A few weeks ago I had Sunday lunch with my sister and parents. Not something so extraordinary to write but my sister and I realised the last time the four of us has sat down together for Sunday lunch (without others, such as husband, wife and children, being there as well) was almost 40 years ago. I’d come home from university for a weekend and she was still at school. After lunch we went for a walk together in a local park.

It was a park near our old primary school and the main grass area is surrounded by horse chestnut trees.
That Sunday, the ground beneath the trees was littered with fallen conkers, many now starting to show signs of mould and decay. But that would never have been the case 40 or 50 years ago. When I was at school, we would go to the park in autumn and pick up all ten fallen conkers – and, if there weren’t enough on the ground, a hefty stick heaved up in the branches would provide more.. The conkers were then taken home and have a skewer and string pushed through; some might also undergo some other “preparation” such as baking or soaking in vinegar – though that was considered cheating by conkers purists.

To me it was a reminder of changed times. Kids no longer play conkers – schools banning the game or requiring players to wear safety goggles made the news a few years ago. The HSE got the blame but responded pointing out the law doesn’t require anyone to avoid all danger, just to be aware of the risk – the legal duty to manage and minimise doesn’t mean eliminating it. Children must learn to recognise hazards and how to act accordingly. They’re probably exposed to greater risk in their journey to school (even in a Chelsea Tractor) than playing conkers in the playground. But nobody threatens to sue parents if their kids are injured in a road incident on the school run – no so for an accident at school. If a child is injured, we expect somebody to take the blame and compensate.

As our children (and grandchildren) grow up we can’t protect them from all dangers. Wrap them in cotton-wool and, once they escape our protection, they’ve no experience in recognising danger or reacting to it. They grow up expecting somebody else looks after their safety; perhaps they’re the ones who are in danger of slipping on the spilt ketchup on the supermarket floor because nobody had yet put out a warning sign!

Come on, let’s get real…

(Posted as a blog 14th December 2011)

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