I like to think we all have a good few alternative lives inside us. Our minds are too full of wonderful things for the one corporeal life to do us justice.
I have quite a few. Like my hippy one. I went to LA when I was sixteen, and came back thinking I would never wear shoes again. I read half a book about Buddhism, and promised myself I would learn Reiki. The phase passed quickly, and I still don’t know what Reiki is, but some part of me was sewn in that life and is now strolling the beaches of Topanga in loose white clothing. My hair has grown curly from Pacific salt and I have the world’s largest collection of window crystals. (I have to wear double Ray Bans even at night to stop all the refraction from blinding me.) My daughter, Dolphin Sky, jointly begat by three vagabond brothers at a midnight drum circle, can peel an avocado just by singing to it. She makes guacamole so heavenly it makes Mexicans weep.
Another one is that of a trustworthy estate agent – simply because I love nosing round people’s houses. I get to my appointments early to make sure the surfaces are clean and my butt is really toned from power-walking along the seafront every night. I look excellent in a pencil skirt. I use words like ‘cornicing’ and ‘basically’ a lot and my car smells of sunbaked vanilla and new shoes.
There are others. They multiply the more I type in fact. There are probably prescription drugs that would see a few of them off but why bother. There’s room enough in my head for them to all rub up against each other. Like a tubetrain of perverts at rush hour, all happy for the unadmonished contact. We all have other lives that get set into motion by the merest flexing of our imaginations, and some part of them carry on living when we think we have abandoned them for other thoughts. They are our what ifs and why nots. We all have them.
Since the funfair came to town I am aware of yet another life. Not the one where I am Margheretta – tomboy, daredevil, and star of the Wall of Death. Possessor of a thick red ponytail that shoots sparks as I whip past on my glistening motorcycle. (Carnival legend has it that my mother died in childbirth because I had so much hair. I have a picture of her in my locket, but when I open it things around me burst into flames.) Not that one. But another one. More real.
When Carter’s Steam Fair came to town at Easter it was familiar to me as my old childhood books. The colours all a palette that I knew. That we all know. The traditional olde-worlde fair. I took my nephew Elliot to the coconut shy because my Dad used to run the one at the school summer fair. I took my niece Viola on the carousel and the motion of the gilt horses felt as familiar as walking. The dodgems span and whacked to the sound of my Dad’s favourite rock and roll tunes and I remembered how it felt to be flung around in the nook of his armpit – but now I was the one steering. I saw all those old things become a part of their lives too. Elliot on the rifle range, shooting for candy cigarettes. Was some small part of him becoming a cowboy or a cranky outback rabbit-botherer named Hank? Viola on her coloured horse Willow – was she a she-knight, a gypsy Maid Marian, an Olympiad? Were they forming dreams, ambitions; setting their imaginations off like helium balloons in the sky?
It’s likely, at 6 and 8, that they were just in the moment, with no thought for the future. Of course they were. They’ve not been turned into morbid defenders of nostalgia like me yet, and I mostly hope they never will, not in the same way at least. Their way will be their way. Their future their future. But I hope they remember our day, my childhood nudging secretly in alongside theirs, the colours and music, the motion, the pink-cheeked excitement, the carnival assembly of thousands of other lives, old and young, lived and unlived, all as real as the imagination allows. I hope they remember the fair.