If you read Friday’s post How to be an escape artist (and quite honestly, if you didn’t where the heck were you, sunshine?) then you’ll know that as a child/ young adult/ not-so-young-adult/ middle-aged fart, I love to vanish down the plughole of my own brain.
It’s a beautifully soothing experience, this slipping away, soft and enveloping as a warm marshmallow cushion, as involving as having a virtual reality chip implanted in your cerebellum. In your head, you’re standing on your windswept hilltop, busting out of your stays as the smouldering, razor-cheeked man of your dreams gets his breeches in a tangle over just how ruddy marvellous you are. There’s probably a stallion big enough for two on hand. And hounds.
Well, when I was a nipper, before a tsunami of hormones swept in and gave my imagination a good kicking, before steamy heroes and the contents of their ‘fall front’ (look it up) were of such fascination, my brain brimmed with other men.
These chaps were cut from a different cloth. Usually elderly in a sprightly, twinkly-eyed way, generally friendly but with a chip of flint driven into their hearts, they would take my hand and whisk me down the rabbit hole. We’d visit new realms, dangerous ones where school was a memory, along with homework, parents, boredom and personal hygeine.
With these old men – and they’re usually VERY old, I mean we’re talking the kind that as a young man bounced the baby Methuselah on his knee – I could be brave, ingenious, fleet of brain and foot, a crafty adventuress who could fight the bad guy, save the world and be back home in time for tea and the Antiques Roadshow.
In the company of these old men, I was no longer the girl who was picked last for sports teams, who could barely swim a length or who was humiliated in front of the whole class by her P.E teacher (you know who you are) because she just really, truly didn’t have the upper body strength to climb a rope.
I was SUPER-ME. Though the old duffers I dreamed of hadn’t been bitten by radioactive invertebrates, weren’t closet PVC-wearing billionaires or members of some secret largely-masculine-and-wholly-posturing government agency, but
I loved a good wizard. Old, cranky, mercurial, stinking of sulphur and saltpetre, strung with amulets and mummified animal parts, preferrably with a beard large enough to hide a cub scout troup in. During primary school, these chaps were my male role models. All right, maybe I would’ve preferred less focus on toxic plant materials and potions and more on bathing and the odd visit to the barber, but they were the pup’s nuts.
The best I found as a we’en? Stand aside Gandalf, Merlin and the Great Soprendo. Make way for the star of this week’s Book in the Blood, The Weirdstone of Brisingamen by Alan Garner …
He’s ancient, odd, twisty in his moods (tick those wizardy boxes), he’s there to help and guide our heroes – brave children, natch – but regularly leaves them alone in dangerous situations, giving them plenty of opportunity to be almost killed by baddies.
The story’s set in Cheshire, under Alderley Edge, a place heavy with witch legends and ghost stories which isn’t too far from where I grew up. It’s set in the countryside and filled with good, strong post-war Englishmen and women with names like Bess, Susan and Gowther Mossock. It has a truly horrifying witch, some very scary chases through cave systems involving hundreds of slithery, Orc-like goblins who would eat a nicely brought up child soon as cough.
It’s a widely acclaimed kids classic and Cadellin is its guiding light.
Now I’m older, I’d like a mixture of the steamy hero and the crumbly wizard, please. A man who can have your heaving corset unlaced with one smouldering look and enchant the house so it’s self-cleaning.