Karen Kay on Mother Nature’s instincts

PUBLISHED: 11:09 23 May 2014 | UPDATED: 11:09 23 May 2014

Karen Kay, writer and broadcaster. Picture by Ian McIlgorm © IAN MCILGORM 2012..

Karen Kay, writer and broadcaster. Picture by Ian McIlgorm © IAN MCILGORM 2012..


Is there anyone in the world who doesn’t love rivers, canals and streams? Karen shares treasured memories and some hopes for the future

From a young age, children are enthralled by the game of Poohsticks, described in AA Milne’s famed stories of Christopher Robin and his bear. We are charmed by Ratty and Mole in Wind in the Willows, and begin to yearn for our own adventures on boats and by riverbanks. A walk along a towpath or following a meandering natural watercourse is far more attractive to most than a stroll through fields or towns.

The most majestic cities are built on the banks of the Thames, the Seine, the Hudson, and living alongside these waterways holds an enduring appeal. The prospect of a brook babbling through a cottage garden pops an instant premium on the property’s price tag.

I’ve happy memories of childhood fun with my friends, leaping across a narrow tributary to the River Chess near our homes. In the days when games didn’t involve smartphones or computer consoles, we would spend hours together in our ‘club’ creating imaginative adventures, or scooping our fishing nets through clear water, desperate for an exciting ‘catch’.

Decades on, this appeal still holds strong. My six year old daughter loves a trip to the Thames: whether it’s Marlow, where we can take a boat trip upstream, or an urban adventure in the capital, discovering London’s landmarks from a different vantage point courtesy of a riverbus.

So enchanted are we by these waterways, that it is all too easy to forget that they are the lifeblood of our world and wield great power to throw the balance of our existence with devastating effect. From the tiny springs that provide us with mineral-rich drinking water, to the vast channels that ebb and flow through our cities, carrying passengers, cargo and waste to destinations new.

Winter’s torrential rains caused us to reassess this love affair, as the rivers surged beyond their usual habitat and forced their way into our daily lives. The relentless pressure that flooding put on many communities was impossible to comprehend, as families were evacuated, livelihoods were lost, and tempers frayed as the Environment Agency and Government appeared impotent.

Mother Nature shouts loud at times, and her voice must be heeded. Our planet is fragile, and we toy with it at our peril. We must not blithely build on flood plains in a bid to erect cheap housing. We must not tunnel train lines through our countryside with a blatant disregard for the impact on the water table. We must hold our habitat in high esteem, respecting the rivers and streams that wend their way past our homes.

And, if like me, you take great pleasure from a day messing about on the river, please do your bit to preserve this pastime for future generations. Don’t be one of the thoughtless souls who pollute the water with debris. I cast one eye into the waters of the Thames near Tower Bridge last week, and was angered to see a murky mess of tin cans, plastic shopping bags, bubble wrap and other inexcusable goods. Do your bit to care for the waterways, and we will all benefit.

The hothouse effect

If there’s a subject to bring out the hypocrite in any parent, it’s our children’s education. Most of us believe that every child deserves the opportunity of good teaching and that should be equal for all. But we all want the best for our own offspring. Egged on in this age of ‘perfect parenting’, we feel a failure if we don’t fight tooth and nail to provide the springboard our children need to fulfill their potential.

I’m a product of the Bucks grammar school system and can’t pretend I didn’t reap the rewards. Yet I can see that those who took the alternative path of ‘secondary modern’ education might have a very different opinion of our ‘system’. In my day, we spent our time outside school doing homework, then pursuing other passions – in my case gymnastics and crafts were enjoyed with great zeal.

So, I am filled with conflict as I witness contemporaries sending young children to private tutors after school, cramming their little heads with methods and technique to ‘beat the system’. It seems many primary school-age children are enduring extra-curricular tuition when they should be playing or discovering the activities that make them tick as human beings. Whether it’s swimming or singing, cooking or crafting, football or fencing, should we not let them develop passions beyond the classroom that will make them more confident, fitter, more adaptable and able to cope with the demands of adulthood?

Do I, as a mother, have the strength to say no to tutoring in the coming years, and to leave my child’s future in the hands of school alone? Do I dare to be different, when all around her are hothousing? Instinct tells me my daughter will benefit from a more rounded existence, without the rigours of yet more academic exercises after school bell rings. Am I that brave? I’m not sure, but I sincerely hope, when it comes down to it, that I am.

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