Thursday, 16 June 2011

It's not just gender

In general I feel marvellously content with how things have gone for me in my transition. But now and then something reminds me that there are unresolved personal issues lurking in my mind which I need to address.

One of these is my childhood. I spent it in a tower, in a small turret room full of books, with only Teddy Tinkoes as my friend, and the stout door locked against the outside world. Not literally, of course: I'm speaking of my inner world. The outer me wore the mask, and conformed, and survived. Here are some pictures, to show how well I played the part expected of me, that of a well-behaved little boy:

I want you to understand, however, that very early on I retreated to a place of safety inside my head. I knew there was something wrong. But I couldn't say what. I remember, for instance, drawing invented maps, and constructing invented languages. I was fascinated by the notion of wizardry, and of a solitary existence in a place appoached only by winding stone steps, a secret place. I was groping for a different reality. I wanted to be someone else, but I didn't know who. I certainly didn't want to be that awkward, rather shy child who didn't know how to play with other children, who had no birthday parties after the eighth birthday party. That was quite true: the next was not until I was forty. It was not cruelty on my parents' part. They were always kind and protective and loving towards me. No, it was on my insistence - I begged my Mum not to arrange any more parties for me. I couldn't cope with them.

I did not understand other children, nor anything about how to be a child. I gave up on trying. But the problem was merely postponed, and re-emerged time and time again as I got older, because not understanding childhood, not living it, meant that I no proper foundation for adult life. I have therefore got to nearly fifty-nine entirely on a string of endless improvisions and lucky guesswork. That's not good.

And not having lived the full life of a child, I have always felt denied some essential joy. If I had experienced it, that joy would have let me love people so much better. I was a failed child; and that's a bitter thing to know about yourself. And I sometimes weep for what I missed, and can never now have. I don't cry self-indulgently. Indeed, I try not to dwell on anything concerned with childhood, but you can't escape it. Something will set me off, and then the tears come to my eyes.

Teddy Tinkoes is so precious. He is a tangible relic of a vaguely-remembered era long ago. He is a kind of key to something that I can't get back to and put right. I wish he could speak. If my home was on fire, and there was time to save only one thing, he would be it. Here he is:

And here are two other relics. Uncle Des's boomerang, and Sandy the Seahorse:

There's not much else. No toys, for instance. They've long gone. So when I saw James May organising his Great Train Race on BBC2 the other night, in which he raced his treasured childhood toy, a model of The Flying Scotsman, against German rivals from Barnstaple to Bideford, I could not help reflecting on what wasn't in my attic.

Lucky James May! He still had his Flying Scotsman. But I wasn't envious, just glad for him, that he had childhood ambitions unfulfilled that could still be fulfilled - among them, running this beloved toy train on a tiny 00 guage track ten miles long.

It was an hour's enthralling viewing. It took many hours for The Flying Scotsman to run those ten miles, the equivalent of 700 miles non-stop for a real train. Sunset showed James May anxiously awaiting the arrival of his train at Bideford:

It was coming. And then it suddenly appeared, and the dream was fulfilled:

I felt so happy for him. Then sadness gripped me and the tears came. I'd had no childhood ambition better than to endure those years and hurry on to adult life. It seemed such an impoverished existence, devoid of the things that would have given me many pleasant memories now.

But I shook the mood off, and watched the Race again on the following evening. Ah well. I still want to throw that boomerang and make it come back to me! Perhaps I could interest the BBC in The Great Boomerang Trials?


  1. You managed to last 'til you were eight?

    I was sent to a birthday party once when I was just starting school and demanded to never go to another ever again! Never had one of my own, what was there to celebrate?

    Years of physical comfort but an emotional desert.

  2. Yes, I have a Teddy Tinkoes as well. And like you he - well there are two special ones - I would go through fire for.

    Geriatric ted hails from when I was 1. Breton bear from when I was 41. Neither could I contemplate life without.


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