Saturday, 3 September 2011
There's an area of woodland not far from here which we enjoy. It's quite wheelchair-friendly, with a large picnic area cleared in the middle. Not surprisingly, being the end of the holidays, there were a lot of families there too - which was fine. Fine, children out enjoying the fresh air, and making noise, as children do.
We found a picnic table in the partial shade. Three mums were nearby with multifarious offspring. One chap I noticed, say about 8 or 9, was on his own. He had a camouflage bush-hat and camouflage crop trousers on and a grey t-shirt. He seemed to minding his own business, idly bending over a sapling. Then he started to try tearing off its side shoots. His younger brother, as is their wont, drew his mother's attention to this. "Don't do that, Raymond!" (not his real name) she called out, before returning to her conversation. He stopped, for a while, and then resumed his activity. Despite one more maternal intervention, he eventually succeeded in completely stripping the young tree and bending it right over to touch the ground. I'm not sure what he was making in his imagination, whether it was the beginnings of a shelter or an animal trap. He certainly left behind him a pile of leafy branches and one sapling which will never survive to become a tree. Ironically Ray Mears styles himself as a wilderness bushcraft and survival expert - and has become popular through his tv series, World of Survival and Extreme Survival. They are quite educational and fun to watch.
However it struck me that young "Raymond" needed a bit more guidance on how to apply his hero's lessons in the real world; and then it struck me that probably there are very few lessons for the real world to be drawn from Mears' programmes. After all, the principle, "You don't need equipment, you need knowledge to survive in the wild", will probably, barring a freak accident or disaster, be of little use to his viewers. Like most tv, like ex-commando Bear Gryll's programmes, Mears basically provides watchable entertainment.
But if my assumption is right (and it may well not be) that young "Raymond" was influenced by what he'd seen of big Ray - the way he dressed and the sort of things he does on screen - then the uncomfortable question occurs, how else does what they see on television influence children's behaviour? I'm sure I'll be told there's no statistical correlation to prove it, but observation of little "Raymond" and actually of big adults like me suggests a significant influence. (Otherwise tv advertising would not be the big business that it is.)
I suspect, nevertheless, that it will take more than the efforts of my young friend to dent the beauty of these shared open spaces. And, to be fair, I suspect that Mr Mears has done more to open eyes to the wonders of the natural world than to encourage incipient vandals! Certainly as Jane pushed me round the track that circles through the common, we saw a world of infinite variety, charged with the grandeur of God - which even my new camera couldn't do justice to!