Youth. By Martin Friel.
I have never been a big fan of reality. Its all a bit too serious, demanding as it is of attention and sober thought. Problem is, as the years go by it becomes more and more established and rooted until you realise that you have become an adult and you look around and find yourself completely and inexorably entrenched in the real world. It is easy to lose imagination to the mists of time, but look back to your childhood. To what extent did reality encroach upon life then? For me it was generally only at bed-time, dinner-time and bath-time, a.k.a. the unholy triumvirate. The rest of the time belonged to the realms of childhood fantasy.
I could be anything I wanted. Sometimes I whiled away the endless summer hours squashing countless ants as I embraced the role of an omnipotent, vengeful God. I imagined the countless ants repenting their sinful ways, wailing and gnashing their little ant teeth in despair as scores of their comrades fell to the whim of a being outwith their understanding. Other times I was the last remaining soldier of my platoon valiantly holding out against overwhelming odds. On one memorable occasion I held out against an entire division of German soldiers who were intent on taking my back garden. With my last ounce of strength I managed to bayonet the last invader then, drawing on reserves of strength I did not know I possessed, managed to crawl into the kitchen to receive my reward of alphagetti on toast. No medals for this hero! The adulation of the imagined crowds of the grateful populace and my educational nourishment were enough. As I basked in this glory and reflected upon my monumental victory, my mum whittered on about not getting sauce on my T-shirt. I chuckled to myself. The poor simpleton had no idea how close she came to having her back garden overrun by bloodthirsty Germans.
I was also Tom Sawyer on occasion, albeit one with a Scottish accent. I too was a child pirate desperately escaping the persecution of the cruel, stupid parents. There was no water for miles around but I could smell the salty ocean and hear the waves lapping against the shore in the distance. It was all there as far as I was concerned. Rotten wood became the chicken that sustained me on my intrepid voyages, raiding my soft, land-lubbing neighbours. I was also an archaeologist unearthing stupendous long-lost treasures in the shape of old broken crockery. In my mind they were the evidence that had long been sought to prove that Greeks as well as Romans had ventured to these parts in times gone by. My revelations would initially be received with disbelief but as the truth became clear to the worlds leading historians and archaeologists, I would be lauded as the single greatest contributor to British archaeology in modern times.
This was the world in which I lived as a young child. When I look back on these times, the sun is always shining and the world smells fresh and new; a world of boundless possibilities. To the casual observer it appeared that I was completely alone, but in the realms of my mind I had created entire worlds and had little need for others and their strange liking for reality. Nowadays, my world is so overwhelmed by reality that there is very little space for imagination and fantasy (well clean ones anyway). Look at it this way. If I were spotted crouching behind a wall in the middle of town fending off the relentless onslaught of a division of German soldiers, I would probably be swiftly removed from society, heavily sedated and spoon-fed for the rest of my life. Which is a shame. If we were allowed to retain some of that childhood ability for imagination and endless possibility, the world would be a much happier place.
So the next time you are struggling through the stone-faced masses to get to a job you hate; the next time you open a series of bills you know you have no hope of paying for; the next time you look into the face of a spouse you no longer love; think back to your childhood when the sun always shone and anything was possible. At least as a child there was a means of escape.
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