There’s a lot of stuff in my Drafts folder. Some of it is there simply because – as in this case – I have no idea if there’s a point I’m trying to make, or not. This, to me, is just a piece of writing, a random piece of exposition about myself, with nothing to grab hold of, nothing to query or debate or add to in any real way. But if you’ve got a comment you’d like to make, knock yourself out, I’m not saying don’t comment! I suppose what I’m saying is that this – and probably the entries to follow – are drafts not because they’re incomplete pieces of writing as such, but because I don’t really know that they have a real place here or anywhere, but I would quite like to post them simply because I like them.
I’ve always had a ‘vivid imagination’. When I was little, my best friend and I spent weeks ‘running away’ from our ‘evil step-parents’. I wrote a whole book about the story, and could see it all in my head, the places where we slept rough, the beach where we were eventually rescued, the nice people that took us in (they were always different people – families, a single woman – but the woman in this role was always something like Miss Honey in Matilda.
Then there was the magical world we designed where there was a room full of doors and each door led to a different world, with its own perils and challenges. That was more a sort of action game, like a video game played out in real life, one of those games aimed at children, Crash Bandicoot or something, except that I didn’t know what video games really were then. My sister and I would run down to the woods and spend hours if not days being witches and feisty warrior princesses and wise old gypsy women. Single mothers with umpteen children and neat little council flats (we did spend the first few years of our lives in Tottenham, after all). I tried – but couldn’t remember how – to pin a sari around myself as I’d been taught by our old neighbours at one point.
Another friend of my sister’s and mine, B – and his brother and sister – used to join in our games as well. We were aliens in one of these games and would spend weeks in character whenever we were in one anothers’ company. We built up a whole complex society with its own rules, customs, conventions and necessities. We were trying to acclimatise to biomes on earth where we could live in peace with humanity but were very wary of the Scientists who had brought us there. We were also, in another game, a band of princes and princesses, somewhat like the Pevensie siblings out of Narnia I suppose, each with our own weapons, our own characters, our own skills and specialisations. And yes, I did go through a phase of being injured-limpy-princess with a staff to lean on and an impressive memory, as it happened, (at least for someone with no natural sense of ‘left’ and ‘right’) for which was my ‘bad’ leg.
All of our games were like this. Our Playmobil house was populated by a cast of characters every bit as rich and well-rounded as the occupants of Downton Abbey or the cast of Upstairs, Downstairs. We carried on playing these imaginary games together even into (very) young adolescence. As we got older, of course, we would act less, climb fewer trees, and describe more. Our games, I suppose, got more like radio plays, as we went on family walks and so on. Or we’d reclothe them as ‘drama exercises’ like the improvisation games we were taught in drama classes at school.
The first time I truly fancied a guy it was because he reminded me a bit of James Bond when he got into a scrap with another lad in the playground. The second boy I fancied reminded me strongly (for no other reason than that I am a crazy fantasist) of Will in the His Dark Materials trilogy – and tell me, what eleven-year-old girl, on reading that book, hasn’t spent a while wanting to be Lyra and fancying the tall, dark and mysterious Will?
I still imagine things now. When I can’t get to sleep, I’ll pretend I’m Scheherezade, telling stories full of cliffhangers so that I get to keep my own life when I wake up in the morning. I’ll pretend I’m a character from a Jane Austen novel, I’ll narrate to myself (in my head) lengthy letters to a darling sister spending the Season back at home in the country, whilst I am in Town; but I spend so long deciding on what my ballgown looks like, and what flowers are in my hair, and what the hero’s name is going to be, that I’m asleep before I’ve even got in the carriage to go to the ball.
I’m not sure why I’m writing all this except to say that this whole world inside my head amazes me. When real life is frankly dull – the house is cold, I’ve eaten too much today, and all I have to look forward to, seemingly, is exams, for the entire forseeable future – when I go to bed and turn out the light, if I can’t sleep, I can be anyone I want to be. I can work in the White House (I’ve been watching too much West Wing), go to a ball, cycle around Sixties London, be a millionaire in the most beautiful apartment in Paris and buy Phoebe Philo clothes and cute little pumps to go with them. I can struggle through mountains, be horribly patronising to poor people in villages in the outback, pretend I’m a vicar with three children and a strong, handsome, quiet and brilliant husband, pretend I’m picking up my Nobel prize or making a charming, witty speech at my sister’s wedding.