My partner and I, separately, had rubbish childhoods. Although we were 100 miles apart, for different reasons and had absolutely no idea of the other’s existence until we were very long past twenty-one, we grew-up in very similar circumstances, mostly alone.
I moved house. Her family moved out. We grew up scared, desperate for friends and without children of our own age, pretty much unable to work out how to get them or what you were supposed to do with them when you had them.
Without getting into a Monty Python sketch, we had lots of things young folk don’t have today. Apart from rickets and Hitler, which we were thankfully too young for, we had windows that grew ice inside and ourselves. Separately. That and the ghosts that she hid under the covers from in the house that had been hit by a bomb in the war; that and the poltergeist activity I seemed to attract. I watched a lightbulb unscrew itself from the socket and fall unbroken onto the floor one day, which unlike doors opening and closing by themselves, seems rather harder to write-off as just the wind blowing.
What we didn’t have was a culture which taught us we had a right to be entertained constantly. There were no such things as computer games. I remember being astonished when people paid money to play Pacman. I thought then and think now no adult who wanted to be called that would possibly spend money to shoot stuff on a screen. Everyone knew the only way you could have a mobile phone was if someone carried it on their back.
“Then I bought more special skills by clicking Alt+F12 and game over, dude.”
It wasn’t fun. It was lonely and cold. It was damaging and limiting. It was unforgivable.
But it did one thing very well indeed.
It gets us through lockdown a lot better than the millions of people who are having to be by themselves for the first time ever. People starting to realise that if you can’t cope with being you then no amount of electronic consoles are ever going to make-up for that. It isn’t even that people can’t cope when the batteries go flat. It’s almost as if once the distraction isn’t distracting any more then they can’t deal with what’s in their head. With themselves.
We’re not crowing. It was horrible for us as children and it’s horrible now for anyone going through it. For us in lockdown we did our stuff, pretty much as normal. We had the time to go for walks together, out across the fields as the days got warmer and longer. When we got back we played three games of chess. One day one of us would win, the next day or the next, the other. We played it hard, without any favours, the best we could. For both of us, our chess game improved a lot. But we improved a lot too.
We knew who we both were, because we’d had to find out. Lockdown taught us much more about each other, the dyadic dynamic. You and me is never just me and you. It’s me, you and us. One plus one equals three.
Entertainment never teaches that. Nor resilience. Nor does any school I’ve ever seen.