Sunday, June 04, 2006

If not duffers, won't burn up in a fiery inferno

I come from a read aloud family. We're slightly book-centric really (I say slightly meaning my father puts up bookshelves rather than paint) and I was raised to believe that one does not venture anywhere - classical music concert, movie theater, heck probably even the library - without at least one book. There's a family legend that in a single bathroom house one of my aunts lost the dash to the loo but won first dibs because she had her book.

So I read a lot to my kids, and several years ago we discovered the Arthur Ransome series, starting with Swallows and Amazons. Brilliant books, and for several months semaphore messages littered the halls (yes littered - the Amazons draw theirs, thanks) and we were all convinced that the perfect place to live was Scotland on the edge of a lake.

That first book starts with what has to be the best message from a parent, ever. The Walker children have asked if they may camp, alone, on a small island in the middle of the lake (no ages given, but the general feeling is the eldest are around 10 or 12). The absent father (navy) when consulted returns the following telegram:

'Better drowned than duffers. If not duffers won't drown'

And naturally the children head off to light fires, sail in the dark, and storm pirate ships without their mother apparently turning a hair. I have a lot of respect for that kind of disregard to life and limb of close family relations.

Our litigious habits have cast a terrifying light on every day experiences. Hardly any kids today would be allowed to do practical, if slightly dangerous things, on their own. (not to say they won't then go on and experiment themselves...)

But it's got to be good to be independent, right? To take a few perilous steps...

So out in the back at this very moment my three children are risking life, limb, and a nice pack of sausages on a coleman propane stove. They're making flatbread in a skillet and browning their sausages, and I'm not hovering over them to make sure they don't blow up the neighborhood... not at all...

I think I'll just go check...

edit: Swallows and Amazons, and the other books written by Arthur Ransome about the Walkers, Ruth and Nancy, Captain Flint and the others are all (Yay!) back in print and available through Amazon. Highly recommend.

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