Jayne Dawson: Let the children play '“ and don't fuss about footballs

Penny Freeman.Penny Freeman.
Penny Freeman.
There was a story recently about a woman who got into bother with the police for keeping the footballs that landed in her garden.

The build-up to her telling off, according to the woman, went like this: she had spent a lot of money making her garden lush and lovely but her neighbour’s children kept whacking footballs over the fence, creating mayhem amongst the perfection of her blooms.

Plus, they never came round and asked nicely for their ball back, so she kept them to, you know, teach the kids a lesson.

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Next thing she knew, the bobbies were knocking on her door, keen to explain to her that those footballs were not her property and she needed to give them back right now, or else.

Turned out the neighbours had phoned the police on her, which left her properly flabbergasted in a what-is-the-world-coming-to sort of a way.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the fence, the neighbour said her children were only playing in their own garden, and they were frightened to ask for their ball back because the woman was scary.

I need to add here that the woman was called a “pensioner” in the story, which I think is an objectionable way to describe anyone, but her age was probably a factor in this little bust-up so I’m mentioning it.

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Anyway, that’s the basic scenario – so whose side are you instinctively on? Do your sympathies fly to the older woman and her pristine garden, or the children playing in their own garden with a football?

Me, I’m down with the kids. One hundred per cent. As it happens, this is not an unknown situation to me. I live next door to a young soccer player and, when his footballs land in my garden, I just chuck them back over the fence.

They don’t damage my plants, it is the work of a moment to throw them back and, in truth, they make me smile when I see them.

Because a football is an age-old sign of a child properly playing, don’t you think? And anything that smacks of traditional playtime is to be encouraged.

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Basically, if it involves running about outdoors and doing a bit of shouting then it’s a good thing; healthier and safer than disappearing into the isolating, on-line world of computer games and social media.

So that’s where I’m coming from. And I have another reason for being on the side of the youngsters: Older people who object to children playing usually make a fuss about noise. They want “peace and quiet.”

I never want to be that person. I like noise. I don’t want to live in a silent, joyless world with my perfect patch of lawn.

I think the sound of a school playground in full spate is a joyous sound. I hear one through my window when the wind is blowing in the right direction, and it’s merry and life-affirming.

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I want to live surrounded by families in all their noisy chaos.

Once, when considering downsizing to an easy-to-clean and cheap to heat and maintain flat, the way you do sometimes, I accidentally visited a ghetto. It was advertised as the apartment with everything, in a superb setting. But I had missed the small print, the bit that said it was for people over a certain age, in an enclave of other apartments for people over a certain age.

It had a restaurant, a clubhouse, and all that sort of stuff. Probably a mortuary too, though that wasn’t advertised. The whole area was landscaped and lovely, and it made me want to cry because it was quiet as the grave. I couldn’t get away fast enough.

Some people like that kind of thing. They like children to be quiet, they like their lives to be restful and ordered and neat round the edges. They like to sit quietly in God’s waiting room.

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But I think they’re wrong. I think everyone benefits from a bit of noisy disorder, so I’m all in favour of children playing noisily. I choose footballs over the fence, because that’s life. Am I right?


There is a new therapy in town and, don’t get me wrong, I’m all for a new therapy.

It’s called Compassion Focused Therapy and it’s all about treating yourself as if you were a baby, and treating other people that way too.

You know how we are with babies. Most of us are our best selves: kind, gentle, comforting, anxious to deal with any need.

Well the idea is that we use a bit of that in adult life.

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And I can sort of see how it would work. If we smile and speak kindly words in a soothing tone to that person who has just acted outrageously towards us, they are more likely to see the error of their ways and we are more likely to get a resolution, and not a war.

I get that.

But treating ourselves like babies? Well we do that already.

No one wants to grow up now, no one wants to be the adult person, taking responsibility.

We all want to act like big babies, indulging our whims.

We wear comfy elasticated pants, we eat too many soft, sweet foods, we give ourselves pyjama days and duvet days.

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We let our emotions out no matter what, we live with our mums and dads for far too long, we look at pictures of cats and dogs online and we laugh and point and giggle like babies enjoying their first book

I think there is enough babyish behaviour going on already.


For years sales have been in decline but now, we are being told, the little critters are back in vogue.

Garden gnomes are again featuring in the nation’s gardens, but this time in a more modern guise.

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Instead of just standing there looking daft, these gnomes are getting more out of life.

They are taking selfies, reinventing themselves as portly hipsters or well-fed zombies. And sales are up by 20 per cent at Asda.

What to make of it?

I suggest make nothing of it. There will always be a man who thinks it’s funny to come home from the supermarket with a garden gnome – and I am convinced it is always the men.

Let them be. Allow it garden space for the few weeks of summer.

When the days grow colder and the nights longer, take it for a little outing to the nearest tip. It’s where a gnome truly belongs...

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