I love Rupert the Bear. There, I’ve put it out there. Anyway, I was reading my son one of the ancient Rupert the Bear Annuals the other day – those dusty old Daily Express hardbacks full of Rupert stories from the 1930s onwards, when a picture stopped me in my tracks.
Obviously, a lot about Rupert the Bear is dated. There’s plenty that could be culturally dissected today. In this case, it was the innocent sight of a cartoon image of Rupert and his friend, Bill Badger, being shown a sign on the edge of a wood by a gamekeeper.
The sign read: “Private property: no picnicking”
The pair had been doing just that – picnicking in a wood. The gamekeeper gave them the benefit of the doubt, since Rupert said so imploringly that they hadn’t seen the sign. All was well. Only it wasn’t really, was it? Two children (well, a kid bear and a kid badger) were being kicked out of a wood for picnicking.
The narrative flies in England. Now I live in Sweden, and viewed from here, it doesn’t fly at all. Swedes inherit the right to roam from birth. All land outside a person’s private garden is fair game. Picnicking in a wood is just a given. Telling kids they can’t do it would be tantamount to treason.
Trespassing is the right thing to do
It made me think about my own English upbringing. My family were walkers. We walked everywhere. I had it drummed into me, one footstep at a time. At the same time, my parents made it abundantly clear to me that while trespassing was legally wrong, it was not morally so.
I was always reminded that – like the poacher – as long as you’re not caught, it’s OK. It has meant that all my English life has been imbued with a tone of us and them – the common people and the landowners – and an uneasy co-existence. I always trespass as a point of principle, but I’m always on guard against the gentry.
I guess that’s why The Levellers came from England, not Sweden. There’s only one way of life, and that’s your own, your own, your own!
Talking of rights, is it your right to migrate?