I remember a brief period in my life when I ran around like the Artful Dodger (minus the thievery… or the artfulness) firmly believing I had what it took to start a street gang. This was in the same era in which I also firmly believed I was capable of building a fort in a tree all by myself, that my new writing project The Tiger, The Wizard & The Trunk was a work of original genius, and that I was destined to appear on Broadway because my god I could sing. I was 8.
All these beliefs were fostered by a particularly supportive set of parents and an addiction to Enid Blyton. While reality, gravity, copyright and a notably traumatic moment when I was asked to mime (because I was putting the rest of the choir off) brought me back to earth, I still think of that time as the most limitless I ever knew – I could do anything (except watch the Keifer Sutherland version of The Three Musketeers, that terrified me).
And lately I’ve had the chance to re-live that heady mix of grass stains, gravel rash, childhood politics and make believe thanks largely to the Street Gang. The Street Gang is what we call the mob of children who have all suddenly hit The Age of Limited Supervision-based Frolicking that comes when one enters primary school and is thus allowed to hover, recklessly, within yelling distance of a family’s front door.
And so the Street Gang gathers each afternoon without fail. They barter over bamboo sticks, take turns riding skateboards down a tiny incline and give a superb day-by-day audio study of how long it takes for a boy’s voice to break. They also use impeccable logic during imaginary wars, like “I shot you, I used my gun with the biggest range”.
While I’m grateful this means they’ve finally moved on from the lengthy phase in which they used to heckle me from the fence, trying to sell me their crap paintings, I was mildly concerned when an older kid recently introduced them to several rather adult 4 letter words. Vocabulary expansion is vital, but I think their parents might be worried about where they’re picking that shit up from.
Given all the nostalgia this has evoked for me, I’ve had to work over time to appear aloof, rather than creepily invested. I may not be helping myself when I give them gang signs as I drive past, and declare loudly “So that’s where you’re hiding!” if I walk by one using a hedge for cover during a water pistol version of hide-and-seek. Yep, way to play if cool Painefull.
I guess I’m just envious. They’re at that stage when the street you live on seems gigantic, and they don’t have to justify reading Enid Blyton (or Harry Potter, or Hunger Games). Ah well, if nothing else, at least I can comfort myself with the fact that I have ten times more road sense, no enforced bed time, and my worst skin is behind me. And I’m not that rather jolly, well-rounded rednut. He seems lovely, but high school is not going to be kind to him.