Since I’ve grown up (hmmm) and become an adult, I’ve come to realise just how lucky we were as kids and what a lovely place we grew up in. We didn’t realise it at the time, but we had great freedom and during the summer months we roamed the fields from morning till dusk, playing, hanging out with our friends, building human sized bird’s nest from straw and making hand grenades out of stubble and clay. (The best kind because when you fling them, stones fly out as shrapnel).
It was all we knew. We could ride our bikes to school, walk the half mile to our friend’s house and most of the time we had to find things to amuse ourselves because there wasn’t a whole lot to do and a big lot of time to do it in.
Being the person that I was, I used to bring my journal down the fields and write made-up stories. I fancied myself as a future Enid Blyton. Being the person that my brother was, he took to slicing the string on the straw bales that the farmer had neatly packaged up and stabbing our heating oil drum to see where the weak points were. I’m not sure what he wanted to be when he grew up, but I’m glad to report that petty criminal he is not.
They were innocent times and we were innocent children. And I want my kids to grow up in the exact same way. I may steer them in the direction of a mirror and hair straightener a bit earlier than I made it there, but hey, it kept me away from the boys for a few years longer. (Not by choice).
We managed to buy our house in a small estate in a village just outside a large town. We are very lucky and I know a lot of where we bought is to do with the property market and mortgages and other factors that many people do not have choices in. But, we did make the conscious choice to live in the countryside, as my husband and I had been reared there.
Here are ten things I hope my children learn from being country bumpkins:
With vast land comes freedom. The freedom to roam, to get the wellies on and get out, to watch the harvests and enjoy the fields again when the corn has been cut. We were let off into the fields to do pretty much what we wanted because we were far from roads and traffic. This in itself brings freedom and makes it safer and less worrisome for parents when you take off down the boreens on your wobbly bike.
“Where are you going?” mother would shout.
“To the shop. See you in seven hours.”
Country kids are not known for their sophistication. Peer pressure is not so much a problem, because, well there’s hardly anyone to hang out with. There’s a difference between innocence and naivety though. Innocence is attending your first school disco in your black school brogues and hairy legs. Razor anyone? Naivety is going to your first school disco and wondering why everyone is not running around the school hall and instead are up against the walls ‘shifting’. *freaks out*
3. Saying hello
In the country there is a special way of greeting. You don’t say anything. You don’t even open your mouth or wave your hand. You just sharply move your head to the side as if flicking off a wasp with your jaw. This means ‘howya’. You use it when somebody is driving and you are walking. It is the only way farmers say hello.
I was always a bit of a nature buff and could tell you all the names of the trees, plants, weeds and different types of shite. I read books on how to track animals and convinced myself there were deer about when more likely they were just a few frisky cows. We once went bird-watching, armed with a large expensive camera, only to capture a few long shots of shiny black crows. Us and nature? One.
5. Fresh air
Just that it’s fresh and it’s air.
Irish communities are fierce competitive when it comes to local sports. None more so than the GAA team. People in the parish will support the team even if they couldn’t give a toss about football. It’s actually very warrior like. Our kids will learn the value of winning. And depending on the season, more likely, losing. And then they can go for a rake of pints afterwards. Because let’s face it, isn’t that what sport is really all about?
7. Trips to town
Going down town was a big deal when I was young. You had to wait all week for the chance to get the lift in, the friends met and the one ear pierced. (Yes I got one ear done. My friend told me it was the cool thing to do. There’s that naivety V innocence thing again). You looked forward to these social outings so much that they were a treat. These days, they still kinda are.
8. Combine Harvesters
Have you ever ridden in a combine harvester? No? That’s because you’re a townie so.
9. Slurry in your washing
Most people who have had the pleasure of growing up in the countryside will have encountered their mother racing out to the line as the farmer appears spraying a fine layer of shiny shite over his fields. Slurry day. This odour will settle in the fibre of your clothes rendering them unwearable. (Unless you want to walk around vomiting all day). But with this farming incident comes the value of ‘fertilisation’. Of growth. Of death becoming life. Of understanding where our food comes from. Of realising that we must put back into the earth what we take from it. And that the whole world revolves around: poo.
10. Culchie accent
Sure who doesn’t want to sound like a culchie?