One of the perils of reading too much as a child and teenager is the development of an overly romantic imagination. It took some time to come to terms with the fact that Gilbert Blythe was already taken, but other books soon came to the rescue and my best friend and I concocted our ideal man (one each, not shared), whom we named the Marigold Jumper: an inscrutable, melancholy, rugged hunk of Donegalian lyricism; poetic, passionate and (here the suburbs reasserted themselves) good at gardening.
Dreams do sometimes come true. Well, Yorkshire’s not so very far from Donegal, after all, is it? And there is passion in engineering, really. It’s just not always so easy to spot.
My eldest son, heir to my love of all things printed, is another dreamer in the making. No walk to school, no rushed tea before Beavers, no stressed-out, toddler-ridden bathtime is complete without his musing aloud on castles and heros and plots for fame and fortune. He still hasn’t quite decided between world domination or Premier League stardom, although in fairness, that’s a distinction which many much older than seven have yet to realise. He ponders over whether his mansion should be larger or smaller than the Vatican; and whether the primary features should be in marble or gold or diamond. Thankfully, he’s as yet unaware of the concept of swatches, so we happily create his Versailles-like visions in the rather more humble medium of felt tip pens.
We had a change of direction the other day when he asked me to show him my own house of dreams. Given that I can’t draw, I was rather pleased with my creation – a mellow, square, red-brick house on a hill by the sea, surrounded by lawns and flowers and trees. Even though the green felt tip ran out half way through, it looked lovely. Barring a lottery win, though, it will never be mine, and it left me, ridiculously, with a faint but lingering sadness.
If I could draw (or indeed do maths), I might attempt a Venn diagram, showing where dreams and contentment and compromise and reality meet and overlap. I am lucky beyond measure in what I have, and I don’t spend my life envying others, beyond a minor healthy chunter to myself when I see a friend’s particularly beautiful house or garden. There’s just an undercurrent of awareness that the combination of choices made and the passage of time mean that certain doors close gently but firmly: how do you drastically change home, or career, or lifestyle, when children are settled at school and in friendship groups? When do personal fulfilment and the realisation of dreams move permanently into second place behind their happiness and best interests? When do you stop aiming to move up and on, and hunker down for the long term?
Events in our lives are making us answer these questions right now, not in abstract terms, but as real choices and compromises we have to weigh up and make – and it’s tough. It’s woken me up, too; a (needed) reminder that drifting along as though there’s a plot and a happy ending already scripted is, in essence, nothing more than living half in dreamland: treading water, subconsciously waiting for something else. Ever since the days of the Marigold Jumper, I’ve always envisaged myself becoming a gardener one day, but that didn’t seem to fit with our hanky-sized patch of turf. I always thought I’d do it properly one day, when I grew up and I had a real garden. Meanwhile, years have passed, and I realise now that, after all, I’ve been gardening all along.
ps. Not content with mangling a book title, I’ve managed inadvertently to get three LM Montgomery references in here. A prize* to whoever identifies them all.
pps. *not really