Fantasy can be a wonderful thing, but in the mind of a child it can also be a dangerous thing. And if you had parents like I did, a fantasy-filled imagination usually led to a world of pain and suffering. It always used to annoy me intensely that all my friends had parents who thought that merely frowning at their offspring was the equivalent of a merciless beating. I, of course, was lumbered with parents whom the Gestapo would have rejected on the grounds that their methods were too brutal.
The first school they sent me to was run by a flock of nuns who could have transformed the Kray twins into missionaries. One day, my class of little angels-in-training was askedto write about what we wanted to do when we grew up. Everyone wrote the usual nonsense about wanting to help Mother Teresa with the orphans, or becoming a doctor to help the sick and the injured. One sanctimonious little Pollyanna wrote that she wanted to grow up to be like the Virgin Mary (which reminds me that even at the age of 10 I was stabbing myself in the leg with a pen to stop myself from laughing at other people's dreams – shame on me!). So, what did I write? Well, I indulged my own exciting fantasy about joining the French Foreign Legion and learning how to shoot guns ‘properly’ – which somehow managed to imply that I was already shooting them, albeit in an improper fashion. My parents were summoned to the school to explain my seeming fixation with firearms and my mother was delighted that the nuns wanted to flog me until I bled, if only because it saved her the effort.
When my parents were being particularly strict, I used to fantasise that they weren't actually my real parents. I remember announcing to them that I understood that they didn't love me because I knew I wasn't really theirs. I'd lie in bed every night imagining that when my real parents showed up to claim me, they'd be glamorous, rich and hopefully American movie star types who would clutch me to them in a 'Lassie Come Home' style reunion. In preparation for this I began going to bed wearing a coat and shoes so that I'd be ready to run into their arms when that big Cadillac pulled up to whisk me away. I'd love to say that this was a passing phase, but it went on for nearly two years, and every morning my mother would cry with mock surprise "Still here, then?" as she tossed the Cornflakes at me. How they resisted suffocating me in my sleep, I'll never know.
It wasn't just my own parents who accused me of having an over-active imagination. A particularly dim-witted friend one day nervously confided in me that she had swallowed a ball of scrunched up paper. For a laugh, I told her that it was a terrible sin to eat paper and that lots of people had died in their sleep after doing so. The next day her furious parents showed up to inform my parents that thanks to my wickedness their darling daughter was half-crazed from lack of sleep and had been found trying to throw herself down the stairs to try and dislodge the ‘killer’ ball of paper she had swallowed.Amazingly, this time I escaped punishment because mother had always pegged this idiot girl as an attention-seeking little trouble maker (what – compared to me?) so for once my efforts at wide-eyed innocence actually worked.
My next foray into fantasy however wasn't so easily explained. At school there was a competition for the best Christmas story with a strong emotional theme. I really wanted to win this as the prize was a selection of my favourite things – books. I was almost delirious with need and greed, and determined to come up with a suitably ‘emotional’ tale that would help me get my sticky paws on those lovely books. So, while other children wrote about the lovely presents they'd received and the joyous family re-unions they'd been part of, I concentrated on a different kind of emotion. To my lasting shame, I wrote (tenderly, mind you) a touching, tear-inducing tale of how on Christmas morning as the snow fell all around and church bells rang out, I had discovered my dear Granny dead in bed, her pale cold hands clasping her rosary, her long white hair framing her peaceful face as she went to join the Angels in Heaven. I then went on to write about my sadness and tears for my dear Granny (yeah, so much emotion) and ended with how no presents were opened that Christmas, but that the biggest gift of all (Granny!) had been cruelly snatched away from us. (In reality Granny was partying in New York with some long lost relatives.) Seriously, by the time I'd read out this doleful macabre tale there wasn't a dry eye in the class. My teacher gave me a big hug, saying what a brave girl I was and duly announced me as the prize-winner! Cut to about a week later when I was in town with my mother, and who did we run into? Yes, my teacher! Clasping my confused mother's hand she started offering her condolences on the sad loss of her mother and asking her if she had read my "truly beautiful" story? After the hiding I received for this latest transgression, I was the one in need of condolences. Obviously after this incident, I saw the error of my fantasy-filled ways and resolved to become a better person. I'm glad to say that I am now a fully reformed, God-fearing, well balanced, kind and caring individual. I mean, it's not like I'm writing this from a specially padded cat basket in Broadmoor's high security psychiatric hospital am I….? AM I?????