Sunday 17 December 2017

Past generations of school-goers walked miles to class - but not these days

By David Medcalf

David Medcalf
David Medcalf

Young Persephone is at her most winsomely, freckly, sad-eyed appealing as she asks: 'Da. Will you give me a lift to school?'

The correct answer to this so plaintively posed question is simple. In one word: 'No'.

'No'. And not just because she has forgotten to add the word please to her request. Persephone has persistently omitted the please from her vocabulary since she was a three year old, yet she has nevertheless managed to wheedle countless ice-creams and fivers and trips to the cinema from her fond parents. We do not begrudge her some treats. This time, however, the answer really, genuinely is a not-for-U-turning 'No'.

At least her doting daddy has a consolation prize on offer, for he is prepared to pull on his walking shoes and accompany his daughter to school. He can then call into the newsagents on the way back home. It is a dry morning after all and The Pooch could do with a breather. This is turning out to be a real win-win, to use the modern jargon.

He gets to collect his paper. She gets some fresh air before lessons. And they get an opportunity to enjoy each other's company as parent and child stroll through the streets.

Perfect. Definitely win-win.

Persephone's school must be all of 800 metres from Medders Manor. A world class athlete could cover this distance in less than two minutes on the track. Such speed is clearly out of the question given the hazards of the morning rush hour in Our Town but the passage from home to school is indubitably far short of being a long haul journey. Indeed, the pedestrian is frequently much quicker making the trip on foot at this time of day than the motorist who risks being caught in the perennial bottleneck at the old bridge.

Try explaining that to the young lady who always prefers to be chauffeured to her destination, regardless of weather or traffic conditions. Try explaining the benefits of such exercise to the young lady while she stands reluctant guard over a dog which is enjoying a healthy relieving bowel movement at a street corner just as her smartest class-mate passes - in the passenger seat of a shiny BMW. Try explaining to the same young lady the blessing of having a parent fit and ready to provide an escort when that parent is approaching the school gates dressed in paint splattered leggings, a moth eaten jumper and a hat that is the very definition of shapeless.

I do not waste my breath on any attempt at such explanations but I do point out that past generations of school-goers thought nothing of walking miles in the morning and then miles home again in the evening. She responds acidly that her forebears were not expected to lug two stone weight of books to school and it is true that her bag is very heavy.

God be with the days when folk did not have to make a conscious effort to keep fit because their way of life was so active and out-of-doors that they were naturally trim. There was a time when the streets of Our Town were full of children kicking ball or skipping because there were next to no cars. Sports fans back then thought nothing of jumping on their bikes and cycling all the way to Dublin for a match.

Persephone rolls her eyes at such musings and informs me that the bike shed is the most under-used facility on the modern school campus. Cycling is rated as dangerous as Russian roulette in a world where speeding cars fill the roads rather than youngsters playing hopscotch and rounders. Walking is not much safer, she suggests, as a teacher breezes through the zebra crossing at the wheel of a vast jeep without stopping, just an inch or two away from crushing our toes.

I tell Persephone that her great-great-great-grandfather walked for a living, employed as a cattle drover on The Curragh of Kildare behind a herd of sturdy shorthorns. Does she not feel the connection? My daughter responds that she has plans to become CEO of a multinational company with access to their private jet.

She summons what is left of her dignity and trudges up the school drive while I set off for the newsagents.

Wexford People

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