Sunday, October 12, 2008
The best made plans of mice and men
As a child growing up in the pre-video game/home computer era, I read, voraciously. There was not much else to do really. Sure we encouraged to get out into the sun and "play", meaning do something or other with our siblings and maybe the neighbourhood kids without driving our parents nuts. There was one tv station in the seventies, it signed on at 8 in the morning and signed off after lunch, then signed on again at 3 with Sesame Street. It was like shop opening hours and the sign on/off times didn't change until the mid-eighties. It was only until 1990 that we got two more and now we're up to the grand total of six local stations and a whole lot of foreign cable channels. Meanwhile, for alternative entertainment we read and occasionally, went to the pictures.
My little brother recently reminded me that he wanted to be an archeologist, fueled I think, by all those books that he read, National Geographic magazine and those earnest documentaries that we used to get on the one tv station. It was Stephen Speilberg who made that profession glamorous with his Indiana Jones series. I think after my mother took him to see it, my brother had visions of cracking his whip, dusting off his leather bomber jacket in between digging up ancient ruins. We used to have these elaborate fantasy worlds, with goblins, fairies, pixies and other magical creatures, from our first Enid Blytons, where teddy bears had picnics and dolls danced and had balls in the night when you put then away, to JRR Tolkien, CS Lewis and a host of other authors. I can't tell you how many nights. fighting off sleep, I lay with one eye slightly open trying to catch my dolls at play.
That early exposure to books, my mother claims I was reading by three but I was a rather introspective, somewhat lonely child until N. came along so that wouldn't be surprising, I then became an inveterate reader of whatever I could lay my hands on. Books, magazines, manuals, you name it; some beyond my understanding except by the time I was ten, I'd achieved the reading level of a thirteen year old. Even now, as I write this I am surrounded by many of those familiar friends, lining the walls around me, waiting for me to visit again.
It was all those books that made me understand, I was never going to be like everyone else I knew, instead, I was going to be that adventurous girl who set off with a pack to conquer the Amazon. Yes, I wanted to be an adventurer, whatever that was, travel to far flung places and you'd know where I was from the exotic postcards with funny shaped stamps that arrived long after I'd left for my next destination. A shrink would have a field day with this but really, it was simply a curiosity about the wider world, and I wanted to see and experience it all. At one time I think my dream was to be a writer for National Geographic.
I had all these elaborate plans, as soon as I was old enough to be able to swing it, I was getting on a boat, plane, whatever, with, like a snail, whatever could be carried on my back. Not for me the picket fence, bunch of kids, station wagon and job requiring suit and high heels; many of my contemporaries at the time were playing professor Barbie complete with house and car. My parents at the time of course pooh-pooh these ideas, their vision was very different, I was going to go to university, get a job, most probably teaching and settle down to something including putting my brother through school. Traveling was something you did on vacation, two weeks at someone's house in the States or Barbados.
Over the years, especially as a teenager, the urge to not settle was burning and by the time I was in sixth form I had plans to go tour Europe, by bicycle, train; working in cafes to fund the next step of the journey. I planned on not coming back for a long time, just to see the world and find out who I really was. I suspected, a gypsy, with swinging skirt and flashing eyes but you know, time would tell.
So you see, it's come as somewhat a shock when the other day, looking at my sober black suit and four inch heels in the mirror; I came to a halt and thought, this wasn't supposed to be who I am. My brother didn't become and archeologist but he's closer to world traveler than I have ever been. He goes off whenever he can to the places he wants to visit, I have never done that. Circumstance intruded into my life, the reality of a dollar so far devalued and not having the means or knowledge on how to get out of here. HIndsight tells me there were things I could have done, if only I'd had a little support, but my mother didn't want me to escape, but that was then and this is now.
I know I'm never going to be that free spirit that I wanted to be, too much water has flowed under the bridge but it made me think about dreams and what we need to do to make them real, well maybe not the ones about Toyland and picnics on clouds that you access by climbing large trees. Last night another slouching towards middle aged friend and I were sitting under the stars talking about what we'd be doing when we aren't doing THIS. I related my coffee shop plans, she could see it from the way I described it. And I didn't want this to be another empty dream, I wanted this to be a reality. You know what, I don't so much want to be an adventurous travel writer, the dream of my childhood and youth. These days, all I want to do is find that little old house, with a huge wrap around porch; plant colourful flowers on the pathway leading to the front door. To make an environment where you can sit and be comfortable, in your squashy armchair, hear the sound of falling water, eat something that tastes so good in your mouth, smell the coffee, always fresh, your own brew, handed to you in a real cup, one that you can wrap your hands around, inhale deeply, the dark, rich brew. This is what I want to do and one day, I'll see you all there. Just look for the kind of gypsy lady with red-brown hair and dark flashing eyes!