The glamour of fiction

A few weeks back I was walking in the Chilterns, weaving around the Thames Ridgeway and taking in various pretty villages. The day almost approximated to summer, in that in between the pelting rain, the sun burst through and made steam rise from the roads.

Tucked away down a lane was a solid, well-maintained, red-brick house, comfortably gardened and with a tidy gravel drive. It was, in fact, the house that I thought I’d be living in by now, alongside a husband who went off to do something unspecified in the city, a couple of kids, a dog and very likely a nanny. Or at least a cook. If I dig further, I have the vague impression of me in a headscarf, carrying a wicker basket with which to do the day’s grocery shopping in the village. Somewhere, not quite out of earshot, someone is referencing lashings of ginger beer.

Yes, indeed. It was a house and a set of expectations straight out of Enid Blyton. Women’s magazines, chicklit, reality television all arrived too late. The deep-seated damage was done in the formative years as I avidly devoured The Famous Five, The Secret Seven, The Five Find-outers and Dog, This and That of Adventure, Malory Towers, St Clare’s… You’d think my own childhood on grotty Birmingham council estates with divorced parents and nary a lacrosse stick or a mystery in sight would have snapped me out of it, but I never made the connection. Of course, at the time I was less interested in real estate than in wanting to be one of the Famous Five (Julian, if you’re interested; maybe George; but frankly, rather Timmy than Dick or Anne) and  you’d think the fact that I didn’t really want children or a headscarf would have made itself known, but that’s not the point. I didn’t think there was choice. I just thought that’s how the story went. Something about that robust middle-classness got embedded.

I looked at the house, which looked exactly like a house should look, and felt quite cheated. It would have suited me, that house. I have no reason to be upset, really, given that a few years back I lived my own chicklit story via my swift and romantic relocation to the Christmas tree farm in the US to marry the lovely man I met at a conference. The fact that it all ended at the point where the next chicklit novel should surely pick up is neither here nor there. I had My Life in Fiction and it turned out to be just as hard as real life. I fear greatly that actually, the other school wins the hockey match and the spiteful French mistress doesn’t turn out to be a good sport who looks away from the midnight feast with nothing more than a ‘Zut, alors!’

This is not something an Enid Blyton childhood prepares you for.

9 thoughts on “The glamour of fiction

  1. I suspect inhaling Enid Blyton books for years did nothing for my expectations of grown-up life either. I never wanted to be any of the Secret Seven or Famous Five, but I was desperate to find the Faraway Tree… After Enid Blyton I had a far longer than necessary Agatha Christie phase, thank goodness life didn’t turn out like that. Or like the Dennis Wheatley books I found and devoured before the age of twelve. Yikes.

  2. Ruth – I have yet to read a complete Agatha Christie, but from memory that phase is normal. Half my class at school were devout Christie fans. Not so sure about Wheatley… In other unrealistic expectations, has James Bond ever called? No, and I’ve been waiting for 25 years. Bastard.

  3. Yes, yes, yes – much in the same way I encouraged S. to pursue his master’s degree in the South because of all the Pat Conroy I read – thinking it would be all mint juleps and playing at the beach, when as it turned out the south really IS racist and fucking HOT. I actually still really loved it but it definitely didn’t live up to the glamour of fiction! Great post – definitely has me thinking!

  4. I was worse off (much more like Ruth, I susppose). At least a boring, middle class life, head scarf and all, is somewhat attainable. I was convinced that any day I could become just like one of Alfred Hitchcock’s Three Investigators (from the mystery series of the same name). I was sure all kinds of interesting mysteries lay all around me, just ready for me to discover them. Problem was, I didn’t live in the hills outside of Hollywood, where all the good, scary mysteries are (apparently), and I hadn’t won that contest that gave me use of a Rolls Royce and chauffeur. Still, I would either somehow meet up with the Three Investigators, or I was, one day, going to be walking along a beach and discover an “It” or be up in my attic and find a phoenix rolled up in a flying carpet, ala an E. Nesbit child or something. Sigh!

  5. Courtney – I love that! Of course, it’s not that your entire decision making process depends upon fiction, but it’s a lense, isn’t it?
    Emily – Oh yes. I spent years basically waiting for real life, by which of course I meant ‘life as projected via fiction’ to kick in, and feeling that there simply must be another layer. I mean, magic. Come on. It has to be real, doesn’t it?

  6. I devoured the St Clare’s books as a child, which always began with Pat and Isobel playing tennis on their own courts with friends. I was totally class-unaware at the time (perhaps all children are?) and didn’t see them as privileged or middle-class. Funny how perceptions change. Must revisit St Clare’s.

  7. Nicola – I’m going to have stock up on Malory Towers and St Clare’s for next time I’m ill. I totally remember the tennis court and I had the same lack of class awareness.

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