It would have been in the very early fifties. I was either in the first year of high-school or the last of primary. In any case, the school was giving film evenings in a hall that would hold perhaps sixty or seventy children. I remember that it wasn’t a big hall like many schools have now. A few years later me and mates would break into this hall and try and make pancakes on a fire made by burning old newspapers. I had taken some flour from the kitchen and someone else brought milk and a sauce-pan. I have forgotten if golden syrup was involved.
The roof had a sky-light which we lifted and used to lower ourselves onto the floor below. The open sky-light acted as a primitive chimney letting out some of the smoke from the pan-cake fire. They were the years of so many discoveries including my first movie. Those pre-teen years were possibly the most dangerous. We were reckless and without fear, daring to do anything.
The coastal dune areas of The Hague where we lived still had very long underground tunnels buried in the sand of the dunes which linked the large concrete bunkers. Some of the bunkers still had enormous cannons which were aimed across the sea towards England to ward off any attempts to regain the Dutch territory from the German occupiers. I was so lucky to have as my playground those dunes, the sea and those underground tunnels.
They were pitch dark and we used small bottles filled with kerosene with a burning wick floating on top to give light and guide us through them. No adventure land could have been designed better. We spent many hours and days crawling inside those underground tunnels and bunkers with the kerosene lights. I had four brothers and we all lived in a walk up apartment on the second floor.
Yet, my parents and perhaps most parents of these times did not seem to have been consumed by worry. Perhaps having gone through the terrors of war, bombing and famine, surviving parents took a well earned break from worry afterwards.
I often wonder about the different parental attitudes now and those of many years ago. Just witness all those modern anxious parents of today, scared stiff to even let the kids walk home by themselves. All activities now-a-days are strictly supervised and nothing left to chance or for kids to find their own adventures.
Perhaps the fact those families were bigger played a role. It was simply impossible to check on every child for every minute of the day. In any case, we were free. I felt that we never exceeded danger levels but as an eleven year old, perceptions of danger were somewhat arbitrary. When I jumped between frozen slippery timber beams at an open canal- lock letting boats through the different water levels, I fell down but managed to hold on to a beam. The lock-master saw it and pulled me up, gave me a belting and I never ever went back to that area again.
It could well be that adventure needs some danger. Perhaps adventure is the possibility of danger. Exclude all risk and danger and you stand risking inviting torpor with creative growth stunted. The one light on today’s horizon on bringing back adventure are the provision by so many councils of skate board ramps. If you are looking for kids on the street, forget it. They are all at home being locked up and looked after by parents flat out keeping danger at bay. But, for those that are not quite so protective of their broods, many are released from oppressive parental control and are found skate boarding. There is still hope for kids risking bruising and breaking bones. At least it is something.
As for my first movie. It was in black and white and called Rin Tin Tin. From memory it involved a large German shepherd saving people from danger. We used to go wild afterwards, terrorizing the neighbourhood pretending we were all heroes, part of the Rin Tin Tin movie. I believe Rin Tin Tin saved the Warner movie industry in the thirties and forties. Twenty three Rin Tin Tin movies were made and countless radio plays based on this dog kept millions enthralled for decades.
Could it be true that Spiderman and Batman have replaced RinTinTin?