My childhood: There are the Lego blocks. Bright primary-coloured houses with ramps for Matchbox cars and narrow windows for knights to defend with their tiny bows and arrows. Cups of orange squash grabbed on the way out to the road, where boys and girls skid their bicycles into wheelies. I scramble into trees, and watch ants in their minute traffic jams along the crumbling red bricks.
Running back into the house. Upstairs to the TV room. Watching black and white movies which have forever trapped actors as kids in overalls chasing their dogs or as men on ships, about to be dropped on bomb-scarred beaches. Orchestral themes exaggerating the triumphs and defeats.
Slipping on an LP record. Elvis. Tears shed at his death, and still more tears to be cried when John Lennon was gunned down. I wept at both, these old men who belonged to another era. Elvis was 42 when he died. Lennon, 40. Although I was just a child, I was deeply moved by their voices, preserved in vinyl.
The odd world of adults existed beyond my borders. It was one of laughter and worry, grim-faced sometimes, and occasionally whimsical. They were there to provide impulses on which I’d get to journey- day trips to places that smelled different, where my brothers and I would play in the gardens of country pubs, awkward alliances formed with the local kids for the day.
Those times have nothing to do with being an adult myself:
Watching bank account sands slipping into an hourglass of debts. Itching to run away to somewhere next to the sea, when the sea is just a reminder that time ebbs and flows and cannot be contained. Walking in the forest, and counting the ages of felled trees. Stroking the coarse bark, and wondering just how hard the rain fell in that long summer, to produce such a wide ring.
Now and then I’ll go to functions at my children’s school, and see children who, for an instant, look just like kids I knew decades ago. That’s confusing- as if, somewhere, the bruised and muddied boyhood friends I had never grew up, but they’re still hiding from each other on the building sites and meadows where we used to run wild. Lost Boys.
My own kids hurtle around the park, making boats out of leaves on the streams, and gather shells in heaps at the beach before skipping pebbles through the breakers. I’ll join them, but they don’t know my secret- It’s not this outward husk who is showing them the best ways to climb a tree, or marvelling at a rock pool ecosystem, it’s the boy Scott, who can jump off the roof of the garage, hold his breath in the swimming pool for two minutes and make moon buggies out of wire and boxes.
In that private world in my head, the Lost Boys and I gather around to make stupid jokes, do crazy things, like old, dead musicians trapped on scratchy records and actors who get to live in a fantasy world forever, of flickering images and endless fun.
Tomorrow I am 42, the same age as Elvis when he died an ineloquent death. I have outlived many, but they’ve never left. The Lost Boys never do.
There’s a thundercloud forming on the horizon. I’ll be the kid in the distance; dashing through the rain and splashing in the puddles while the adults twitch fearfully at their curtains.
The meaning of life, the universe and everything else? It’s to keep your Lost Boy alive, even at 42.