Some things have happened over the past couple of days that have taken me back to my childhood. On Saturday, we went on a trip to Slieve Gullion. I’d never been before, so didn’t know about the fairy houses – little colourful wooden doors placed on the tree trunks, a small rope bridge and tiny stairs winding up to more magical houses. I watched as my little girl ran from one door to another, and wished it had been there when I was wee too. I would have been knocking on the wood and waiting for a reply just like she was. I would never have forgotten it. Just like I’ve never fogotten the stone-built play house in Marble Hill woods called ‘The Fairy House’ built by a rich land-owner for his children last century. My cousins and I set out to look for it once, but the woods were too wild and overgrown for us to find it. Of course, not finding it just added to its appeal. We were told it was there, but never saw it. Imagine someone actually making you your own little house in the woods! That was wonderful enough, without actually seeing it. My dad used to tell stories about little fairies living at the bottom of the garden – they would have midnight balls, with toadstools for tables, and flower petals for gowns. I wonder how wide my eyes were when I listened to those stories.
So that flashback was magical, but the other one was quite the opposite. It’s the memory of lying in bed feeling ill, with a heap of babyish books by my side. And the audio book of The Secret Garden, with the maid who was wailing because of her tooth-ache. My poor wee girl is going through that now, but with the more modern entertainment of BBC iplayer. Now I’m remembering the things my mum did to try and cheer me up, and I’m trying to re-enact them. Toast with a scraping of butter is next.
That’s the thing though: chlidhood is not always an idyllic wonder of happy imaginings; it can be hard too. The only hope is that imagination endures all the hardship, right through until you’re all grown up. And then, it still comes in handy.
So go on, knock on the little door – you might even see a fairy!