HEN I WAS A CHILD, I WAS SO MUCH BRAVER THAN I AM NOW.
Actually, that’s not quite true: I wasn’t even remotely brave. I really wanted to be, though, so I would frequently push myself to do the things that scared me, just to prove to myself that I could.
I don’t do that now. These days, if something scares me, I run as far away from it as possible. That’s why I never ride rollercoasters, or take any kind of risk I could conceivably avoid. When I was younger, though, I was much braver – and the more I think about it, the more I think that IS the right word. Bravery, after all, isn’t about never feeling afraid of anything: it’s about being scared to death, but doing it anyway – and that’s what I was like when I was young.
Take this boat, for instance:
I came across this little boating lake during a childhood holiday to the English seaside town of Scarborough – I think this was probably taken at Flamingo Land, but I’m not sure. Being the child I was (Which, as those of you who’ve been reading my Secret Diary posts will know, was a child who was scared of absolutely everything…), the idea of getting into a boat and rowing out into the lake ALL BY MYSELF was enough to make me feel sick to my stomach with nerves. It seemed like the kind of thing the Famous Five wouldn’t have batted an eyelid at, though, and despite maintaining a high level of terror about absolutely everything, I also had this inexplicable, and yet totally unshakable, belief that I actually COULD do just about anything – I just didn’t know it yet. I always had this idea that one day I would try something, and turn out to be absolutely amazing at it: so it was really important to me to try everything, so that the the hidden talent I just KNEW I must have would be discovered, and I could get on with being awesome at whatever it turned out to be.
(Yes, I’m still waiting. I’ll find it one day, I just know it.)
Now, absolute terror plus unbridled optimism isn’t a great combination, all things, considered. I, however, was determined to prove myself (And who knew: maybe boating would turn out to be my hidden talent? Maybe some day I would boat for Britain in the Olympics, and when I was interviewed, I’d be all, “If it wasn’t for that fateful day in Scarborough…”) so, I selected my little red boat, got in, and off I went.
Needless to say, sailing was NOT my hidden talent.
I made it all the way across the lake, right to the wooden barrier you can see separating the boating area (which I’m going to guess probably only held, like two foot of water or something…) from the rest of the lake. And THAT’S when my boat broke down. I mean, I say it “broke down”. It didn’t, obviously: I just manoeuvred it over to the barrier, then found myself completely incapable of turning it around in order to come back again. In vain, my parents tried to yell instructions to me, to help me out of my predicament. The damage, however, was done: my nerve was well and truly shot, and now I was stuck in the middle of a lake (Which, OK, I could probably have waded out of pretty safely, but I didn’t know it at the time: I imagined myself to be in the utmost danger, at all times, so that lake could’ve been a bottomless one, for all I knew.), AND my dreams of a glittering naval career were totally shattered.
How DID I get myself back to dry land, I’m going to pretend I hear you all ask?
I didn’t, obviously. My dad had to do it. And he had to do it by – get this – walking out on the wooden barrier, balancing like a tightrope walker, until he reached me and my boat, and was able to climb in and row me back to “safety”:
He was NOT happy. He was, however, my hero, and he still is: thanks, dad. You’re a legend. You also look a bit like a young Einstein in this photo, so there’s that, too.
This wasn’t the only time my dad was to come to my rescue. The first time I ever fell off a horse, for instance, my dad, who’d been watching from the spectators’ gallery (Which is a really fancy way to say “the piece of muddy ground parents were allowed to stand in”) at the riding school, leapt over the waist-high barrier which separated parents from riders, just to get to me. I mean, there was a door he could’ve used, but he had no time to waste, and I can clearly remember him vaulting that barrier, like the legend he is.
A few years later, I fell off my bike while riding downhill at speed. Luckily for me, I was riding on a path directly behind my own garden at the time, and my dad just so happened to be up a ladder, doing some kind of “dad” work to the exterior of the house, when he heard me scream in pain. My mum, meanwhile, was standing at the kitchen sink drying some dishes, when all of a sudden my dad dropped like a stone from the ladder above the window, and took off across the garden. My mum watched in amazement as he leapt over the fence at the bottom of the garden, a bit like a pony going over a fence (Not Rikki, though: Rikki was an “awfull” jumper…), and rushed to my aid. See what I mean? HERO. Also: surprisingly good at jumping.
I still have the scar from that second fall, by the way: I’d gone right over the handlebars, and smashed into the concrete path – by the time my dad scraped me off the ground, my chin was gushing with blood, and I was seeing double, so I needed stitches, and a whole lot of reassurance that I wasn’t going to die.
I got back on the bike, though, and I got back on the horse. Maybe I was a little bit brave, after all.
P.S. For those of you interested in the adventures of my younger self, there are some new extracts on my Secret Diary page, and you can sign up for updates here: