Mischief Night

By the time you will have read this it will all have passed …

We have returned from our autumn break and we had a really successful week. It’s clear to me, across the three institutions, that the rhythm and routines have been reasserted and the adults, children and young people are comfortable, happy and glad to be back with us. Thank you for your efforts this week. I do recognise that it is a challenging time of year, Not least with the weather – as this week has exemplified. We’ve had wind, rain, sun, fog … it goes on. Not quite the Crowded House song; ‘Four seasons in one day’, but not far off.

Many of you will be looking forward to the bonfire weekend. It’s great when bonfire night falls on a Saturday. It removes those concerns about fireworks and bonfires being spread across a week. We should find that tomorrow night only is the night for bright lights, potatoes and sparklers. It certainly feels to me that over the past few years the whole nonsense around bonfire night and particularly mis-selling and dangerous use of fireworks has diminished somewhat. That’s a real community step forward. The fireworks parties and communal/community bonfires have made a significant difference.

This time of year does get me thinking about my childhood somewhat. Bonfire night wasn’t great when we were kids. The fireworks sold publicly were uninspiring, pretty rubbish really. The public displays were few and far between: a damp squib, in many ways. Maybe that’s just where I grew up and what we did.

However, as children from North Yorkshire we did enjoy the evening of the 4th November. It wasn’t until I moved away that I realised that ‘mischief night’ (the day before bonfire night) didn’t occur across the whole country. It seems that, as Guy Fawkes was originally from York, that people in Yorkshire took the opportunity over the centuries to behave in a mischievous way the day before bonfire night. I guess this is not a celebration of the attempt to blow up parliament but a recognition that some people in the county were up to no-good. (I accept that all sorts of alternative histories and interpretations of the event of the 5th November are acceptable/reasonable/understandable – that’s the study of history for you!)

I won’t go into what I did as an irritating child, and I said child because by the time we were in our teenage years we’d put such things behind us, it wasn’t something that we engaged in readily, the concept of mischief seemed for kids not the young adults we thought we were. However, it does allow me to reflect upon how we judge children and young people these days. If children were to engage in the things that I did as a 9 or 10-year-old we would probably be horrified as a community. I’m guessing that my parents kind of knew what we were up to but didn’t ask too many questions and the wider community just seem to accept that that on this night there would be some nonsense. It was the case and then the victim of ‘knock and run’ was irritated but the recipient was best off not getting too concerned about it. Sadly, these days we, as a society more broadly, can look to criminalise children too readily. I’m not encouraging children to misbehave or calling for widespread mischief but we should (and we) do recognise that they are children and learn their way. Unfortunately, some people exist in a state of perpetual fear of what might be; it’s the perception of an event rather than the experience itself which causes the pain. As a consequence, can too readily call upon the police to deal with the irritations that prevail. I’m not wishing to underplay the fear that some people do have but more broadly I think that as a society we have lowered our tolerance of children and their childish behaviours.

We all learn through play and experience and allowing children to behave differently around the margins can help them understand more about societal norms and what is acceptable and unacceptable. Maybe occasionally, as a community or individuals, we should just smile, grin and endure, acknowledging that children will be children and they will learn the error of their ways, through their experiences and not through the vicarious experience; i.e. by watching it on TV or through computer screen or phone. We want them out of the house doing things rather than in their bedrooms -don’t we?

‘I think I have a sense of mischief and that I can laugh at myself.’ Eric Cantona

Stay safe and avoid the mischief