Chris Markiewicz's Blog
Every Monday – thoughts, observations and ideas that hold up a mirror to who & how we are

Googling conkers in Clapham

In the autumn I happened to be in Clapham, South London which is where I grew up. I decided to spend a little time tramping around the local streets, taking in both the changes and nostalgically soaking up those few elements that still remained the same.

 I came to sit under the horse chestnut tree opposite our former family home. As a boy I would gather conkers from beneath that tree. As I sat on the wall, just as I did all those years back, I looked at my watch – it was 5 o’clock in the afternoon. I was suddenly hit by how quiet it was. Our road had always been a peaceful, suburban affair with little traffic or undue din. Yet, this quiet was different. It was total and utter. There was nobody around – completely deserted. During the half hour or so that I sat there, I saw but one human being – a man delivering leaflets door to door.

 My mind flashed back a few decades and to how the street will have been at that time of the day. Neighbours chatting at their gates, bonnets up on cars  that were being repaired by their owners, hordes of children running around, playing hopscotch, having piggyback races, whizzing around on bikes.

 I then realised something else. Behind the double locked, alarmed facades of the big Edwardian houses would be youngsters, now sat in front of screens. Safe and cosseted inside these fortresses, making “friends” on social networking sites, engaging in role playing or war games, watching Hollyoaks. I felt a huge sense of sadness – not mere nostalgia – at the loss of true community, the loss of real childhood that was being played out.

 I also feel grateful that my own children have been  fortunate enough to live in a community where people do still chat on doorsteps and youngsters fall off bikes and kick balls around, yet even here things have got slowly quieter in just the last five years or so.

 When my son decided a year or so ago, that he’d like to join the local shooting club, he found that he was the only youngster coming along each Tuesday night to engage in target practice. I felt the irony of this. Most of his contemporaries were probably shooting things at the very same time, but on VDU screens. Whilst I’m not the biggest fan of violent pastimes like shooting guns, I could recognise the community that could exist somewhere like a shooting club and how youngsters could learn to handle firearms responsibly. Adam only went for a few weeks – he enjoyed the activity but felt out on a limb among all the older men. I doubt the club will survive for too many years toi come, as there is so lttle young blood coming through. This must apply to any number of other activities out there.

 I’ve lost count of the occasions that I’ve seen a queue at the ticket machine at our local tube station whilst the man in the ticket office sits idly without customers. Why? Because a whole generation appears to be increasingly more comfortable engaging with a screen rather than another human being.

 So, back to the leafy road in Clapham and life behind the Edwardian facades, as a youngster engages with the au pair:

 “Ivana, what’s a conker?”

 “I’m busy now sweetheart, why don’t you Google it?”

 Meanwhile, the horse chestnuts under the tree opposite the house lay there and rot, un-noticed, unrecognised.           


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One Response to “Googling conkers in Clapham”

  1. I love your story Chris, thanks. It would be brilliant to reproduce in the playwork magazine I work with; we have a regular feature called “Back in the Day”. Would that be OK?

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