Have you seen that new advert for Asda?
The one where three little kids arrive at the gates of a farm, chubby hands clutching clipboards, and ask the farmer to tell them all about the meat his cattle end up as?
The farmer beams a rosy-cheeked smile and merrily answers their questions (let’s assume he avoids the ones about abattoirs, foot and mouth and tuberculosis).
It didn’t happen like that when we were kids.
Ingrained in my memory is the day our little gang decided to do a Blue Peter and pay a visit to the village farm.
Butterthwaite’s looked like something out of an Enid Blyton. The centuries-old stone farmhouse was set back from the main street in Whiston and a little path cut through the meadows of grazing cattle and led right to its door. It looked so utterly enticing; ‘Come visit us, do,’ it said to curious, and naive, kids like us.
It was a day in the school summer holiday; you remember the ones when it was always boiling-hot, the skies were sailor suit- blue and you spent half the time nagging for a new paddling pool? One of those.
I’d decided this was the perfect day for us to run up that path, through buttercups and butterflies, with gay abandon.
At ten, I was the eldest and therefore the knower of all knowledge, I persuaded everyone we would be welcomed just like Valerie Singleton and would get to see baby pigs and fluffy yellow chicks; maybe even milk a few cows and be proffered slices of hot apple pie by a plump and homely farmer’s wife.
Our parents hadn’t the slightest idea where we were headed. In those days, kids could roam without fear of mothers texting every two minutes to remind them not talk to strangers, to be issued a route that involved crossing not a single road and, on second thoughts, just to come home because it’s much safer in front of the telly.
In fact, straight after Ready Brek with three vitamin C drops in it we were bundled out “to play”. We’d head off to the cornfield to build dens (not that dissimilar to the one in Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones in which the paedophile murders the little girl, but let’s not dwell on that). Or we’d make rope swings over the village stream and argue over who had to fish the little ones out. Mothers only saw us when hunger pangs told us it was lunchtime (there wasn’t one wristwatch between us). We’d wolf a potted meat sandwich and run out again. If you were quite well off, or an only child, you’d take a Wagon Wheel with you (have you noticed how much smaller they are nowadays?)
So they hadn’t a clue that, as we got halfway up the farmer’s path, he spotted us, flew into a stick-waving rage and set two sheepdogs on us.
Oh, how fast we ran through the buttercups and daisies, collies’ gnashers just inches from our heels. It was a shock; a huge reality-check. Adults could be nasty and life wasn’t really like Blue Peter.
Mind you, I’d like to bet the Asda farm gates scene wouldn’t happen for real in this day and age, either - no matter how rosy-cheeked the farmer.
Health and safety.