive a suicidal/homicidal/infanticidal childhood. It wasn’t really a childhood at all; in fact, it was a daily dice with death on the path to adulthood. Funny thing is, I’m not alone. Some others out there also beat the odds to get to parenthood themselves.
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• Wandering pre-schooler: I was allowed to disappear. Even at the age of four. As far as I can recall, it was encouraged. I’d head out into the farmlands and walk, not just out of sight of the house (and my parents) but to entirely different towns. If I got lost or tired after a few hours I’d just knock on a stranger's door and use their phone to call my parents. Otherwise I had one coin to use a phone booth. No suitable clothing, no water bottles and no food.
• Experiments: I was given sulphuric acid, penknives and hand tools as toys. Sure, I got hurt quite often, slicing my fingers open or watching my chemistry set experiments explode, but that was part of the fun. It was even encouraged: you had a toy microscope so it instructed you to cut yourself to look at the blood under a slide. Blood! Scabs! Now that’s a boyhood.
• Trees, rooftops and stairs: My parents were nowhere to be seen as I climbed up to the tops of trees higher than our double storey house. Clinging to branches only slightly thicker than my thumb I’d be blown in the wind. Same went for climbing onto rooftops several storeys high or attempting to see just how high I could leap from down stairways or off the garage roof. If my parents were around, they might take photos to show me my proud moment afterwards.
• The freedom of the kitchen: Doesn’t sound dangerous, but I was allowed to play with the stove and oven. Chop things up and cook them. I was also allowed to make fires and cook sausages in the embers. Also, making hot air balloons out of meths and bin bags and letting them loose over the neighbourhood.
• Bombs: Even I admit this was really stupid, but it was something lots of kids were doing, experimenting with chemicals and other volatile elements to make bombs to explode in our gardens. HTH and Jeyes Fluid was one mixture. My neighbour and I burnt his father’s business equipment when we left one in his garage. The building burned down. I also had friends that were injured (not unexpectedly), requiring hospitalisation and even skin grafts.
• Bikes and other moving hazards: Crashing your bicycle (no helmet) was a rite of passage. My go-cart, the one my father had neglected to construct with brakes, was fairly lethal, too. I can still hear the SPLAT noise which comes from attempting the steepest hill in town on a skateboard.
I wouldn’t condone any of these, necessarily, but I made it out in one piece. I get that it’s a different kind of world now – more aware – but I wonder if I was just a stupid kid or simply doing what everyone was doing.
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What reckless things did you get up to that you’d hesitate to allow your own kids to do?