Wednesday, October 17, 2012

When imagination runs wild - the unfettered state of childhood

When I was a pre-schooler, about three years old or thereabouts, I had an idea for a tv show for kids. It was called Toilet Time. The premise was this:

I would sit on the toilet having a crap and would be reading aloud an interesting story to a group of kids sitting cross-legged on the floor in front of me. They would be sitting a couple of metres away so they wouldn't cop the smell.

Yes, I was a bizarre child. At three I already had the reading skills of a seven year old, but the Toilet Time idea was the bizarre bit.

I used to like sitting on the loo reading a book as a kid; it was a good way to pass half an hour and whatever I'd eaten 24 hours before.  (These days I barely get the opportunity to finish a page before life calls me out of the loo.) In my imagination, however, I was not alone.

I used to envisage my audience, this rapt collection of small strangers hanging on my every word. Boys and girls, neatly dressed, the boys in shorts and long socks, the girls with ribbons in their hair.  They were happy listening to me; I was happy reading. Win/win!

This was, of course, one daydream that I had while I was on the loo. When I wasn't reading while sitting there, I'd make up stories.

In one, I played a character called Bronwyn who was, I think, some kind of drum majorette. Whatever she was, she proudly led the marching band down the main street of a town, quite which town I'm not sure. She wore some of her hair in a ponytail above her forehead so it swung onto her face. She had white boots and a miniskirt and was about eight or ten I think. She certainly wasn't three. What she did when she wasn't prancing down the street I'm not sure!

I spent a lot of my childhood pretending to be someone else, actually. My imaginary friends far outnumbered real ones. Sometimes I'd tell my family who I 'was' and demand they call me by that name for as long as the pretence held. Hours, days, weeks, in one case months (I was Dora from Follyfoot in that case, when I was 11). Other times I'd be in character but kept it solely to myself.

Being a tomboy from about age five my characters were often boys. Boys had more fun in my book. They could get dirty and play in mud - heck, they were probably expected to! They could climb trees without someone down below telling them their knickers were visible. It wasn't unusual for me to play multiple characters: Jess and the Four Boys comes to mind. I created them. Jess was a man in charge of the four boys; uncle, father, I can't remember what, but I was mainly Jess. I can't remember the names of the four boys but I just liked the sound of it. Jess and the Four Boys. I was about six or seven at the time. J and T F B liked getting into trouble and mischief... multiple boys saw to that!

I was characters from books or tv shows, I was characters I had created, I was occasionally older or younger than my age; at one stage I was a cat.

I had imaginary conversations with my imaginary characters and their imaginary friends; often I'd write them down and turn them into a story. (No, not for Toilet Time. I had grown out of that idea by then.)

I probably should have considered acting as a career, but I was too shy. My characters usually only had one audience: me.

At an age where I should have grown out of pretending to be other people I withdrew even more into my imaginary worlds: high school. I hated the place. I didn't fit in. I got through my years there pretending to be an apprentice jockey - or several, whichever one I wanted to be that day - and pretended that school was actually the Apprentice Jockeys' School (yes, they exist).

As a kid my imagination knew no bounds. I used to write stories almost compulsively, based on the adventures my characters had while I was playing them. I envy that young me as these days I am hard pressed to come up with a decent, detailed fiction plot.

At the risk of sounding curmudgeonly, if I wanted entertainment as a kid I did one of these things:

  • read a book (and often acted it out)
  • went and played outside (being in one character or another)
  • watched tv - I was allowed an hour a day after school and an hour after dinner, and shows such as McHale's Navy, Hogan's Heroes, Petticoat Junction and Green Acres gave me great ideas for playacting outside afterwards when I was 8 or 9
  • did some kind of art or craft thing - writing, drawing, painting
  • played with my toys - raced toy cars or made up stories for my dolls to act out
  • walked the dog (who also assumed characters in my imaginary world)

In short, I entertained myself. Yeah, I played with the neighbours' kids too and we'd ALL act out scenes from tv shows.

I do wonder about modern kids though. Do they do this sort of thing? Do they 'pretend' as I did and many of my friends did? Or do they just sit around and play with bloody computers, phones and electronic toys? My friends' children, who I have watched grow from babies, have never pretended to be anyone else. None of them had imaginary friends. I hate to say it but they are a little bit boring; they lack imagination. Easily bored, they HAVE to be entertained by something, preferably with batteries in it (just wait until the girls discover dildos!).  I feel sorry for them, as if they have missed out on something fun and important by not letting their imagination run wild as a child.

Maybe I could turn Toilet Time into an app ...

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