The Word Rabbit

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This article was written on 08 May 2017, and is filled under Uncategorised.

Imagination

I was lucky as a kid. I was bored a lot of the time. Growing up as an only child meant that I had nobody to spar against and having parents who deemed time well spent as time in a National Trust property or its grounds meant that for long periods of time I had nothing much to do. At the weekends, we did the rounds of visiting relatives, where I would be the youngest person in the room by thirty years and where the oldest was in their nineties, so even weekends stretched in front of me like vast oceans dotted with other people’s living rooms. The reason why this was lucky is that I discovered, very early on, how to use my imagination.

Nobody ever said that I should use my imagination or be foamingly bored. It was just something that I did as a matter of course and which I never thought to tell anyone else about because the worlds I created were very private ones. They were ones in which what I thought my characters should do and how they reacted to situations I devised were entirely down to me and made without reference to anyone else, which when you’re a child, and essentially the hapless bystander while other people decide your destiny, is valuable. I could sit still, and listen to adults talk for hours but my head would be in the cockpit of a biplane scudding through the clouds or on a secret mission to steal some war-winning plans.

I shared all of these stories with my grandma, and thought up more for the school holidays when I could see her and recount them, and when she died, when I was in my mid-twenties, I told myself that they would have to die with her. In fact, I remember having this thought as the funeral car followed the hearse and I could see the bottom of the coffin, behind which, I suppose were her feet and which made my heart break into a million pieces every second. This wasn’t how things transpired, however, and that I should only be thinking about ending my imaginary world when I was in my twenties and that it had already survived both adolescence and university should have told me that it would endure. And so it has.

When I go to sleep, I find that listening to comedy dulls some of the negative voices that come with depression, but it isn’t a deal breaker at all. Some nights, I go back into that world and, if I find myself on a train journey without a book and without phone reception, I visit it again, telling myself bits of stories, revising old ones and thinking up ideas for new ones. They will probably never make it into print, almost certainly not, in fact, and when I die or dementia turns my brain into porridge, they will go with me, but these stories have been just about the most unbelievably valuable thing that life has given me and could no more be separated from my idea of who I am than my central nervous system. They are intrinsic.

The temptation is to see young people and regret that they do not have the same capacity, but then I have to check myself. I didn’t have, tattooed on my forehead, ‘I am imagining worlds’ when I was a child and nor do I now. Had I been asked, I would almost certainly have denied it, to keep my thoughts private, which makes me realise that there will almost certainly be others like me and will have been others like me since the dawn of time. To imagine or, at least, a capacity for thinking up stories, is part of what makes us human beings and it’s arrogant to think that new generations lack the capacity. It worries me that phones and consoles seem to do so much of the imagining for them, but I remember that I played obsessively with my ZX Spectrum, later upgraded to an Atari 520 ST, and it had not the slightest impact on my interior world.

Earlier today, as I was inexpertly shoving pansies in the ground out in the front garden, I got talking to a neighbour’s daughter who is about to start her GCSEs. She wants to do game design, which is as clear a victory for the imagination as could be imagined. When I was doing GCSEs, computers were the preserve of dull men who smelt of pork writing library programs in BASIC and fiddling around with diagrams that showed you what happened when someone made a decision. Now, they are a tool to build new worlds and, with the greater processing power of consoles, can create near infinite galaxies. Had they been around when I was young and had game design been A Thing You Could Do, then I would have leapt into it. That it is around now thrills me, and in a country where intellectual copyright is still, amazingly, something we seem to do quite well, it offers some kind of hope for the future. Harry Potter came out of someone’s brain, much as I hate it, and many people, not just JK Rowling, have benefited. There will be another, and another and another after that, stretching to the horizon for as long as people continue to draw breath.

We had personal stereos, personal computers and TV, each of which was, in its time, abhorred by various pointy-headed pundits, just as things in the pointy-headed pundits’ time would have been abhorred in its turn. Presumably children who aren’t dying of rickets or tuberculosis, being shoved up chimneys or doing SATs are wasting everyone’s time and being feckless gadabouts with no care for social progress, in which case, I warm to computer games even more. The point here, though, is that worlds of the imagination, games and the whole, joyous carnival have enriched my life beyond belief and I want to believe that they are accessible to everyone with the wit to dream, since without it, we truly are lost.

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