Coming to the end of a two-week retreat from the excitement of teaching, I realise that I have spent much of the last 14 days in my own little fantasy world, a planet with an estimated population of one – just me. This is no bad thing for I have enjoyed the respite, but the new term will surely come as a shock to the system tomorrow.
Being an over-thinker, at any one time I will have a few fictional tales going on in my head, and over the years I have taught myself not to be surprised when not all of these have a happy ending. What comes as a surprise this holiday however, is the willingness of other people to engage in some of my fantastical imaginings – conversations that I usually just voice to myself and rarely out loud.
Firstly, I run an idea past my long-time hairdresser. I have been thinking ahead to my 60th birthday at the end of the year and have read of someone who, for their significant birthday, wrote to all her friends with the challenge to engage her in one of their favourite pursuits over the course of the next 12 months. I like this idea and feel it will stop me stagnating. I admit I am thinking of crochet, a salsa lesson or perhaps a bit of fly fishing, but when I go to get my hair cut, it becomes apparent that I have not thought this idea through.
‘Great, ‘ says Simon, my hairdresser, who I count as a friend, ‘I will invite you to a Comic Con event – you can come as Princess Leia from ‘The Return of the Jedi’.
‘Really?’ I reply hesitantly (having never watched a Star Wars film in my life), ‘What will I need to wear?’ (I am hoping for a long, white gown with a braided side bun or two).
‘A metal bikini,’ he replies, ‘I think you would be a great Huttslayer’.
Now, my hairdresser and I go back a long, long way, but this Comic Con conversation unsettles me; I find myself thinking about readdressing my birthday plans and look longingly across the road at the ‘Rusty Blade’ – a shady barber shop which languishes opposite.
Before I can extricate myself from my gown and hair foils, Simon returns with a cup of coffee and sits down to tell me about the impact of a recent storm on the reproductive life of the pond in his back garden. For once I listen rather than talk, and soon realise that I am not the only one living in a total fantasy world.
Simon tells me a tale of tadpole woe that has me ribbeted (sorry)and soon diverts me from my birthday plans. Apparently, a Tsunami of a pond wave had washed most of his tadpole harvest on to the garden path earlier in the week, and by the time he has realised this, it is too late to perform tadpole surgery. By this stage I am all immersed in the tale – I did not realise that frogs return to the same pond to reproduce each year and find myself asking about frog Sat Nav and road signage. I share my fear that Simon’s negligence may soon spread around the amphibian community and that his tadpole nursery may fare badly on Tadpole Advisor. I suggest to him that he sticks to hairdressing.
Eventually my foils come off and I ask Simon if he will rethink my birthday invite to a Comic Con event and ask me instead to a lesson on pond life. I tell him that I have kissed a few frogs in my time and that although it is the job of a hairdresser to make their client feel great, a full metal jacket would be more appealing to this old bird than a metallic bikini. ‘Forget the light saber’, Simon, ‘I am more a fishing net and jam jar sort of gal’. He agrees to think it over.
Then I go to visit my mother in the respite home that she has – reluctantly – agreed to ‘sourjourn’ in over the Easter break. I am pleased to see a little pond oasis on the resident patio. Knowing what I now know about tadpoles, I am relieved to see that there is a net covering the over-flow pipe. I go to send a photo to Simon but am interrupted by a resident who has a room next to my mother’s.
“Where did you get your glasses?’ she asks. ‘I would like a pair like that. I need glasses for when I return to London tonight. My parents will worry if I am late. I have been hanging on here to introduce my grand daughter to your mother – have you seen her – my granddaughter, not your mother, I realise your mother is sitting right here. I can’t find my granddaughter under your mother’s bed. I can not think where she has gone to. Did you know that your mother and I used to work together down Petticoat Lane Market? The prices there are shocking, but everything they have is so tempting. I always come home with an empty purse. Last time I was there I bought this t-shirt. Do you like it? You can have it if you like’.
I can’t see the t-shirt, for she is wearing her bright green dressing gown over it as an overcoat.
My mother is rolling her eyes at our fantasy conversation, but I find I am quite enjoying it. I feel relieved that this lady’s reality seems much more accommodating than the dementia world my father inhabited when he was still with us. I point out some tadpoles in the pond to my new friend and she tells me that her parents also have a pond in their back garden; I wonder if her parents might invite Simon and I over as part of my future birthday celebrations. It feels a little presumptuous to ask; I have only just met this lady.
The sun is shining on the patio at the Respite Home and my new friend unbelts her dressing gown to reveal the Kermit T shirt that she is wearing underneath. It is not easy being green, but I think I would prefer a Muppet Show to a Comic Con event. I think Simon will understand as long as there is some amphibian content. I am sure I will have overthought a persuasive story to tell him by the next time we meet.
Anyway, enough pond life. Off my lily pad and back to the swamp tomorrow, it will come as a much needed rest from all this over-thinking.