I read with interest and amusement a column in Saturday's Guardian about comparing one's childhood to the childhood of one's children. As it happens, the column's author, Tim Lott, was born a few months before me so we had comparable childhoods. I'll quote Lott in italics whereas my responses will be in normal type.
1. Holidays. They were crap. Cold and wet. In England, in bed and breakfasts that kicked you out after breakfast. My children have so far been to more exotic locations than David Attenborough. Yes, they're middle class. But you can get a package holiday abroad now for the price of a pint and a packet of pork scratchings. Whilst we never stayed in bed and breakfasts, we used to go caravanning which probably wasn't much more fun. It always used to rain and I remember never ending games of 'Monopoly', which is one reason why I am unable to play the game now. I went camping for the first time a few days before my tenth birthday (see here) when everything in my life changed - except for the amount of rain.
2. Boredom. My children are never bored. They have iPods, mobile phones, PCs, games consoles, TV on demand, child-friendly, free museums and exhibitions. Yes, they're middle class. But even those on very modest incomes can afford basic versions of most modern technology. I don't remember being bored as a child. If I wasn't outside playing one man tennis against a wall, or cricket with friends, then I was inside, reading. We should turn this one around: I think that today's children would be bored if they didn't have the gadgets.
3. Sleepovers. When did they happen? I never once had a sleepover as a kid. Agreed. I don't think that I stayed at a friend's house until I was about twelve and then it was in a different city. What's the point of staying with a school friend when you can see him/her again tomorrow?
4. Getting hit. Like most kids, I would have to take a slap now and then. My children don't get hit. It's relatively rare nowadays. Yes, my children are middle class. You think it's only middle-class parents who don't hit their kids? Ditto.
5. I was always peripheral to my parents' universe. I had to fit in with what they did. Sitting in the pub car park with a packet of crisps was as good as it got. My children are at the centre of family life. Yes, they're middle class. But I think it would be patronising to suggest that it's different for the working class. And there have always been a minority of dysfunctional families. Whilst I agree with this to a certain extent, I don't think it was totally true of my childhood (maybe my parents never did anything).
6. Happiness. A Children's Society report cited in the Guardian claimed that one in 11 youngsters aged between eight and 15 have a "low sense of well being" at any given time. That means 10 out of 11 don't have a low sense of well being. I don't think that we had "well being" in those days. I don't remember being unhappy as a child.
7. Children in Britain report higher levels of satisfaction with school than almost any other European country. Definitely. But is Lott writing about his childhood or his children's childhood here?
8. Football. When I went to a football match I had to listen to racist abuse and unbelievably foul language roared by frightening men. And that was just the footballers. Also the football itself was of an unbelievably low standard. Or maybe that was just QPR. I started going to rugby matches (Bristol RFC) when I was twelve and never heard any abuse or foul language. So maybe it was QPR.
9. Food was terrible. Boiled – all of it. What I would have given for some good junk food – a McDonald's or a KFC. But that was "eating out". We never ate out. I went to my first restaurant on my 18th birthday. Agreed - but my mother was a very good cook. I remember being in London with older people from the youth movement; we would go to an Indian restaurant and I would order a chicken omelette!
10. TV. It was crap. Now it's good. We didn't know any better at the time. 'Thunderbirds' wasn't good? Monty Python? Top of the Pops? I don't remember watching that much television and I used to go to bed at 9pm.
I don't think that my childhood was better or worse than my daughter's - it was simply different. One can't compare oranges with apples.