I was born a natural optimist - I'm quite sure of that. Even as a small child I was always the one rousing the battle cry 'yes we can!' whenever a member of my village 'gang' expressed doubts. "Of course we can go and camp by the river!" I remember saying at a time when I was no more than 6, my friends 5 and 4 and my sister not long walking. So with a jolly whistle, and armed with the necessary provisions we snaffled from the kitchen (matches for lighting a fire, a blanket and a few snacks) off we went as a merry troop, ready for the adventure ahead.
We didn't need the matches, as it happens, since we found a nearly burned out campfire just down alongside the river. We decided this was our camping spot, and we set off to find food. I remember bashing around the long grass in that very important sort of a way that only a 6 year old can do properly, when my hunting was brought to an abrupt halt by a bloodcurdling scream from Shirley, the 4 year old. She'd apparently rushed back to the campsite with some fallen apples, and had been unable to stop before reaching the fire in her excitement - both her little feet and clean white socks had landed straight on to the burning embers. (Remember the link to burning embers... another one of life's lessons more than 25 years later!)
It then suddenly dawned on me that we were in a pretty tricky situation. It probably would have been a good idea to tell the grown ups where we were going, before we set off. But they all seemed so busy chatting together in the garden, smoking their cigarettes, laughing and chinking the ice in their cool summer drinks. It seemed so unfair to disturb them.
Faced with this situation, what did we do? Did we let ourselves panic? Did we cry? Did we get scared? No we did not. We were the girl-gang of our village, and we were not going to behave like babies! Well, that was the gist of my speech, anyway. It seemed to do the trick. Shelley was intrigued as I helped her take off her socks and showed her how to wash them clean in the river - I reasoned that so long as the black marks were gone, her mother might not notice the holes.
The other two, meantime, had set out the blanket - well, strictly speaking, my sister was more of an enthusiastic observer. But she was certainly joining in and right on side with the rest of us! Our snacks were shared out, the blanket was wrapped around our feet and legs, and we were happily singing nursery rhymes to help 'the younger ones' get to sleep. It was getting dark by then, so we thought they should get some rest.
I was absolutely confident we'd done the right things, and that we'd be praised for our courage and adult thinking under such stressful situation. So when, some time later, we heard my mother's Morris Minor screeching to a halt just a short distance away (I was of a mind to tell her she should really watch her speed limit!) I got up to meet her, beaming from ear to ear.
Her face was a little pinker than usual, and my friends' parents were with her as well. She slammed the car door and they all came rushing towards us. I was absolutely delighted that they were all coming to join in the fun "How lovely to see you!" I enthused. "Have you brought some more provisions?"
Some hours later in my bed, nursing a bruised arm from being yanked off my feet and in to the car, and an even more bruised ego, I began to ponder whether grown ups really did know best. After all, we'd done everything properly and had looked out for the little ones - the holes in Shelley's socks could be mended and the burn cream was doing a great job on her feet - and we'd all learned that we could cope together under pressure.
Yes, it was true that grown ups often had a lot of good things to say about life, but they weren't always right. And somehow they'd lost their sense of fun and adventure. And for goodness sake, surely they knew I could be trusted, didn't they...?
From then on I decided I would learn my own lessons, and find my own way in life - and include anyone else who wants to come along for the ride.