While I was still young enough to believe everything I was told, I asked my father to buy me a wardrobe. He had been reading me CS Lewis, and I had tried every place in the house where we kept clothes, to see if that one was the entrance to Narnia. Maybe, I reasoned, you couldn’t get there through a built-in cupboard. Maybe it had to be a stand-alone wardrobe.
He told me that I didn’t need a wardrobe, and when I explained, full of the indignation that you can only get away with, really, when you are that small, exactly why I needed one, he told me that the entrance to Narnia was probably somewhere in the garden.
I spent a long time looking around outside but to no avail. Our garden, you see, was small, and ended in The Shed, or as my mother called it ‘The Place Woman Was Not Meant To Know’. I think she did that to make me feel special and important when I got to take him a cup of tea in there.
But then, one summer, we visited one of those minor National Trust gardens. A friend of my father’s from his school days who had a pass for the year was visiting, along with his wife and their horrible daughter, with whom I was expected to spend time. We piled into our respective cars and off we duly went. I told the daughter in great excitement that I, for one, was going to look for Narnia. Or maybe see if they had a really BIG shed here. It was a garden, after all. It must have a shed. But Narnia first! She looked down her nose at me, which was quite a feat considering I was a good two inches taller than she was, and told me that that was just a story. So I suggested what all small children do with other children they don’t particularly want to spend time with. A game of hide and seek.
It was when I had run down a particularly interesting side-path (I was still ‘looking’ for her. Just not very hard. Well not at all.) that I saw it. I don’t know why I knew, but there it was- that tree. That was the one. I was sure of it. Maybe it was the way it didn’t fit with the other trees. Maybe it was how green it was. Maybe I just liked it. When the horrible daughter came to complain that I wasn’t looking for her in the right way, she found me walking around the tree. I then, to her and the park keeper’s horror, and my parents’ great amusement, proceeded to climb it. When the park keeper pulled me down and told me off, I simply explained to him that surely that was what all the trees were for, I was sorry, were they all meant to be just for him to climb? But for all the attention I paid the tree, Narnia did not appear.
And then, of course, I did what all children do. I grew up. I met a lot more horrible people, who I couldn’t get rid of with a game of hide and seek. I lost my father, and then my mother only a few days after his funeral. I think she had stayed only long enough to make sure he was all right. She was so very tired there at the end. But one thing I have never lost, even though I am careful about who I tell. Whenever I see a wardrobe, or an interesting tree, or even a street with an unusual name, I explore.
You know. Just in case.