When I was a child, I was seriously angry at my parents for being something as boring as Swedish. Why couldn’t they be Norsemen, Turks, English, or joy of joys, Scottish? (Okay; so I had a major hang up on Robert Bruce from a very early age. Put it down to an enthusiastic history teacher.) And while they were at it, why not change their professions? Why couldn’t my dad be a knight, or at least an intrepid explorer? And my mother some sort of mystic healer slash witch – the good kind, of course. But no such luck; there we were a relatively normal family living a relatively normal – boring – life.
In retrospect, I realise my childhood was anything but boring. A nomadic existence through various countries and cultures sounds quite intriguing, doesn’t it? Pffff! Who cared about the wonders of South American rain forests when what I wanted to be – really, really wanted to be – was a brave and valiant page following my lord into battle and death if need be. This was before I understood my gender would have made the page thing impossible. And once I did, I shifted role to the patient, long suffering but extremely valiant maid who still snuck along on dangerous expeditions to keep my lord safe. I’ve progressed since then – I hope.
As a child, I could spend hours in intense make believe games, now and then with my sister roped in to play whatever extras I needed to properly highlight my valour. She mainly did the damsel in distress thing. Now and then she was an Inuit woman (???? How that tied in with medieval Britain I no longer remember) occasionally she was upgraded to princess – my sister preferred remaining in gender when we played – and at times she was a fearsome warrior queen (Boadicea) except that this generally ended with me having to whack her over the head to remind her I was the protagonist here.
I also spent I don’t know how many hours preparing props. Shields, longswords, helmets, tunics, surcoats, mantles, banners- I’ve done them all. As a result, I used to be a most popular mum among my sons’ friends as I can make a darn good helmet in like twenty minutes flat, complete with feathers, visor and throat guard. It’s nice, isn’t it, when your hard won skills actually come to some use…
I suppose that at times my parents must have been worried by my stubborn insistence that life was better in the dim past & that I would have much preferred living there. I can recall quite a few arguments with my father along the lines that I wouldn’t survive a day in let’s say fourteenth century London. I of course scoffed, but then I was also of the firm conviction that I could survive all alone in the Amazonas jungle as long as I had my Swiss knife with me… Ah, the self-confidence of innocent children, hey?
Time passed, puberty came and went, the child became a woman, a mother. Four kids tend to keep you grounded in the here and now, and those long, solitary hours spent in an imaginary world became a thing of the past. No more fluttering banners and destriers charging over muddied fields, instead my life consisted of juggling career and home, of blowing on scraped knees and pulling the odd wooden arrow out of an eye. (I tell you, having boys is at times excessively exciting…)
But even today, when our kids are well on their way to becoming adults and I myself am pushing a quite respectable fifty, there are times when I succumb to childish play. Like when I’m out walking the dog and pretend the stones we encounter are foul trolls that have to be cut down, or when I squint so that the trees in the distance look like archers and I’m the intrepid messenger that has to make it safely through the enemy lines to deliver the instructions from the king. And every time I dive into the water for a summer swim (of course I dive in!) I am no longer a woman in an uncomfortably tight swimsuit, no I am the Count(ess) of Montecristo escaping the confines of If.
I guess this is why I so enjoy all those hours I spend writing. At times I suspect allowing my imagination to go on a rampage in my novels is what keeps me relatively grounded in the day to day, even if there are occasions when I feel somewhat schizophrenic: during the day it’s excel sheets and power points, numbers leapfrogging across my computer screen, but at night it’s Matthew and Alex, it’s witch hunters and sword fights, it’s moss-troopers and hangings.
“When I was a child I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man I put away childish things.” (1 Cor 13:11) I hope I never become so adult as to give up on childishness. I hope I will still jump into water puddles ten years from now, that I will still leap atop a boulder to yell “I’m the king of the world” and that I will always retain the gift of whiling away an hour or two in my wonderful, make believe world. Bags to be the hero, okay?