Yesterday I did the shopping at the market and noticed a woman there trailing two kids round with her. Dressed in head-to-toe Nike, they whined their way around, putting whatever they felt like in the trolley, and screeching like banshees every time the mother dared to question anything they’d added. I think I spotted some apples in the trolley, but the rest was all pizza, crisps, chocolate, fizzy drinks and other crap. They’d have got more nutrition chewing on their own shoes than eating that weekly shop.

Then they arrived at the electronics department and found the computer games. The eldest, who might have been about 8, decided he wanted a computer game, but it was an ‘18.’ Mum objected on both price and age limit and this didn’t go down well. The resulting tantrum drew shoppers from around the building to witness the splendid and awe-inspiring wobbly that this child was chucking. He was on the floor, arms and legs going like pistons, screaming and throwing anything he could get his hands on. Eventually the mother gave in, the game was in the trolley and in an instant the child was back next to the trolley adding a bag of mini Kit-Kats like nothing had ever happened.

This made me think back to my childhood in the early 80s. When we were young, my mum supported us on one wage. My little brother and I used to go shopping with mum; she’d have a list of things in her head that she needed for the week, and that is what we’d be going home with, no more and no less. My brother and I would run round the aisles collecting what she wanted and putting it in the trolley. We didn’t have sugary things, in fact, we didn’t have anything with E numbers in it either, because my brother was allergic to one of the common ones; it sent him up the wall. If we’d have thrown a strop in a supermarket, not only would we not be getting what we wanted, we’d not be getting anything at all, probably not for the next ten years. I remember having a throw-myself-on- the-floor tantrum once at home, and my mum stepped over me and carried on doing what she was doing, ignoring me entirely. I never bothered doing it again. It seemed pointless.

We also didn’t have expensive toys when I was small. I remember playing with a farm set that my parents had bought for me a little at a time, and I loved it to bits. We also had hours of fun making plasticine out of flour, water and food colouring, and then creating things from it and baking them solid. My mum made me a toy cooker out of a biscuit tin and some coloured circles of card and got me a little set of pans so I could then make ‘dinner parties’.

And of course there was always mud to play with. My best friend in all the world at that time, (In fact, we’re still good friends) was Louise, who lived on my street. Her mum and mine became friends when they were both pregnant, and we all kind of lived in interchangable houses. Louise and I were always together at one house or another, and we loved playing with mud. There are some lovely photos of the pair of us coated in it. I used to have a t-shirt with a lion on it that squeaked when you pressed the logo, and Lou used to try and make the lion squeak by throwing mudballs at it. We had mud in pans, mud in bowls, mud in buckets, mud in hair, eyes and fingernails.

The thing that all our inexpensive toys and games had in common was that, although you could play with them on your own, they were miles better when played with someone else. So, that’s what we did. We were always out and about in the street, playing with friends, making a mess, our own fun. I’ve watched my friends’ children, and things have changed since I was small. They do play out, but not nearly so much as I did, and they really seem to want to do is play on the X Box or the Playstation. These games aren’t often designed for more than one person. So they sit in their bedrooms for hours on end, absorbing brightly-coloured moving images and loud, dramatic noises. Soon they become so saturated in action that nothing else seems interesting to them, because nothing else is fast-paced enough to equal that excitement. The games that we used to play together as children would bore these children rigid in about ten minutes.  And like the brats in the supermarket, some of today’s children have such appalling social skills, that you can’t help wondering if it isn’t because they aren’t going out and socialising. They can’t write a story in school, because they aren’t reading at home, they’re playing on computers. They have no idea how to utilise their imaginations, because scenes are set out clearly for them on a screen. I’m not saying all children are like this, because they aren’t, and I’m not saying computer games should be banned , because I’m sure they have a place.   But brats like those supermarket kids seem to be cropping up more and more. And I know that if I had kids, I’d be trying to steer them towards the more sociable pastimes. I also know that if I’d done what those children had done in a supermarket when I was a child, I’d have got the hiding of my life when I got home!

And what’s more, I’d have earned it.

Photo of Nat posing as a monster by Miranda Krebbs

Last 5 posts by Vicola England

Last 5 posts by Vicola England