We were in one of those awful playbarn things over the weekend. You know the types, former warehouses that have been kitted out with caged play areas and soft landing sites surrounded by cafes and chairs for the adults to sit and try and block out the incessant noise of hundreds of kids going mad. I looked around at the parents and wondered why on earth we did this stuff. Here's what I came up with.
1. Making play pay
We have been told that our world is dangerous even though all studies tell us we live in the best time ever for homosapiens. We see paedophiles around very corner, stoked by the media frenzy at every case. We are conditioned to be risk averse. The paradox of our increased safety leading to a desire for more safety is well documented. So we don't allow our kids to play in natural environments free of parental oversight. My childhood of leaving home on my bike in the morning with my mates and returning for tea is long gone. Even the after school back alley kickarounds feel like something kids did in history books. Play must be supervised and safety certified. Which costs.
2. Always on adulthood
Plenty of my fellow parents were on their mobiles and laptops. This was a Saturday. Now, they may have been looking at Facebook or doing their Ocado order or whatever but my guess is at least some of them were working. Because so many of us now are, constantly, totally on all hours. Again, studies have shown that this is a stupid idea, the longer the hours, the less productive the work but we have all bought into (or been forced into) this idea that being 'busy' is a good thing. Those of us that can be 'busy' anyhow. The reflection of this is the layabouts of George Osborne's closed curtains in the daytime, a handy bogey man or woman that all us 'busy' people can tut about as we stand by and watch their welfare disappear and have them forced to work for Mike Ashley for a pittance. We are too busy to look after the kids or supervise the play so we outsource it. And then work extra hours to pay for it. Which is a bit mad when you think about it.
3. On Demand children
So you take your kids to the playbarn because its good for them to run around isn't it? It may be in an air conditioned hellhole but at least they're moving aren't they. And you can get some work done while they chuck themselves down slides. So all good yeah? But then they get hungry or see that they could be fed something. Everywhere kids were tucking into £7 pizza and chips. Sugary drinks galore. Because if you are halfway through that Powerpoint for Monday or trying to deal with all the admin that being alive in 2016 requires (changing electricity providers is my personal bugbear) you don't have the time or the patience to negotiate a better food option. Easier to cave in isn't it? After all, we're now in a generation who can access any information at a moment's notice, pick from a menu of televisual treats, pause the program while they pop to the fridge or the cupboard for something to snack on - you're not sure what because you're buried in a work thing that is 'urgent' on Sunday morning or that latest missive telling you to change this or switch that before the interest rate / standing charge / monthly sub jumps as your 'exclusive offer period' is at an end.
4. The Endless Guilt of Parenting
So whilst you are buried under all the 'life' stuff and the 'work' stuff our friends in advertising are bombarding you with images of how it should really be. 50 Things Children Should Do, 100 Places Your Kid Should See, read with your kid every night and so on ad infinitum, a slew of messaging that is designed to make you feel crap if you don't tick every box in the good parent menu; a menu designed by coporations and their marketing henchmen to part you from your money as fast as possible because, as car firms know, nothing works better than getting the kid to ask for something.
5. The easy way out
Perhaps it was the Iraq War, or the coalition, or just your life experience that things never got better but plenty of sensible, thinking people have clearly come to the conclusion that politics is a waste of time. All the above and more exhaust us, just keeping our heads above water, irrespective of whether we are living in a mortgage house or scraping rent together, don't have the time and the energy to really think through things anymore. Far easier to pick up our opinions second hand and borrow them, whether from Katie Hopkins or Owen Jones. Far easier to say that voting is a waste of time, far simpler to not think about why it isn't working, to seperate the good MPs from the bad. Just lump them all in together and spend that hour watching zombies on Netflix or killing them on the PS4.
Given that this seems to be the year of 'what the fuck' you have to hope that we might look at this and think a bit about what needs to change. That we might remember the mess we are in was caused by the international finance institutions that have spent our bailout money and delivered precisely fuck all for us, that this was all set in train by the very corporations and banks that now overlord us destroying the manufacturing base of the UK and USA for profit in the 80s under Thatcher and Reagan. (It's all there to read up on, if you can't be arsed to read it, watch Michael Moore's 'Capitalism, it's on Netflix and it's very funny / sad). That we are all in the same boat pretty much, some people's boats are bigger, some own their boats (or rent them from a bank rather than a landlord), that we and our kids are being herded into a segregated, marketed and compromised world where peril will stalk our every move and uncertainty will mean we spend less and less time caring about each other and more and more time just surviving. And we might say ENOUGH and do something about it. Stop believing the ads, stop buying the stuff you don't need, stop relying on 60 second news to tell you what is going on, stop thinking that other people are out to get what you should have and think about what you should have and how you might share more and grab less. And if that sounds like pie in the sky hippy nonsense then that only says to me we've come a long way down a particularly dark and dismal road. Time to turn around.