Only the strong can belong, is the motto on the Isle of Berk, where the hairy Hooligans live in the “How to Train Your Dragon” series. Well, I hate to boast, but in my home country of Norway full-on four-inch knives, complete with carbon-rimmed stainless steel blades, are bog standard christening presents. I was reminded of this when I saw a recent magazine ad placed by the knife manufacturer Helle – familiar to many an angler in the UK – actively pushing their junior range of knives to the kids’ market. Now I’ve spent some time with the Baden-Powell lot and I haven’t seen many knives. Frankly I haven’t even seen many knots or tents either. I’ve seen a great deal of friendship garlands, a number of very interesting guest talks and some frankly awful pancake batter, but my imagined scout world of skill-building and exploration never materialised during my couple of years as a cub leader.
Across the North Sea, my oldest daughter had some pretty gung-ho kindergarten teachers who thought nothing of marching 30 toddlers into the forest on a January morning. They collected twigs as kindling. The staff brought firewood. The children sharpened sticks and made stick dough to cook over the fire. “But only 28 kids returned” I hear you shout. Well, no. They all survived and the kindergarten – a bog standard local church-run nursery – went out and did the same each Tuesday all year. They don’t love their children less up north. They are just less estranged from rural life.
The early childhood experiences in Norway of my two oldest children don’t begin to compare with the magical time my youngest child – a proper Scot – has enjoyed in a Scottish forest kindergarten. When the Brits do outdoors, they do it with gusto. British explorers and tough nuts, from Wilfred Thesiger to Ranulph Fiennes, have set the gold standard. But in nature as well as elsewhere in the UK, class is the British problem. There should be nothing socially “smart” about wallowing in mud, spraying salt water on friends or climbing on hay bales. There is however a massive social divide between the fee-charging, super-organised “day out” family trip and the happy, chaotic family saunter down a country track. The cheapest option is the poshest. Explanations, please?