School holidays

It’s school holidays in Melbourne. I know this because my nephews and niece are home from school. And I know it because every school holidays business dips in the shop. You learn to keep a close eye on the calendar when you’re in retail.

I’m sure it’s the same all over Melbourne. At my sisters my nephews don’t crawl out of bed until after 10am (my niece is up tiresomely early). They emerge grunting a few nondescript words, spend 20 minutes in the shower, then dress for the day. In the case of the elder he has no eye for, or interest in, fashion. He put on whatever is close to hand, which more often than not is some hand me down from his uncle.

My younger nephew is quite different when it comes to fashion. He’s a good-looking boy and style is important to him. Rare for a boy of any age, he likes his clothes, and will spend good time getting his hair just right. He’ll slope around in casual stuff often enough, but often he’ll be dressed like the boy around town, well aware of his appearance. Occasionally though in the school holidays he’ll go to the opposite extreme. There are days he doesn’t get out of his robe, lazing around like a junior Hugh Hefner. And he likes walking around in his undies. It was about 14 degrees outside when I got back last night, and there he sat wearing just a pair of fitted boxers.

Their activities through the day are similarly low-key. My eldest nephew, a bit of a geek, will spend the day catching up on movies (he’s a movie nerd) and watching YouTube clips. My younger nephew will play on the Xbox (mainly Minecraft or Call of Duty) or the PS3. My niece will bounce around, watching the Disney channel, or playing with something; she’ll watch my nephew play Minecraft, or she’ll frolic outside singing.

At around lunchtime they’ll combine to trash the kitchen. They’ll cook all sorts of things, omelettes, toasties, noodles, frankfurts, frozen fast food, and so on. All of this is done with the maximum of effect – billowing smoke, splattering oil, splashed sauce, charred pans. The remnants of this will be deposited hotch-potch into the sink for someone else to clean up. It’s a sort of childish chaos that I sort of recall.

When I think back to my school holidays it was different in the details, but not so much in form. There’s something pretty mindless about being on your school break. A decent sleep in is a given, especially if you’re a boy. The disregard for dress and the usual constraints is pretty consistent. In general you’re happy to be vacuous because you feel as if you’re forced to use your mind against your will in the classroom. This is not just a break from it, but a kind of revenge.

I remember school holidays where much anticipated. Getting out school early on the Friday before felt like being granted parole. The world looked different suddenly because I was free of the routines of school.

Every second or third term break we – my sister and I – would spend about a week with our grandparents, mostly on my father’s side. That had a different vibe because our grandparents would concoct activities, day trips, jobs to keep us both busy and entertained. It was a break for our parents, but it was also something my grandparents would look forward to. I presume that still happens around the place – unfortunately my nephews and niece don’t have that option.

When I was their age we didn’t have a PS3 or Xbox. There was no internet obviously, and no cable TV. In comparison the available options were miniscule – kids today would be horrified (and completely lost). Still, I remember I would get up to watch the midday movie with Ivan Hutchinson, hoping it was a good one. In many ways the attitude, if not the media, was similar.

It was different in that in my day (a phrase I’ve finally got around to using) we would be outdoors much more often. These kids, with the exception of my niece, might spend 10 minutes outside. When I was their age I would be out-of-doors 4 or 5 hours a day, and often more. I think that was pretty normal. In my case I grew up in a street full of kids, so there was always someone to play with or something to do.

We’d play a lot of sport – in the summer street cricket, the winter kick to kick. We’d go on long bike rides, or work on building a tree house.  Often we’d just sit there talking – in my case with Peter Woody, and sometimes David Goodison. In a street with perhaps 15 kids (and over 20 later) we were the eldest, and to us fell leadership – which we were all comfortable with.

It was a much more social time, probably because as an era it was free of much of the doubts and fears of today – and doubtless because the technology that today keeps kids indoors was not available to us then. As they say, we had to make our own fun. I look at my nephews particularly and while I remember how mindless I was occasionally then, I’m sad that they don’t have to same opportunities I did.

I had a rich childhood. We had great amounts of pure fun. And I learnt a lot – about relationships, about consequences, about limits. It was a an education that prepared me well for the real business of life when I grew up. I still look back grateful for how I lived – knowing that I was more fortunate than most to be in a place where it was possible, and in a time when it was expected, to live the full life of a child.

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