As a nation we are having to get used to being routinely scared witless by threats that something we hold dear could be taken away.
While scare stories are nothing new, 2016, will long be remembered as the Year of Fear – with some justification.
You could almost understand the rhetoric which preceded the EU referendum on June 23, considering that it was arguably the biggest decision that we will ever be asked to make.
Both sides, especially those of us who wanted to stay in the union, were accused of launching Project Fear in a bid to convince people that their argument was the strongest and in the end a whopper on the side of a red bus prevailed.
But if we honestly thought the tales of terror would disappear in the wake of a Brexit vote then we were wrong. In the past four months we’ve been warned that we’ve kissed goodbye to cheap foreign holidays, that our currency will become a laughing stock and, worst of all, that students run the risk of not being able to eat Marmite and Pot Noodle sandwiches ever again. Marmitegate proved to be little more than a very clever PR manoeuvre by Britain’s biggest grocer but it did go to show that we have become a lot jumpier.
My point was proved when I read a headline that the classic playground game of conkers was set to die out forever. My initial reaction that this could be a parting shot from Brussels, that technocrats had devised a dastardly piece of valedictory legislation which would make the life of British kids miserable.
As it turned out this particular scare story was based on fears by experts that the Horse Chestnut tree will be wiped out from our local landscape within the next 15 years due to disease spread by migrant moths. It is not the first time that an obituary has been written for conkers: at the start of the century millions were under the illusion that the health and safety police had deemed the game to be unsafe. Of course, it was a load of old cobblers, even if at least one headteacher made pupils wear goggles before entering the field of play. But if it really is curtains for conkers this time then I for one shall shed a tear because it will be one less instrument with which parents can use to entice the children away from a flickering screen. Getting children of the age that they can answer back has always been a big ask, particularly when there is a carpet of wet, smelly leaves everywhere, but now it is nigh on impossible.
Children will walk over each over to get their hands on an iPad and will then proceed to block out everything else around them while they become absorbed in a world of skateboarding delinquents and talking kittens. In the age of the Helicopter Parent we seldom see children playing in our streets and that makes me weep.
My own childhood consisted of me regularly falling into streams and ponds and walking dog muck through the house and I would not have had it any other way. While there are still conkers on the ground it is incumbent on us grown ups to introduce our young to the forgotten pleasures which made our own early days special.