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.