Do you remember being a child? Oh, yes ... all these years ago ... But do you really remember? Do you ever find yourself re-inhabiting that wonderful bubble that could enclose you when you were small, when your imaginative world was the be all and end all; when the world of adults was an enabling machine, but little to do with you? Or are you so caught up in the business of being a grown-up that the bubble has long since burst, scattered like the rainbow, now only a damp circle on the concrete of your life?
I'm reading Michael Mayne's book This Sunrise of Wonder
- at last, Jim
, if you're reading this! - and it's fair got me thinking. Especially after last weekend, when I was visiting a Thomas the Tank Engine paradise
with my four grandchildren and their assorted parents. Before we all headed away from the hotel and the theme park, we spent a couple of hours in a nearby playpark. The contrast with the theme-park rides was striking. Yes, there were swings and roundabouts, but there were also climbing frames and the wonderful galleon in the photo. And it was the galleon that kept all four of them playing together the longest. I could hear the oldest allotting roles to the others, who weren't really paying much attention; the smallest child was ferrying sand to the top of the chute that is just visible exiting the hull in the bottom corner; another had purloined a bottle of water the better to demonstrate the drainage the same chute afforded. There was another hiding under the deck, and the strange child that found himself in the middle of the gang was pressed into service as a pirate. And no-one wanted to come away.
And the combination of the book and the grandchildren's enjoyment of imaginative play brought an epiphany. I could remember
my childhood bubble. And what was better: I could remember it in such a way that I could feel it again, feel it the way I did when I was under ten (the family moved house when I was ten; it's a useful watershed in my library of mental images of childhood). Here are some of the stand-outs:
Sitting on the grass in front of our holiday house in Arran, around 6pm on the first of July, gazing at the hills at the head of Glen Cloy, smelling the bog-myrtle on the breeze, ready to burst with happiness because the summer was a lifetime long and I was back in the place I loved more than any other.
Walking behind the rest of my family after a trip to the cinema - alone, because I was in a movie and Byres Road was actually Dodge City and a dangerous environment.
Playing under and on top of the kitchen table, because it was a boat. The trick was to get onto the top without falling into the sea of the rest of the floor.
Spending hours in a hollowed-out rhododendron bush with a few friends as the Arran rain teemed down, happy as could be because our 'house' kept the rain out.
Looking forward to time alone - on a bus, on a train, in my bed - because I wanted to "think" - which I now realise was re-entering a bubble which was always there.
Climbing rocks on the shore in the conviction that I was on a sheer rock-face on some distant mountain.
I could actually go on all day. Even writing these makes me feel I want to go out to play. The point is that it was all wonderful. Imagination took me way beyond what anyone else would have seen. On the odd occasion when I have a grandchild to myself, I like to put that child into a situation where they too will wonder at something I love - is this because I now need an excuse to be child-like?
Dammit. I don't need excuses. I'm fortunate in that I worked with young people for my whole life - ok, they were teenagers, not tots, but they were amazingly easy to make young again with a little encouragement. I was able to avoid growing up. I grow old, I grow old ... but I'm not going to succumb to the equivalent of Eliot's rolled trouser-bottoms: no. I may have reached the cardigan/tweed skirt era beloved of a previous grown-up generation, but there's nothing appealing there. Who cares what the world thinks?
I've had a taste of life in the bubble again. The life of wonder has been re-awakened, and it's ... wonderful.