Think back to your childhood, to something you longed for with the single-minded, intense desire only children have. Perhaps it was a really ace toy you coveted. Or maybe you wanted to jump through the pages of your favourite book and inhabit the story.
Feelings. That’s what I remember most about my childhood. The intense, undiluted feelings. Each classroom, storybook, toy and event was imbued with so much feeling. Each had an atmosphere, almost a flavour, of their own. The sensation was so strong, I could taste it.
I think retailers know this. When they design a toy, they’re not actually selling the object to children but rather the feeling the object gives children. When I longed for a particular toy, it wasn’t the toy itself I wanted. It was the feeling, the ambience it projected.
Growing up in a large phrenetic family with frequent petty sibling spats and loud quarrelling, finding tranquillity has been my lifelong obsession. The places, the teachers, the books, the toys that inspired a feeling of peace were what I craved as a child and still seek today.
Living as we did near the steelworks in pre-gentrification Splott (pronounced ‘Sploe’), there wasn’t a lot of tranquillity or glamour. The streets were gritty and crowded. My brothers and their mates in the ‘Splott boys’ were often bloodied in fights down at the docks. Not having my mother’s weak stomach, it was up to me to sponge away the blood and patch them up as best I could.
I longed for a different life and I found it in the pages of wonderful, old books. In books, the characters also encountered adversity, but it didn’t feel the same as the raw dramas of my life. The emotion in books is second-hand, buffered, calmer and therein lies their charm.
In solitude there was peace so I built a secret haven of sorts under the rafters, behind the cistern, in the attic. For a week, I read books and nibbled biscuits in blissful silence. But they found me, at last, and ruined my refuge.
It wasn’t until I grew up and had my first tiny studio flat, that I was nearly successfully at capturing the tranquillity I so desperately sought. What I lacked in home furnishings, I more than made up for in shelves piled to overflowing with books. Books on the windowsills. Books piled on the floor. Each evening it was just me, my books and my old moggie, Frances Hodgson Burnett. Bliss!
There’s nothing quite equal to the tranquillity and quiet bliss of reading a good book. I’m partial to the old kind that actually has proper paper. A Kindle just doesn’t have that lovely, dusty, papery, musty smell. There are no homely butter stains and notes in the margin left for you by a previous reader.
When you open a book, your world disappears taking with it all the stress and worries of your day. Your breathing and heart rate slow. Your imagination plays out each new twist and turn of the plot better than any ‘movie version’ of the book could possibly do.
I do believe the world would be a happier, healthier, more peaceful place if we’d turn off the telly, lay down the game controller, fetch the biscuit tin with a nice hot cup of tea and read a book.
Mmmmm, tranquillity at long last.