Mole and Hedgehog enjoy quite a unique living situation for these days, I think. They play in the street with the neighbouring children. They draw chalks in the road, ride up and down on their bikes, and generally run amuck. I sit on our front garden bench with a cup of tea and watch. Lately Hedgehog has joined the action, so I usually end up following her around and picking her up out of a muddy puddle every 5 minutes, otherwise she comes crawling back to me covered in dirt like a street urchin.
We leave our front doors open and other children routinely come into our house to play with Mole’s toys. Between 4-6pm on a weekday (after school), it can feel like the house has become an unofficial crèche for the street. In her turn, Mole disappears into the neighbours houses. I think she’s seen more of the inside of their houses than we have.
There is an alleyway that runs down the middle of our terrace, leading to the back gardens. None of the back gardens join directly onto the houses, for unknown historical reasons, meaning that all the back gardens can be accessed by anyone. This represents another avenue of exploration for the children. At dinner time I do a tour of the back gardens with Hedgehog on my hip, and eventually find Mole bouncing on a trampoline somewhere with her favourite ‘boy next door’ friend of the moment.
Over the Summer, our sandpit, trampoline, hammock, swing ball, paddling pool, and other general items of interest from the greenhouse got used 104 times by various children, and we weren’t even having a party.
I think all this is great for Mole and Hedgehog. They clearly love having playmates, and have built genuinely strong friendships with the neighbouring children, plus it keeps them occupied at a time of day when everyone is at a low ebb.
The only snag is there is a busy main road fifty yards away, and nothing stopping them from wondering onto it. There are also the horror stories of child abductions and murders, a statistically small risk but there all the same. I rely mainly on instilling good road awareness into them on the first point, and instilling that they’re not to wonder out of our lane on the second point, but it doesn’t help with my nerves. There is a low level stress there all the time.
I long for a garden that attaches to the house, where I can let them out of the back door into an enclosed safe space to play in, and not have to worry. I did not think of this when we moved here. I was happy just to have a garden, after our 6 storey flat in London. But an attached garden would be at the cost of her playmates and the communal space of our lane, where the children run in and out of their burrows like a giant rabbit warren.
Wondering lost and bewildered in the middle of it all is the peahen. She appeared in our road a year ago, no-one knows where she came from. She walks the walls and fences of the gardens, making her solitary peahen call every morning. She has the road awareness of a pheasant, we nearly ran her over last week, but she is a survivor. She is a quirky feature of our street that I love.
I also love that our street has a sense of community about it, everyone chats from their front gardens and watches out for the children, which is rare. Most people stay behind their closed doors and the children do not play in front of their houses, and so this sense of community is lost. I suspect cars have a lot to do with this.
It strikes me as a specifically modern and western problem of our generation; that the world is considered too dangerous to let children play in it unsupervised. So we have to live in our isolated pods and keep the children in marshalled and confined spaces instead.
What is the answer I wonder? Have a garden party for the street every week, each one hosted by a different neighbour. Put trampolines at one end and wine at the other. Then sit back and enjoy.
Now there’s an idea.