OK, so that’s done. Another school year successfully completed – check. Time to file away the school books, stow away the uniforms, load up the car and head off to a campsite in the sun. This will be our third year of camping in France for our family holiday. (Actually ‘glamping’. This year our ‘tent’ has a bathroom.) We’d better make the most of it – Europe might not let us in next year.
A key item on the packing list is CHARGERS! Yes, it’s in capital letters, with an exclamation mark. Apparently we’ll need chargers for five mobiles, an iPad, three DSs, a PSP, a PS Vita, and probably several miscellaneous gadgets that I don’t even know about. We even have a special CHARGERS! bag for the car including the extra wire that plugs into the (what used to be a) cigarette lighter. All the little charger wires like to have their own summer dance party and get all tangled up minutes after we’ve set off. Usually, someone needs a charger to be untangled exactly at the moment when I’ve got a portable kitchen worktop on my knees and am halfway through making ‘baguettes three ways’ for lunch on the go.
But, something doesn’t quite feel right about this. I can’t quite put my finger on it. Ah yes – I know. WE’RE ON A FAMILY HOLIDAY! So, we shouldn’t really be playing on gadgets at all! There is beautiful scenery to look at and conversations to have. And maybe a singalong. (Of course, I’ll need my phone … for emergencies, checking bookings etc…)
The problem is we get a little twitchy about the idea that people might be bored on long car journeys and during the endlessly flowing days of summer. These days, our children’s time is so highly structured that they aren’t used to shuffling around wondering what to do. Having six weeks of freedom on their hands is unfamiliar and slightly daunting, and it’s all too easy to turn to electronic gadgets, television, and the seemingly endless YouTube videos of Stampy doing Minecraft. But shuffle and moan they must, because only then will they come up with their own crazy ideas of what they want to do – not just that day, but maybe even for life. Psychoanalyst Adam Phillips wrote in his book On Kissing, Tickling, and Being Bored: Psychoanalytic Essays on the Unexamined Life (fab title – must get it) that “the capacity to be bored can be a developmental achievement for the child”. Dr Teresa Belton, visiting fellow at the University of East Anglia with a focus on the connection between boredom and imagination, says that boredom is crucial for developing “internal stimulus” which then allows true creativity.
I am nostalgic for the hot summers of the late 1970s, when I pegged cardboard tabs to the back wheel of my bike so that it would sound like a motorbike when I cycled up and down the lane. That’s when I wasn’t riding an imaginary horse and talking like a cowboy and pretending to chew gum (I wasn’t allowed real gum), or sitting with my feet in a bucket of cold water in the garden reading Famous Five books, or taking the dog for a really long walk and getting just a little bit lost. There were no gadgets, and I was never bored.
So being bored leads to creativity. Give a child time to think and they’ll naturally come up with something, and that something could well shape their future. Meera Syal apparently spent hours of her childhood staring out of the window across fields and woods and eventually started writing, and Ed Sheeran’s parents banned television so he used to while away his time in his room strumming his guitar. As Keith Richards said “give me a guitar, give me a piano, give me a broom and string, I wouldn’t get bored anywhere”.
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