It is often said that certain moments in ones life are recalled by way of the music that was current at that particular time. For me schooldays chat was about Beatles singles then the 1970’s followed and albums took centre stage. And what albums they were with their arty sleeves and more significantly their resonating lyrics. Lyrics such as these by Cat Stevens somehow struck a chord:
“Well I think it’s fine building Jumbo planes
or taking a ride on a cosmic train, switch on
summer from a slot machine, you get what you
want to, if you want, cos you can get anything.
I know we’ve come a long way, we’re changing day to day
but tell me where do the children play?” (1)
Then in that same year of 1970 came the exhortation by Crosby Stills and Nash in their debut album not only to look around and reflect on modernity but also to put awareness into action and
“teach your children well……
help them with your youth
They seek the truth.”(2)
All heady stuff to consider at any age but especially so for those with a future ahead. Over time it has seemed that those lyrics had taken a deeper hold than I had realised back then. Fast forward fourteen years and there I was kind of putting those rock music sentiments of old into a sort of practice.
As a, pretty much, one man band leader of an after school resource for primary school children, I found myself paying homage to the spirit of Cat and CSN. Together in some abandoned premises on the edge of a large housing scheme on the edge of the border town of Hawick, we set about having a lot of fun play along with refurbishing the building. Together we built an indoor garden, aquarium, aviary and pet room. All that complemented with nature walks and related art work saw us present our efforts to an international gathering of children in Assisi, Italy, in 1988. A video of the children creating a massive mural entitled ‘Return to Paradise’ complete with soundtrack was shared with the assembled children. The children didn’t know it but the spirit of 1970 had guided me and them. Anyway to add a further local dimension to our labours we were joined by colleagues Ron and Elizabeth in planting a commemorative grove of oak trees at Hell Hole on the edge of the Wauchope Forest near Hawick.
It seemed for a while that such local efforts were in keeping with a wider environmental awareness. Momentum had built up with the 1992 Earth Summit setting out principles for nations to combat climate change and its consequences. Children continued to play their part and in 1995 gathered again in Eastbourne, England. Together with my daughter we attended and subscribed to the twelve challenges the children set for the governments of the world. Reading them today is a sobering experience. Here are just three of their challenges:
- We challenge all governments to make it easier to recycle all plastic and encourage all manufacturers to cut down on unnecessary packaging.
- We challenge the governments to grow special forests on already cleared land and to ban the import of rainforest timber for any purpose.
- We challenge the governments of the world to listen to anti-whaling groups and to pass a sufficient law against whalers. To deter them from killing these beautiful creatures. (3)
Now while the above may signify the aspirations of what was to be a betrayed generation, the spirit has not been destroyed. A new movement of children has risen to shame the adult world for its inaction. Twenty four years on we marched with them through Edinburgh as part of their global strike day. Their heartfelt chanting spoke loud and clear about the gross failure to heed the informed messages of yester year. Now though it was the ravages of rampant climate change, which has spiralled during those intervening years, that was proclaimed on their placards.
Some were stark in their demands: ‘stop burning Indonesia!’
Others affected dark humour: ‘let’s make Scotland cold again.’
And poignantly on a scrappy bit of cardboard in bold black writing: ‘I know this poster is shit but then so is my future’.
Witnessing all this I needed to summons up some hope. Off then to the Wauchope forest. I needed to see if the bygone efforts of those Hawick children had come to anything. With some trepidation I visited our grove of oaks. I am pleased to report that it is in excellent health. Thirty feet high trees were in full autumn colour. Moreover in addition to help soak up pernicious carbon, the trees have become a special habitat. As I approached a red squirrel scampered into it. This endangered creature had found a home in the childrens’ wood. It was a symbol of hope as to what can and needs to be achieved in an increasingly short time.
As I cycled back down the forest track once again, uncannily, a song from the 1970’s came to mind. That squirrel and the oaks seemed to be
“living proof of
natures’ way of receiving you
natures’ way of retrieving you.”(4)
Can human kind rediscover the spirit of that age and turn it into action? For those carried along by it at the time it had been good to see how a past gesture had come to fruition there on the edge of the forest. In desperate times seeking a little validation is understandable for as another song said back then:
“Farther along for what it’s worth
You (have) lived your life for all its worth
And then you go farther along
- Lyrics from the song ‘Where do the children play’ from the album entitled Tea for the Tillerman by Cat Stevens. (1970)
- Lyrics from the song ‘Teach your Children’ from the album Crosby Stills and Nash by Crosby Stills and Nash (1970)
- From the International Children’s Conference, October 1995, Eastbourne England.
- Lyrics from the song ‘Natures Way’ from the album entitled Farther Along by Spirit (1976)
- Lyrics from the title track from the album entitled Farther Along by Spirit (1976)