Of course, I had to have a CRB (Criminal Records Bureau) check before I was allowed near the kids. Which is either a jolly sensible precaution or a sad comment on our society’s obsessions, depending how you look at it.
Many of the things we were allowed to do as kids would have the health and safety inspectorate going crazy today. Which, likewise, you can look at in either of two ways.
And I’m not sure how either the health and safety crew or today’s parents would feel about the suggestion made at the weekend by BBC Countryfile presenter Ellie Harrison. She thinks pupils should be taken to visit slaughterhouses to get a realistic view of where their meat comes from.
I’m not sure the meat industry would consider this very good PR. And among the possible risks such trips might involve is the very real one of nightmares. Harrison, of course, might consider bad dreams to be a necessary part of the learning process. And I wouldn’t be about to disagree with her there.
I’m sure there are still lots of youngsters who think their meat comes ready-made into burgers – or out of clean, shiny supermarket shrink-wraps. There are probably plenty, too, who think milk comes out of nice clean bottles, not dirty cows. Well, maybe.
Harrison, like me, eats some meat, but is fussy about where it comes from and how it’s been raised. She admits: “Every time meat is offered to me on Countryfile, I’m left rather impotently saying, ‘I’m veggie’ for TV brevity.”
I prefer to say “I’m a free-ranger”, to get the point across more. It’s factory farming I object to, not traditional, welfare-conscious animal husbandry. I’m leaning towards cutting down further on meat but that’s at least partly for my own health.
Also like me, Harrison’s happy to eat fish. She was recently filmed watching farmed salmon being killed. And she says: “If I was squeamish or sad about it, or if I wanted somebody else to do it, I don’t deserve to eat salmon.” Which seems about right.
As, in principle, does her idea of school trips to the abattoir.
To which my friend and former Green Party candidate Rachel Smith-Lyte adds: “I also think everyone should visit a rubbish dump at some stage to really understand the scale of the amount of waste we produce and chuck.”
Amen to that.
I made another trip a few years back. On my own this time, not with any schoolkids in tow – though I’m sure they’d have been fascinated.
It was to the top of a hill, in a place which most maps still show as a marsh. From the top, there’s a view of London’s towers in one direction, the elegant structure of the M25 Dartford bridge in another.
The hilltop itself stretches far enough for the enormous earthmoving vehicles scuttling about at one end to seem quite small from the other.
From the Thames, or the A13, or the high-speed rail line to France, this looks a green and pleasant rise, covered in grass and with a few stands of newly planted trees. At the top it’s a sobering, awe-inspiring, foul-smelling wasteland of rubbish, fought over by thousands upon thousands of gulls.
Since I first visited, the hill’s gone on getting higher. Though officially known as Rainham Landfill Site, it’s more like a mountain than a valley. Much like such sites all over the world.
Back in 2005 I wrote: “Nobody knows exactly what effect this gargantuan tip will have on the surrounding environment, including the Thames estuary above which it has risen.
“Science and engineering students from Southampton and Birmingham universities are studying it. One of the things they have found is a greater-than-expected build-up of gas inside the hill, which they suggest could be used to generate electricity.”
Today that power source is live. It is at least a way of getting something back.
How long, I wonder, before we start deep-mining our waste mountains for precious metals and other valuables?
But wouldn’t it be better not to keep on making and throwing away more and more rubbish in the first place? And maybe not slaughtering quite so many animals.
As for those abattoir trips, they’d surely have to be compulsory to work as they should. Which might upset a few people. If they were voluntary, you might wonder about those who signed up. And no, I wouldn’t fancy helping out.