Wednesday, 30 May 2007

The world above 600m

The world above 600m

I've just had a haircut, and as usual I feel a whole lot better for it. Relief from the straggly bit over the ears, trim and neat round the back, no floppy Hugh Grant quiff at the front. Oh, and I went for a little colour and a couple of 'go-faster' stripes down the sides. I've a photo somewhere...

The point is my stylist on this occasion was Evie who is 11. She was taking part in the brilliant 'Haircuts by Children' in Birmingham. Haircuts by Children is a programme designed to encourage shifts of confidence between adults and young people. A number of friends and colleagues said to me, 'wow, that was brave.'

Well, no, not really. What was the worst that could happen to my hair? I guess I could have lost an ear in a really extreme case... but in three years of running this project, there has so far not been an injury. Why should there be? Kids with scissors or clippers are usually naturally careful. I could have had an unfortunate stripe across the top for a week or so, or the colour could have taken a week to wear out.

No, I wasn't the one taking a risk.

Imagine holding the clippers and preparing to lay into someone else's barnet. Evie didn't know initially that I'm an easy going avuncular sort of cove; nor that I'm not exactly precious about my appearance. And besides she had to take decisions about the style and the settings of the clippers to achieve the desired effect.

Evie set about the restyling with gusto and enthusiasm. She was a faster clipper than the Cutty Sark. But she had a little difficulty reaching over the top.

At the end of the trim, we both glowed with pleasure; and then decided that we would go for something more to make a point – thus and hence the go faster stripes and the colour. I've been showing off the new style with absolute pride ever since. And sadly the stripes are rapidly growing out. I may have to get the clippers back to auto-graph them – the grooves over the ears that act as guides about where to place my new specs..

Haircuts by Children is a programme that started in Toronto and is produced by the remarkable and innovative community arts and theatre company, Mammalian Diving Reflex. MDR specialises in arts for community change and development, and place a focused emphasis on reversing expectations of young people, their confidence and creativity.

They practise and realise the philosophy of Guillermo Gomez-Pena, the Mexican artist now working in the USA whose statement, 'the arts are a powerful tool for making society, not just a reflection of it,' is more relevant than ever in times of rapid change.

But speaking of risk; I came across a couple of statistics the other day that speak volumes about the attitude to risk and young people.

The first relates to the title of this thought piece. 600m? Any ideas? It is the height above sea level that requires group leaders with young people to conduct risk assessments, inform and get permission from county hall, or, if an outdoors activity centre, to have additional insurance. Geography field trips that include a walk up the side of Pennyghent need the licence; those up the side of Brown Willy don't.

It made me wonder about the world over 600m that adults are so anxious about. It's almost as if there is a censorship for young people, as if the web nanny was switched on to the landscape.

And then I read that the biggest cause of domestic accidents involving young people were on garden trampolines. The reason is that more families, sorry, that should be parents, are buying trampolines to give their kids some physical activity to pursue that doesn't involve going out of the safety of the garden; that is not going out over the fields and climbing trees, or playing in the park where the paedoes lurk.

Of course, what is really happening is that kids have heard about the world above 600m, and are using the trampolines to try and get a glimpse.

Over-reaching, using their imaginations, taking risks...