What are your childhood memories of life before health and safety regulations?

As one woman shared a rogue (and dangerous) childhood experience, others recall life before health and safety regulations

Young girl in woods
Twitter users have shared their experiences of swimming disasters, squeezing into car boots and even jumping off shed roofs Credit: Getty Images Contributor/Westend61

At its worst Twitter can be a snarling bear-pit of mutual incomprehension. Every so often, though, it throws up something utterly delightful that has the power to unite. And so it was over the weekend when barrister Joanna Hardy posted a simple question: “What’s your childhood memory of something that would cause a Health and Safety overload nowadays?"

Hardy went first: “On a day out to a country park,” she recalled, “my parents let my brother and I hire a motorboat on our OWN on a lake. We were about 4 or 5 at the time. I think they thought it would be gentle. Off we went into the middle of the lake. My brother panicked and jammed the steering stick thing. We just did violent donuts in the water screaming our heads off for about 15 minutes until they they found a rescue boat. Absolutely traumatised. Imagine the paperwork now.”

Joanna’s hair-raising story prompted a huge memory rush. Scores of respondents cheerfully offered up examples of near-death escapades in the Fifties, Sixties and Seventies.

Seaside and swimming disasters were commonplace. “Windsurfing in the sea off Donegal at summer camp aged 14. Offshore wind developed,” recalled Sonia, “I got blown out to sea. Rescue boat man had gone for lunch. Was rescued hours later suffering from hypothermia. Told to take a shower & put an extra jumper on to warm up.”

Don’t you love the rescue man who had gone to lunch?

Attitudes to road safety were also, ahem, very different. Scores of people recalled being balanced on their father’s knee and steering the car home while dad operated the pedals. Many small children travelled in the boot or the back of a van sitting on hay bales or clinging to pallets or furniture. Richard Armstrong’s recollection took some beating: “Youth club leader took us on a trip to the countryside. 15 of us in his Triumph Toledo, including 4 in the boot. The last kids in the back had to be slotted in through an open window.”

Playground equipment back then was reliably lethal. One person recalled a Witch’s hat roundabout (also known as a Bobby’s hat) with 20 kids piled on it as it rotated violently and “small kids ran underneath until knocked senseless”.

Adults not only turned a blind eye to danger, they aided and abetted it. “When I was 9, my best mate and I were learning about Ancient Egypt and wanted to try and make papyrus by slicing up pampas grass from my garden,” recalled Phil, “My teacher agreed and supplied us with a bunch of doublesided razor blades and a packet of plasters.” A thoughtful touch!

Ned “ran off a flat garage roof with my mates aged 10 to see who could leap the furthest. Often put teeth through our lips.”

There were building sites and bonfires and bangers and the bumps, where you bounced friends on concrete on their birthday. That stuff was sane compared to “lighting the spray from various aerosol cans to use as blowtorches” or  “sledging on scrap car bonnets down the M6 embankment”. As you do.

Reading these stories aloud over Saturday dinner, Himself and I were reduced to helpless tears of laughter. How on earth had our generation lived to tell the tale?  It was a miracle. Yet, somehow, we did, and those brushes with disaster, denied to our own sheltered, seatbelted offspring, are never to be forgotten. To live dangerously is to live vividly.   

It made me think of that long-ago time I was squashed (aged about 8) in the footwell of a cousin’s Mini tearing through Welsh country lanes. The car was so rusty it had a hole the size of a plate in the floor through which I could observe the road whizzing a few inches beneath. Happy days!

Please send me your childhood before health and safety memories. Liam Halligan and I will read the best one out on our Planet Normal podcast this week and share some more of our own. 

What are your favourite childhood memories of life before health and safety?  Share your stories in the comments below...