Give them an outside chance

First published in Sharon's View The Northern Echo: Photograph of the Author by

IT comes to something when the National Trust has to teach our children how to build dens. But at least someone’s doing it.

For some years now, the NT has had things such as den-building or pond dipping on their activities list.

And now Dame Fiona Reynolds, departing director general of the Trust, has spoken out on the importance of outdoor play for children, Some children, she says, are now scared to go outside and have no idea of why they should want to anyway.

Mucking about, that’s what. Time was when the majority of children spent most of their time just, well, mucking about. Not any more. These days mucking about would probably need 50 forms in triplicate, a CRB check, a high-viz vest and a hard hat.

At least.

Of course the world has changed.

There is too much traffic, too little accessible space for children to roam. We have also scared ourselves witless about the risk of child murderers and paedophiles – though in actual fact, the numbers of children killed by strangers – though always too many – are pretty much the same as back in the rose-tinted 1950s.

The freedom to run and jump and shout and get messy should be part of every childhood. Not just for fresh air and exercise. It’s almost a primeval need to connect with something bigger than us, something that roots us firmly in the world.

Outdoors is good. It’s messy, interesting, therapeutic, healthy, educational, absorbing and above all, fun.

A number of small charities have taken troubled teenagers out of their urban environments and sent them – suitably supervised – up mountains, into the dales, out to sea in small boats. All places where they are faced not with the system, or other people, but nature in all its implacable unpredictability.

This is not a computer game where you can score points and start again.

This is the real world with real risks and facing up to them can be lifechanging.

As can eating your sandwiches crouched in a ramshackle shelter that you’ve built yourself from bendy branches and fern fronds.

Will your children get a chance to try?

Basic sums

NEARLY half the working population struggle with basic sums. Their maths skills are no better than primary school standard.

We still think it’s all right to laugh and say “I’m hopeless at maths.” As if it doesn’t matter.

Do you know the difference between a quarter and 20 per cent.

What 31 per cent APR really means?

If 12 monthly payments of £20 is going to cost the same as one for £200?

If your eyes glazed over at the mere thought, then fine. That of course is how supermarkets, banks, dodgy lenders and unethical finance companies make their fortunes out of us.

If you think that’s fair enough, then carry on laughing – but you’d be a lot better off working on your sums.


SHAKESPEARE has rarely been as lively – or as rude – as the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Taming of the Shrew in Newcastle last week.

But when Nick Holder as Christopher Sly – overweight, tattooed, flatulent, clad in nothing more than a grubby vest and an occasional strategically-placed saucepan – came bouncing into the audience and along the rows until he found a suitably embarassable lady on whom to place his naked bum, I was very, very glad I was a good three rows behind.

Funny what people will put up with just because it’s the Bard.

Prince Harry

HOORAY for Prince Harry in Jamaica – cheerfully happy to make a complete fool of himself for the sake of Commonwealth harmony. The Jamaicans apparently loved him.

But when he gets back to his day job, I bet his fellow officers will never ever let him forget that cringe-making Usain Bolt moment.

Will Engelbert have the last laugh?

YOU can see how it happened, can’t you?

Somewhere in one of those BBC meetings – all pastries and bottled water – when they were looking for a Eurovision act, some joker said: “Why not go for the grey vote?

Ha ha. Engelbert Humperdinck. Ha ha.”

And then someone else will have said: “You know, that’s not such a bad idea...”

Good luck to Engelbert, who seemed to belong to an earlier generation even all those years ago when he was knocking the Beatles off the number one spot.

He can’t do any worse than most of the other acts in recent years. For a bit of a joke, he might well have the last laugh after all.

A gold medal guerilla effort

ILOVE, just love, the guerrilla knitting in Saltburn. Last year a teddy bears’ picnic appeared mysteriously and a lot of books on a railing outside the library.

Now the knitters have stitched the town up in style with their huge long Olympicthemed piece including all sorts of sports that stretches merrily along the pier. My favourite is the synchronised swimming.

How can you look at it and not smile?

Guerrilla knitting is fantastic fun. Funnier even than the jumpers your gran used to knit.

Last week I saw knitted hearts on a drainpipe in Hawes. A friend’s daughter and friends once knitted a tea cosy for a London telephone box.

But the Saltburn knitters are the best so far. Witty, clever.

Utterly brilliant. Definitely worth a gold medal.

Time to grow up, Martin

SO, only 18 arrests at the Newcastle Sunderland match, the managers shouting at each other and Martin O’Neill going home in a huff and not going in for joint drinks afterwards.

What a badly-behaved shower.

No chance, I suppose, that their mums will smack their legs, make them say “sorry” and then tell them to play nicely.

“Passion,” say the managers, excusing their behaviour. Rubbish.

They just need to grow up and get a grip.

Children as young as two might soon be getting lessons in anger management, says schools discipline expert Charlie Taylor.

Probably too advanced for football managers.


Dear Sharon,
MANY years ago I was taken ill in the middle of Durham. Unknown to me I had a strange reaction to medication I was taking for various ailments.

For some weeks everything seemed very strange and difficult. I was also in a state of panic, which was again part of the reaction to the different tablets. I honestly thought I was going mad or about to die.

Finally I collapsed in Durham Market Place and was taken off to Dryburn Hospital, as it then was.

I shall never forget coming round to see a strange face looking down on me and a lovely Geordie voice saying "Eeeh honey, welcome back."

It was the end of the nightmare.

I hope they never stop nurses using terms like "dear" and "pet" because on that day "Eeeh honey" were the nicest, kindest words in the language.

Margaret Greenwood, by email


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