Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Blocktown: innocence and danger

It's only when we look back at our childhoods that we sometimes realise how dangerous were some of the things we did.

I was reminded of one such this week as I watched a load of timber cut for firing being driven through the town.

I recalled autumntimes at home, when a truckload of rough cut timber 'blocks' would be delivered to a remote section of our back garden, behind a green galvanised iron fence that some Kilcullenites of my age might still remember.

They were of mixed and varying sizes, nothing like the neatly stacked cords of firewood which you see beside the houses in Nordic and Alpine countries of Europe, and in the parts of North America where they get proper snowy winters.

Anyway, the annual delivery of the blocks was the signal for us kids and our regular playmates to build a 'town', which we called Blocktown. The instinct to build a home of one's own can start very young ...

Each of us used the timber to build little 'houses' in a row, the wood pieces built up on each other to make walls which were then shared between adjoining 'houses'.

We were small enough, so the walls didn't have to be that high.

Because that particular part of the property was waste ground, where once had been small cottages, there was a fair bit of debris around adaptable for roofing, including sheets of old galvanised iron which had probably been actual roof sections on the original cottages. So we always managed to find stuff to lay across the walls to keep the rain out.

Every year for several, we had a lot of fun in the autumn, building a new Blocktown in which we each had our own 'dwelling' where we could while away spare hours, or use as a backdrop 'cowboy town' to enact shootouts at the OK Corral.

And every year our parents worried about it, and forbade us to build our 'houses'. But they couldn't be watching us all the time.

Now, of course, the danger that we ran is clear. Wood blocks are very heavy, especially the beech ones that were generally what were delivered to our house — beech made the best wood fire then, still does when you can get it.

There was nothing holding our walls of beech together in Blocktown except the weight of the pieces and how well we managed to balance each row on another.

There was nothing much to stop a wall giving way one day when any of us might have been lying in our 'house' reading a comic, or dreaming about dinner. We were little then, and it wouldn't have taken too many blocks to crush us.

But it is a part of childhood that we take risks blithe in the belief that harm is something for adults to worry about.

And they did worry. But somehow they also managed to let us learn things for ourselves. It is good that, in this instance, there was no serious result.

Yes, some walls in Blocktown did collapse in different years. But fortunately never when we were in a position that we got buried.

Innocence does, perhaps, give its own protection. So too, it should be said, did boredom. Once Blocktown was built, and 'lived in' for a few days, it soon lost its attraction, especially when it became infested with local insects and creepy-crawlies. So we soon moved on to other annual interests, like the fall of chestnuts that could be collected to begin the 'conker' season. And then whatever followed that.

My kids, growing up, never had the danger of a Blocktown. Having central heating meant that my order of firing wood was always token rather than a winter's worth of necessity.

Mind you, they found their own dangers. But, like us, they have survived them, relatively unscathed.

It's sometimes still scary thinking back, though.

©2005 Brian Byrne.

1 comment:

Tom Morrisey said...

When I was growing up, I:

1) Never wore a helmet while cycling,
2) Frequently rode my bicycle several miles outside of town to go fishing in a secluded woods,
3) Climbed high into trees without a speck of safety gear,
4) Often rode in the back of pickup trucks (or crammed with half a dozen cousins in the cargo space in the back of a station wagon),
5) Stayed out long after dark on summer nights, far out of sight of my parents, and
6) Often carried a rifle or shotgun to high school during hunting season (so I could go out right after class).

If my daughter did any of these things, I would have fits (and might be arrested).

Times have changed.