When I was a child the summer holidays were a time of mounting anarchy and destruction. They would begin well enough as our young minds contemplated the utter joy of ten weeks away from the classroom and the hundreds of things we would do and make in the freedom of our own personal sunshine. But every year it was never long before we fell back into the familiar holiday pattern of playing on dangerous building sites, digging forbidden underground forts, tormenting the children next door, chasing after bush fires and playing roller hockey in multi-storey car parks while evading the security guards. Any constructive activities we could come up with never quite matched the thrill of these.
One glorious invention of ours was to commandeer the ice rink on the first day of the holidays. Our school broke up for holidays a day before everyone else so we had the place to ourselves and could make our own rules. We came up with rugby on ice. This was the most fun any of us had ever had until someone’s skate went over someone else’s finger and sliced off the tip. Blood on ice is a wondrous thing to see. It spreads out like a giant red carnation which was almost as fascinating as the finger itself. The ice rink manager was less impressed and our skating careers ended right there with a lifetime ban from the rink. In Portugal people go to a great deal of trouble to keep children engaged in safer and more wholesome pursuits during the three months of holiday. Organisations lay on activity programmes offering kayaking, horse riding, swimming, sailing, surfing, beach volleyball, rafting, football and most other things they can think of doing in the great outdoors. Children of a more cerebral nature can pop down to their youth centre where even more stuff is usually on offer. At our local centre recently I saw posters advertising courses in photography, dance, acting, singing, film making and DJ-ing. As a child in Portugal there is very little reason to be bored. If I’d grown up here I might have even given up playing on building sites. I’m not sure I’d have missed the rugby on ice though.