It was the first time in years that I had returned to the forlorn town in which most of my family had chosen to live, give birth and die. Coasting along a meandering, tacky road at a spluttering 25 km/h, everything from the charcoal grey sky to the ominous sight of two dozen clocks in a shop window seemed to be conspiring to ramp up the journey's clichéd dramatic nature. Upon getting to the house, the most interesting event was my much younger siblings bringing out a sturdy bag from the front room, which has long served as a repository for antique memories.
My sister took out the more visibly unusual things. A piece of shiny gold card, some long-dead cress curiously glued onto a sheet of paper, and an object of indeterminable purpose, consisting of a piece of string and an unevenly cut circle of some cardboard, not-so-deftly coloured in myriad hues of felt tip. I would later remember that this was a primitive attempt at a colour wheel, but whilst miffed when asked about its use, I claimed that it was designed to tell the colour of your soul and your fate. Lying is an art, like everything else.
What caught my attention, though, were the school workbooks at the bottom of the bag, which I had imagined had been long since thrown out. Placing the Maths and Science volume to one side, I began right away to read my story and art books. The blotchy ink scribblings, copious comic book exclamations and wry asides from the teacher transported me back many moons to days where I would block out the rest of the room, and try to fill an hour with as much prose as humanely possible.
I was entertained most by the anything-goes atmosphere across it all. In my 10 year old imagination, Swiss people spoke a language consisting only of accented vowels, and parrots bought underhand from Dublin Zoo carried the additional peril of bringing you back in time and forcing you to fix your ancestors' problems. In this warped world, pre-teens were paid to watch over mansions 'made of turquoise', Australian starlets gave out advice about droughts, and ghosts were not dead people, but the distressed detached souls of people who had gone bad.
Particularly intriguing were two cautionary tales. One set out the story of 'Mad Mick' who sometimes gets knocked out and was 'always thinking of ideas that never work' to give to his horrid friends, 'Cactus, Tougho, Machine Man and Blood Slurper'. Another was in a cartoon form, concerning an orange, seafaring, hippo-like creature named Yaz(z)o(o) who, for unspecified reasons, for the object of a kidnapping plot by a shadowy cabal of head solicitors who all sported snazzy but unprofessional spiky hair and lived in giant upturned top hats colour coded according to their hiearchical position. Sadly, we will never find out whether Yazzoo survived getting struck by a hired meteorite in a surprising fourth-wall breaking betrayal by the cartoonist. Nonetheless, in a world increasingly defined by the useful over the creative, I hope we can still preserve the unwitting wonders of children's imagination.