It is not my intention to talk about Big Brother but I did watch the crowning of the winner. I dislike the programme as much as ever and would be happy to see them pull the plug on it, but I was in need of distraction, and there she was – Shilpa the Good. And in spite of it all, one is impressed by her grace. Perhaps this quality, along with her beauty, is her good fortune, being well brought up and inclined by temperament to be sanguine. Whatever, what I wanted at that moment was not to be me for a space. Or, to be accurate, not to have my particular temperament within the context of my particular family, and I do not refer to the jewels in my crown that are Him Outdoors and our children. I refer to the dysfunctional element of the extended family. There is a certain occasion looming. It has begun to cast its shadow. I am aweary and it is still a week away.
There was a children’s story I used to read and re-read about a girl who was given a piece of magic wood that would turn into her double whenever she wanted to be somewhere other than where she was supposed to be. The double would do the homework, eat the cabbage and put up with the cold treatment of the cruel aunt who looked after her. In the end the girl ran away to France where her brother was and left the double to live her life for her.
I coveted this piece of magic, but always knew that I also had my own. I used to think of it as pretending. At school they called it being a “dreamer” (not a compliment). I made things up, invented other places and went to live there. I could pass a whole arithmetic lesson in this way. It didn’t matter how much chalk was thrown at me to answer the question – I wouldn’t be able to because I had been somewhere else. The only problem was, my double hadn’t been doing the sums in my absence. I began to train her up and she managed, after a fashion (never sums, but other things like typing and shorthand). Sometimes I spoke about the things I made up as though they were real. This was called lying.
Later I found others who did this. Some of them were writers. Someone told me it was one of the signs that you might be one if you made up a lot of things that were not “true.” It may be so. It may be for some of us that writing stories is a displacement activity. A fiction writer I know says quite simply that she has to do it or she would go mad. I don’t think I would go mad, but I do know that much of my vital life is lived in the imagination and that hard as it can sometimes be to get there as an adult with responsibilities (including those to dysfunctional family), once there I still feel I’m home and touching the good earth again.