Imaginary friends, also known as ‘imaginary companions’, are pretend characters often created by children. On the popular children’s show, Sesame Street, Snuffleupagus was originally portrayed as Big Bird’s imaginary friend.
Childhood memories are a vague and mysterious thing. We are told so many stories about ourselves by our parents as we are growing up that sometimes I’m not sure what I actually remember happening and what I’ve heard about and imagined happening so many times that it’s as if it is real.
But there are times when a certain smell, or taste, or sound takes you right back to a moment in your past, recent or long-distant, and the fact that it is remembered through one of the other four senses aside from sight, makes it even more real. Something in your guy flips and you’re sitting in the high chair in the kitchen eating ice cream, or standing in the sink being washed down, or you’re at the school dance smelling the deodorant of your best friend’s gorgeous older brother while you dance…
I mentioned in an earlier post (number eight) that my earliest memory is of losing my imaginary friend Worzel.
I was only about three at the time, but I know it’s my own memory because no one could have told me this particular story and I couldn’t see photographs of him*.
Worzel was a funny raggedy looking boy. He wore a straw hat (I think) and he had go go gadget legs, that would grow if he needed to run faster. My middle sister had been born the summer before and we were in North Wales on holiday. One day we decided to go for a ride on a steam train. Worzel went to the toilet, we boarded the train, the train left the platform and Worzel was not on board. He’d just missed it. He ran down the tracks after the train, his legs growing longer to help him catch us, but we were too fast for him. The train went round a bend, and I remember seeing the grassy embankment. And then he was gone. Forever.
When I was about ten, my parents started regaling me with tales of Worzel and our exploits together when I was small, none of which I remembered. Until they started to tell a story about how, one year, when we had been on holiday in North Wales, we had taken a trip on the Ffestiniog Steam Railway and I had shouted and cried for Worzel so loudly that a man from the other end of the train had shouted down ‘For goodness sake, give that bloody child Worzel!’
Obviously Worzel was a figment of my imagination. But he was real enough for me to remember him without the aid of my parents’ stories. It seems quite an elaborate way for my three year old sub-conscious to get rid of him, but I’m not completely sure I was a totally normal child.
Over Easter weekend, some friends and I went to stay near Beddgelert. We climbed up a steep hill behind the village and sat on the top in the sunshine. From the next valley along, rose up the sound of a steam train whistle, echoing off the hills, and I had that gut flipping moment where all of a sudden I was three years old and Worzel was racing up the tracks behind the train as fast as he could to be back with me. I let out an involuntary cry of ‘Worzel’ and had to tell the story to my highly amused friends.
Farewell Worzel! You were my first, but weirdest friend, companion of my imagination, and now, hopefully, a happy hill wanderer in the lush mountains of Snowdonia.
*There’s a picture I drew of him at the time somewhere in a box, so if I ever find it, I’ll scan it in and you can see what my three year old brain thought Worzel looked like…