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It occurs to me, as I sit and mope about the fact that I still don’t own a little slate-roofed cottage by the sea, that I’m suffering from what must be the most terribly middle-class malaise.
By some round-about route involving heavily rose-tinted spectacles, I’ve come of age with the idea that the baseline against which the quality of one’s childhood should be compared is, essentially, the adventures of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five.
My own kids’ childhood should be like theirs (of course!) otherwise I’m somehow lacking as a parent. The locations in the stories are based on real places that are just down the road, places we can really go and have adventures, and real cottages in the middle of the countryside that it must be possible to live in. So I quietly despair that we can only afford a town-centre flat, and that my child prefers playing Minecraft to going outside.
What’s more, my poor brain is also convinced that my kid’s childhood should be straight out of a Famous Five novel because mine was.
Which would be fine, except for the fact that my childhood was almost nothing like a Famous Five novel — I grew up in the suburbs, had few adventures with my friends that went any further than the local park, and never once found buried treasure in it. What I did spend a lot of my childhood doing was reading books, and (then as now) being particularly bad at separating myself from the characters I wanted to be.
With the benefit of hindsight that comes from reading the books to my own kid, a few things are also apparent:
- Even I was born sixty years too late to have a childhood in a world like theirs;
- Although when I read the books I give George and Aunt Fanny a local, “lower-class” accent (aka “Westcountry farmer” to the rest of the country), the family owns a goddamn island which the parents are holding in trust for George because they can’t be bothered to do anything with it;
- They are also entirely fictional, and I should really know by now not to be jealous of fiction.
Now if only I could convince my brain of that.