I love to dream. I have a personality that locates pleasure in future anticipation and is often disappointed by the moment of delivery. And I don’t find it hard to realize my dreams, once I have decided that’s what I am really aiming for. Sitting in our “dreaming groups” I am struck by how many people really struggle to dream – at least, who struggle to dream anything beyond the far-out, the noble and altruistic. I struggle to keep finding new dreams once I have achieved the current one – perhaps I just don’t dream big enough.
But it struck me recently, listening to the dreams of others, that the capacity to dream is very much enhanced by a parent’s ability to facilitate the dreams of their children – so maybe I was very lucky in that. My parents were extremely poor by common standards and they had no education – but they dreamed. They dreamed of a better life for their children and they achieved that dream. But they also facilitated dozens of small dreams that I had as a child – things that might seem insignificant to you, but which were huge in the context of my upbringing.
One of the earliest things I remember is a shiny pink party dress – I didn’t actually go to many birthday parties and only had a party of my own when I was 17 years old. My mother couldn’t afford to buy me a dress so she found an off-cut of material on Doncaster market and the simplest pattern she could manage. She didn’t sew well, but owning a sewing machine was another dream we had together. It wasn’t particularly stylish or well-made, even to my eight year old eyes, but after the party I was allowed to wear it to school – no sense in wasting money on a dress you only wear once. Years later I met a girl from my junior school class and in the midst of reminiscing she suddenly said “do you remember that pink dress you had? I was so jealous! My mother never let me wear anything so beautiful to school.”
As well as a dreamer, I am a learner. My father taught me to swim. Monday nights was his work’s free Club night, from 8-9.30pm and we had fish and chips wrapped in newspaper on the way home. He also taught me to fish – although he gave up on getting me to put the worm on the end of the hook. When I was into gardening they gave me a patch of my own. When I wanted a pet of my own, I got a rabbit and was taught how to clean it out myself! When I wanted to learn to play the piano they found me one – goodness knows how they managed to pay for it or for the lessons – but it fortunately came with a music stool full of free music. My love of poetry was indulged with weekly speech and drama lessons; my love of horses was not indulged with a pony – not even weekly lessons were on the cards – but I did get to go on the school pony trekking holiday – twice! (When the school were not arranging a holiday the following year, they let me and my best friend, Gina, organize our own trek to the wilds of Wales to repeat the experience.)
Repeating experiences is something of a theme in my life – most things I have ever wanted to do, I have wanted to do twice. When the junior school went to the museum to draw the stuffed animals, I wanted to go back – so they let me – on my own, on the bus. I had never eaten a four-course dinner out until the high school history dinner at the Sun Inn – but the following year I got to eat seven courses at the Dorchester when I graduated in speech and drama from the London College of Music. I saw my first musical at the Hexagon in Sheffield – Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, then got to see Jesus Christ Superstar in London. London twice – then Paris twice. It astounds me now that I got to do all these things.
Even the things they couldn’t do were approximated for me – they couldn’t afford ballet lessons, but I had ballerina wallpaper on my bedroom walls and the Girls’ Own Ballet Annual with photos of Nureyev and Fontaine. I did eventually get ballet lessons – by the time I turned forty – and scuba diving in Zanzibar for my 25th wedding anniversary; skiing for my 50th birthday (in the shopping mall in Dubai!) I jumped off a mountain in New Zealand, but have gotten cold feet about jumping out of an aeroplane – maybe I’ll go tandem for my 70th. I am still planning to ski down a real mountain.
Looking back at my parents, I realize that the most wonderful things about them was that even if they couldn’t give me everything they wanted to, they never pooh-poohed my crazy dreams. When I asked for the earth or dreamed of the moon they just sighed and said “we’ll see.” If they couldn’t pay for it, they encouraged me to save for it myself – and if the only job I could get at fifteen was a paper round on my bicycle in the dark – they let me go and worried like crazy until I got home again. If someone else was willing to take me where they couldn’t, that was okay with them.
They never squashed my crazy imagination, fuelled by books and magazines. One of my earliest collections was of Marvel and DC Comics. At the age of six I so badly wanted to be Wonder Woman that I draped my mother’s bedroom curtains round my shoulders and leapt from the ottoman to the bed, taking the curtain rail with me. I didn’t get a hiding. Maybe they too acknowledged my secret identity and were wise enough to know that one day I would fly for real.