I was listening to BBC Radio 4 yesterday when a poor child began bemoaning his fate: if he can’t go back to school because of Covid, how can he possibly concentrate at home – he has a pet dog!
A pet dog…the nightmare this child has to overcome.
I thought of the stories my mother told me – of walking past bombed homes, after having spent a night in a freezing cold air-raid shelter during the Second World War.
She – and millions like her – had no choice.
They had to get on and fight Hitler – even if it meant ignoring the homes of friends and neighbours killed the night before.
Now children face the threat of a disturbing pet!
Lessons from Africa
I remember the men I met in Aweil, in South Sudan in 2011. They were farmers – immensely proud of their magnificent cattle.
I had been with them for a week before I asked them – almost casually – what they had done in South Sudan’s long war against Khartoum.
“Oh, we walked,” they said.
I asked them what they meant.
“Well,” they explained patiently, “when we got to 12 or 13 we knew that if we remained in Aweil (in the far west of South Sudan) the Arabs would come and kill us.”
By the “Arabs” they meant the Sudanese troops. “So a group of 10 or 12 of us would leave the villages and walk.”
But how did they know where to walk to? “We walked towards where the sun rose.”
These boys had simply walked eastwards – for hundreds of miles, across the vastness of Sudan, until they reached Ethiopia.
There they found, and joined, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, which was fighting the North.
They did this without any adults to show them the way.
Some died of disease or starvation. Some were eaten by lion or hyena.
But most made it, and survived the vicious Sudanese war, so that finally they could come home to Aweil and their beloved herds of cattle.
If you travel through Africa for any length of time, you pick up stories like this all across the continent. Amazing feats of endurance undertaken as a matter of course.
No-one suggests they need counselling, or special attention. That’s just life and it is expected to be hard.
Grazed knee syndrome
If the African example is too extreme, here’s another.
I was running with a friend the other day – discussing what happened when I was a child. My knees were inevitably grazed from the rough and tumble of normal play.
“Oh, that would not be allowed now!” my friend told me. “Play is supervised and injuries recorded and avoided.”
I went to an ordinary boys school and my proudest boast was my first team rugby jersey.
It cost me a good deal: two broken legs and a broken arm. I thought nothing of it. Nor did anyone else.
Today – I am told – rugby in many schools is a non-contact sport.
It all seems a terrible loss to me.
Not that I liked getting injured, but it was just part of normal life: something we got used to.
Today’s children face something far worse – the blight of coddling.
So many children are now kept indoors, not even allowed to play with neighbours in the street.
They turn inwards: meeting mainly on social media. Their homes have become prisons, for fear of a grazed knee.
Is it any wonder that they live in terror of being distracted by a pet dog?