Did you ever:
1. climb onto a roof of a farm building; and
2. tie car springs to your feet with baler twine; and
3. open an umbrella; and
4. wobble over to the edge of the roof (the car springs made walking difficult); and then –
Ha! Easy knowing you never read “The Comics”.
In comic-land, this escapade worked a treat. The altitude and the umbrella meant you’d surely float or fly. And, even if that didn’t go to plan entirely, you’d a Plan B with the car springs. Assuredly, at the very least, you’d be making huge marsupial bounds across the farmyard, BOINNNG! BOINNNGING! away, a new world conquered.
As I launched myself excitedly off the edge, I distinctly recall thinking what a good idea jumping off a roof clutching an umbrella was and how come people weren’t doing this sort of thing more often. What fun it was!
Crump! Oof & ooyah! As I picked myself up (fortunately the ground was relatively soft and not yet concreted), I remember my main feeling was one of relief that no-one had witnessed the debacle.
I was 5 years old and a true believer. As a kid, many of my recreational ideas were lifted straight from the pages of The Dandy, The Beezer, The Topper and The Beano. I built a den. I made several go-karts. I “hunted wild animals” and engaged in shoot-outs with other gangsters. I explored. I played (numerous) pranks on adults. I built a dam over the exit stream from the duck-pond at the bottom of our farm-yard (and damn nearly flooded our farmhouse – I hadn’t counted on how quickly the water would rise and how difficult it is to remove a dam once it’s trapped under water pressure). I built a raft. I built a tree-platform. I spied on “shady strangers” and took their car numbers. I put 50p in a box and buried it, for the thrill of finding it again. (I never found it, of course – how big the earth is, how small a spade was and how unreliable our sense of location thereon is, but sure wasn’t the challenge great?) I threw knives at hay bale targets. I swung from hay-tethers at the roof of haysheds, Tarzan like (I thought) and dropped onto a handful of straw on the ground below. “Buck-eejiting” my parents called it. “Base jumping” and “corporate bonding entertainment” they’d call it now. I made a kite. I made a sleigh. With bricks and planks, I set up ramps to do stunts on my old inherited Raleigh bicycle. I dug holes, covered the top with twigs, newspaper and grass and waited for people to fall in. No-one ever did. Using an upturned wine-glass, I eavesdropped on conversations in adjoining rooms and reported the news on the bean-can and string 2-way radio. (Of course, I could more easily just have went into the next room, but where would have been the fun in that?) I wrote letters using lemon juice. I tried to fish. I made a pop-gun. I collected frog-spawn. I learned new words. Again aged 5, I remember reading about the adventures of ‘Claude Hopper’, the bloke with the very big feet. As someone tripped over them, poor Claude, embarrassed, rushed to assist, saying, “I must apologise”. The context taught me the meaning, even though I pronounced it “appol-ogg-guise”, until corrected. I made pirate swords and set up a gangplank for other kids to walk along, at “sword”-point (the sea into which the scurvy protesting varlets would fall was a bathtub full of mucky water). I roamed the fields, bogs and moors, spotting small animal trails and tracks and imagining the seeming-humanity of their existences (animals were as human as humans in the comics). Donning meal-sacks to “protect” our trousers, we set up mud slide trains down the side of an empty loch (in local folk memory, the night the loch burst its banks was accompanied by a mighty roar; but to us it was a peaceful place of unusually tall trees and unusual vegetation, with usefully steep sides, great for “sliding”). A tar-barrel (intended to hold salted meat) and a short shovel made for an entertaining “boat” (the design flaw was in the circularity – the thing spent most of its time spinning in drunken circles, but hey, we were floating).
There were the general comics and there were gender-stereotype comics. The latter, for boys, were exclusively about soccer and war; and, for girls, seemingly about social agonies and the dynamics of female gossiping and female social politics. I liked the football and war comics fine, but much preferred the anarchy of the general traditional comics. It should be noticed in passing that all the general traditional comics always had a sprinkling of very strong female characters – Minnie the Minx, Beryl the Peril, Dyna Mo, etc.
That was the thing about the comics. The kids and characters in them were constantly outside, doing stuff. The idea of a kid as a role model being someone who sat indoors, whey faced, weak and rule-ridden, well, ugh. (In the comics, there were such characters, but they were pitiful and not to be emulated, such as ‘Walter the Softy’.) Looking back, I begin to appreciate anew the importance to my sense of self and my personal development of growing up on a farm surrounded by a ready-made adventure playground, and, crucially, an abundance of sheds and work-tools (saws, hammers, nails, screws, screwdrivers, wood planes, vices, discarded machine parts, wheels and bric-a-brac of all sorts) with which one could fabricate all manner of contraptions. However, the comics were an important catalyst for much of what I did. Being trapped in a house, full of soft furnishings and fragile ornaments and adult do-goodery and pessimism, was no place for any self-respecting kid of my generation.
And now, countless cow pies later, The Dandy is coming to an end, in paper format anyway, at the end of this year. Dandy editor Craig Graham said: “Following extensive research, we discovered The Dandy readers were struggling to schedule a weekly comic into their hectic lives. They just didn’t have enough time. They’re too busy gaming, surfing the net or watching TV, movies and DVDs.”
Hectic my foot. How about “over-protected, inactive kids who can’t read”? It’s inevitable. Who wants to read daft, un-PC stories illustrated with ropey line drawings when you could slump on your couch and download an app.
Sad to see it go; and I do not envy today’s passive, chaperoned kids. We had freedoms that are un-thinkable nowadays.