Year of the Gun: How to spark an arms race at a forest kindergarten

They flocked to the countryside for the fresh non-polluted air. Little did they know they were going to encounter Denmark’s answer to Napalm, the smell of victory

Woody’s got a brand new gun (photo: armsofamerica.com)
April 17th, 2021 5:51 am| by Frank Sonderborg
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I worked for a time at a Copenhagen forest kindergarten. Space for kindergartens in the city centre was scarce, so kids were bussed out to the outlying northern forests to spend their day running around freely in the wild. This combined both cost-saving and new pedagogic theories about raising children in the fresh, non-polluted forest air.

Jobless Joes and Amazons
I was brainwashed by an Irish system with no concept of kindergartens. If you had kids, the Mums reared them. So when I was drop-kicked into a female-dominated profession with kids from divorced families, I was an Irish alpha-male in an alpha-Danish-female environment. 

The pedagogues were right on the cutting edge of new thinking: a complete equality of the sexes involving no competition. Pacifism and Social Liberalism with a sprinkling of Maoism was the way forward. 

I was there to work as a handyman – a job created by Copenhagen Municipality. I was no carpenter, just an unemployed Joe. I could have ended up anywhere within the Copenhagen system, and fate had thrown me into a pit run by a Danish female pedagogue army, whose heroes were the Amazonian warriors of old.

Getting on that bus was way over my paygrade.

Like Boxer in ‘Animal Farm’
When we arrived, it was my job to get all the gear from the bus to our house in the forest. I pulled the wheeled wagon, like Boxer in ‘Animal Farm’, loaded with stuff for our time in the forest. The bus would come back at the end of the day and take us all back to Copenhagen, reborn, testosterone-detoxed, happy new-age bunnies.

Some of the boys and girls would jump on board the wagon to get a free ride. I enjoyed this. But I could see it was not going down well with the keepers of the equality flame. “In life, everybody should carry their own load,” was their daily mantra. 

 The kindergarten house sat right on the edge of the forest. So it was never a case of these kids roughing it. Yes, they were out all day. In the cold and rain and snow. But they had a very big warm base to come back to.

Enter Sandman
I had a small workshop. And here I spent my hours fixing some of the broken toys. I purposely made a division between myself and the pedagogues. I wasn’t there to fix kids, or resolve their very complicated family issues. I was just the handyman. 

Some of the pedagogues had as many personal issues as the kids. I remember telling one: “You know, you remind me of a mechanic who is fixing all these cars, yet has a string of broken cars outside his own house.” I was not asked for my opinion again.

One day Jens turned up outside my workshop. Jens was a very quiet inward-looking boy who normally just sat in a corner and never said anything or joined in any activities. He could also suddenly get very violent, lash out and laugh manically. 

I was oblivious to all this when I let him just sit and watch me sand all the wooden toys I’d repaired. But when the pedagogues came to check up on Jens, they left him alone when they saw he was occupied and not causing any problems.

Decoding ‘Little Jens’
One day I was informed they would have to stop Jens from attending the group, as he was very disruptive and just not fitting in. He’d have to go somewhere else to tackle his violent behaviour. I found this very strange, considering all their pedagogic beliefs and training. I was brought up with the idea that there was no such thing as a bad boy, just lousy parents.

I defended him and said he was a good kid and that maybe all he needed was something to do. I knew his Mum and Dad were going through a divorce, with pots and pans and the odd punch being thrown at home. Little Jens was right in the firing line. 

It was agreed they would see what would happen with his new-found interest in wood carving. And hopefully this would pave the way for a new beginning for Jens. 

Pacifist posturing
This was, after all, the ‘Golden Age of the Pacifist’ in Denmark – a time when it was even suggested that the Danish Army be replaced by an answering machine saying “We surrender” in Russian. 

I would not consider myself a violent person, but on the few occasions a few Danish guys got heated and screamed in my face, I punched first, asked questions later, at which point my Danish girlfriend confirmed it was just posturing. 

I, like most Dublin potheads, had seen ‘2001 A Space Odyssey’ and particularly remembered the monkeys screaming at each other. ‘Shit,’ I thought, ‘I’M the monkey with the big stick’. After all, I had tried the pacifist bit in Dublin and got my arse kicked on a bus trip to the Top Hat in Dun Laoghoire for my troubles. 

Let’s make a gun
Perhaps that’s why it came so easily to me to draw out the shape of an AK47 on a piece of wood and say to Jens: “Let’s make a gun.” 

So we sawed it out and Jens spent an age sanding it. When he was finished, the delight was obvious on his face. It lit up like the sun. He’d made something entirely by himself. 

Then he ran off to the rest of the group who were colouring animals and proceeded to machine gun the lot of them. 

Arms race begins
Needless to say, this caused a mighty upheaval in the forest kindergarten, as the boys immediately charged down to the workshop and demanded to be tooled up as well. 

The forest arms race had begun. The pedagogues were horrified and had a series of crisis meetings as to what to do. But they were powerless to resist the winds of change. The weapons factory was in full swing, churning out carved wooden AK47s.

The girls now demanded to be armed as well. The forest rang to the sound of boys and girls screaming and shooting and falling down.

I even introduced them to the Hollywood action stunt fall. 

Elbowy end of an area
The pedagogues, still shell-shocked, eventually let it slide. Meetings were held with parents about this sudden interest in guns, but they decided to embrace it and I was never asked to stop. 

Jens was again playing with the others and everything was still on track for Social Liberalism. Only this time it included wooden AK47s

But like all trends, it ran its course. Sepp Pointek’s football vision of sharp elbows mixed with a new hardened edge of reality was working its magic: the deeply buried idea of winning was once again resurfacing from its long hibernation. 

Danish Dynamite was on the move. The winds of change were blowing away the last of Social Maoist Liberalism. And I couldn’t help feeling proud at the giant blow for men’s lib that I had struck in what I like to think of as the ‘Year of the Gun’.

Frank Sonderborg


Frank Sonderborg was born in Ireland, lives in the UK and does his best to write interesting stories. This particular tale is based on his experience working at an udflytterbørnehave on the corner of Stefansgade and Krogerupgade in Nørrebro from 1984-85. His short stories have appeared in various UK and US publications. He is currently working on a fictional book about the Irish War of Independence.

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