We have been lent some garden toys by a friend who’s having an extension done and can’t currently use them in their garden. They arrived at the weekend, a slide and a plastic caterpillar tunnel. B, the three year old, immediately climbed on top of the tunnel and said “it’s a pirate ship” and the boys launched into huge game of being pirates at sea. It was great to see their creativity.
Watching them I wondered where they first learn about pirates. Pirates are not part of everyday life, at least not in our village, so the concept must be introduced to them. Normally make believe games reflect what children see in the world around them, they play “going to the doctor”, “mums and dads”, “shopping at the supermarket”. “Pirates”, I realised, is a game we actively introduce to our children. And I couldn’t help but wonder why.
Pirates are violent criminals. I’m not just thinking about those off the coast of Somalia, even cartoon pirates carry cutlasses, walk the plank, fly a flag with a skull on it and go through life with the intention of stealing someone else’s treasure, or at least beating someone else to the treasure. But, despite these criminal undertones, “pirates” has been identified as a theme appealing to little boys – along with dinosaurs, farmers, and builders – and incorporated into children’s culture. There are books and television programmes about pirates, people theme birthday parties around pirates, toy manufacturers produce toys and dressing up outfits and you can buy games, cards and clothes with pirates on. Pirates are deemed socially acceptable.
It occurred to me it’s an odd thing to encourage boys to play. Do children even really know what pirates do? They know what they are taught, the parody of cartoon pirates, so wear handkerchiefs on their heads and say “ah-ha me hearties”. But I wondered what my boys would answer if I asked them what pirates do. They know what farmers do, they know what builders do. “Pirates” are just good fun, oddly dressed men who sail around on ships all day.
Watching my boys today I thought how refreshingly different this was in our modern society obsessed with what’s politically correct and “nice”. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not disapproving of playing pirates, just sharing a thought process. I was told today about a little girl who came home from pre-school singing “baa baa rainbow sheep”. In our paranoid society where sheep are not even allowed to be black any more, pirates have slipped through the “niceness” net. I wonder how long it will be before an anxious official realises this and decides pirates should come off the list of approved games so our children can no longer play pirates without taboo.