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Offbeat 23 October 2015

I know now that listening to loud music is bad for your ears. If you do turn the volume up too high for too long, your side of the conversation ends up as ‘what’ and ‘huh’ and ‘come again’? I know this from experience. My next question is this: can you get poisoned from playing with old tyres?

I had to tell my daughter to turn down the iPod the other day. She has my bent for music, and is developing a taste for it loud as well. The louder it is the more intense, and the sweeter its impact on the synapses. What do I tell her if she starts playing with old tyres the way I did? That she will get dirty? Is that enough?
The tyres that hung around our neighbourhood passed from hand to hand. The smaller kids got the more threadbare ones: older kids got the ones on which the writing was still visible. Each of them could be anything: a truck, a Porsche, a Formula 1 racing car. We used to run after them day after day, and the only thing that prevented us from taking them to bed with us was the protests of our parents.
Each of those tyres no doubt contained terrifying industrial compounds. Now I find myself in the position of denying my daughter the things that I enjoyed.
She will not develop the thick rind of skin on her feet that all the kids in the neighbourhood grew. Playing barefoot in the road is out of the question entirely, particularly given the idiocy of the boy bike racer up the road. I planted water-friendly stones in the garden, and these have attracted scorpions. One of them tried to move in at the beginning of winter. She has to wear shoes when she goes outside now.
All the stuff that was fun has become threatening. Salted butter is out. The fat on the steak is out. Braaivleis is a deadly combination of smoke, cholesterol and insects. Console games are said to give you carpal tunnel syndrome. Movies and games with guns and car chases turn kids into a raving psychotics, before they hit puberty, at which point nobody can really tell the difference anyway. Sex, like cigarettes, is a slow killer.
The list just grows and grows and grows.
Life was a lot simpler in the Seventies. Lead poisoning was something that happened if you ate the toys, not if you played with them. Cholesterol was part of a normal, healthy diet. Saturday afternoon movies were cause for throwing popcorn, not cause for concern. And the dangers have changed. There is no chance of a lion being spotted in the mountains behind Klein Windhoek. The baboons have been chased away with guns. Even the snakes keep a safe distance these days. Only one cold scorpion serves as a reminder.
My generation survived in spite of it all. The worst things that happened came later, in the arrival of the Eighties and the excesses of consumption. Even so, hard drugs never became a big thing in Namibia. Nor did the crime that went with it. The big thing was the awareness that came as the years went by.
But the streets have become a more complex place. There are more people, more diseases and fewer quick fixes. None of it adds up to freedom, unless that freedom is sanitised of any danger.
It all adds up to one strange fact: what was right for me is no longer right for her. I don’t know how to confront the questions that this poses. And I don’t think it would have been much different if my child were a boy.
No doubt she will find her own fun and freedom. I just can’t help wondering if her future will be as much fun as mine was.

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