PARENTS

​Mum, Dad, What Did You Do When You Were Children?

14/08/2014 17:00 | Updated 20 May 2015

Three children playing by lake

Remember the good old days, when there was nothing on the telly and the only toys you had were a legless Sindy and a matchbox with a slug in it?

Once upon a time, kids had all the freedom in the world. Parents were not the hovering, child-centred neurotics they are today. You could scale a slag heap in your Clark's for six hours and nobody would even notice you were gone. Playing with broken glass, red-hot pokers and car batteries? No problem.

But were our technology-free childhoods really as golden as we remember? Was it really all scrumping for apples and endless summer days? Or should we be thanking the Lord for iPads, CBeebies, locked doors and curfews?

To find out, let's ask a few parents what they really got up to - and whether we would want our kids to do the same...

"At Christmas at my grandma's, we used to line up the cans of Tennents lager with the pictures of women on them and choose our favourite dresses," says Helen.

"I used to pull my ballet slipper around behind me on a bit of string pretending it was a pet," says Georgina.

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"My Gran's air vent was amazing,' muses Lauren. 'You could open it, shout through it and close it again. Literally hours of fun."

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Hmm. Yes, those really were the days. When boredom came knocking so often, we became experts in imaginative play with the most unpromising of objects. And there was no such thing as health and safety...

"I used to eat the sulphur from burnt matches in my dad's ashtrays and chew them into mini pencils for dolls," says Angie.

"Occasionally we would find small dead animals in the garden and bury them. Then dig them up again to see how much they had rotted. We used to phone the operator, too, and ask what colour her knickers were."

"We once stripped the lead from the roof of a disused house, melted it on a bonfire and poured the molten metal into casts," adds Tim, cheerily.

(AAARRRRGH.)

And if we weren't playing on building sites or melting lead, we were usually playing with the fireguard or fag packets – anything remotely flammable or poisonous.

"I used to fashion little cardboard robots out of my mum's discarded fag packets. They always looked a bit like Metal Mickey," says Gareth.

"I remember that really hot summer, was it 1976? Hours of fun were had poking sticks into the tar which bubbled up in the middle of the road, due to the heat," Andrew recalls.

And even when we were relatively safe indoors, finding something to do was a challenge. Whenever you visited your Gran, there was never ANYTHING child-friendly at her house. No toys, an antiquated telly, and always two bars blazing on the electric fire. What on earth did we get up to there?

"If I was really lucky, I was allowed to play with the contents of my gran's button tin' says Michelle. 'Or to marvel at grandad's stubby, sharpened-to-within-a-millimetre-of-its-life pencil. But not use it."

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Meanwhile, mother of triplets Wendy was up to no good. "I used to take a sneaky look at the nudes in my grandparents' History of Art encyclopaedia on the landing," she whispers.

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At home there was nothing to do, either. Parents didn't go out of their way to please their children, or change their routines to suit them. Instead, we had to make do with anything we could lay our hands on for our entertainment.

"We had a cake stand...I got it jammed on my head with a tablecloth pretending to be the Virgin Mary," says Vera.

"I used to lather the toilet seat and shave it with my dad's Bic razor," admits Blair.

And compared to us, old school parents had it easy, too. They didn't have to spend all afternoon in a hellish soft play because they didn't exist. They just sat back and enjoyed the ride.

"In the summers I used to give my mum a 'pedicure' which involved cleaning her feet (which were gross) with various temperature bowls of water and cotton wool balls," says Vique. "No polish. no nothing. She sunbathed whilst I did this. Best deal ever for Mum!"

"I made my dad sit in a chair for hours and played 'International Hairdressers,'' says Carol. "I said: 'where are we today, sir?' He said a country, and I gave him the hairdo of that country and then a souvenir. Like a racist Gok Wan."

But how does our childhood experience compare with our own children, who don't seem to be able to last five minutes without needing some kind of intervention or entertainment? Were our imaginations really superior to theirs?

"Children now seem very knowledgeable," says Donna. "They can name the planets, continents and all the different kinds of dinosaurs, they are amazing. But when it comes to entertaining themselves, they're not so great.

"We had fields and woods and the streets to run around in, we fell, took risks and did a lot of stupid stuff. Kids don't have that freedom, they are forever under an adult gaze, which I think makes them less likely to be inventive."

But while that's an interesting idea, previous generations do tend to view their childhoods through rose-tinted spectacles. We may have had a freer rein, and more room to manoeuvre, but that doesn't mean that life before the Lego Movie and Angry Birds wasn't also insanely boring.

In fact, some days we were absolutely desperate for something to do. Like Erin, for instance.

"I once kept a tally in a notebook of those who did and didn't notice me hiding behind a wall," she says.

Oh, what we would have given for five minutes on the iPad...

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