|Illustration by MICHAEL FOREMAN|
All children, except one, grow up. They soon know that they will grow up, and the way Wendy knew was this. One day when she was two years old she was playing in a garden, and she plucked another flower and ran with it to her mother. I suppose she must have looked rather delightful, for Mrs. Darling put her hand to her heart and cried, "Oh, why can't you remain like this forever!" This was all that passed between them on the subject, but henceforth Wendy knew that she must grow up. You always know after you are two. Two is the beginning of the end.
So wrote author J. M. BARRIE in the opening paragraph of PETER PAN. And it's true; I know because I had a similar experience when I was three or four years old. My mother had been outlining my future to me one day, probably preparing me for when I'd be starting primary school. "And what happens then?" I asked, curious about what lay before me. There then followed a description of the different stages of my life to which I could 'look forward', interspersed at each pause with "And what happens then?" from myself. Eventually, having worked through my life from primary school to adulthood, she rested from her labours, thinking her duty done.
"And what happens then?" I again enquired, tenacious infant that I was. She thought for a moment before replying "Then you grow old." The inevitable "And what happens then?" from me. "Then you die," she said, simply. I had no concept of death, so persisted. "And what happens then?" I was like a broken record, but probably more grating. "Nothing happens then - when you're dead, you're dead," she said, matter-of-factly.
(I should perhaps here mention that my mother's response was a surprising one, given her own beliefs. She went to church and sent me and my brother to Sunday school, and did, in fact, subscribe to the concept of the afterlife, though probably more from a superstitious point of view than from an informed one. I can only assume that she regarded such an idea beyond my young powers of compre-hension, and was speaking merely from the physical perspective.)
This greatly disturbed me, and when I was put to bed that evening, I couldn't sleep. I eventually made my way downstairs, repeating "I don't want to die, I don't want to die!" over and over again. It's no exaggeration to say that the notion of total oblivion had traumatised me. My parents did their best to console me, saying that death was a long way off and that I shouldn't be concerned with it. I eventually calmed down, but could never quite escape the dark shadow of the fate that loomed ahead of me. I decided there and then that if growing up meant growing old, and growing old meant dying, then I would simply never grow up! I'd be a child forever. I stated aloud my determination and was then put back to bed, where sleep eventually claimed me.
Henceforth, whenever any friends of my parents would ask me (as friends of parents inevitably will) what I was going to be when I grew up, before I could even answer, my parents would respond with "He's not going to grow up, he's going to be just like Peter Pan!" (This happened on more than one occasion.) It was therefore surprising when I picked up J. M. Barrie's book in my thirties to find a similar experience to my own recounted in its opening pages. How amazing is that? A story about a boy with whom I'd been compared from an early age, and the very first paragraph resonates immediately. Curiously, like WALT DISNEY's version of the character (though it's not in the book), I've never been able to click my fingers.
It's rather apt, then, that in my teenage years, my nickname became 'Kid', which I've been called ever since. (The story behind that can be found here.) Not everyone who knew me was aware of the appellation though, only a particular group of friends and acquaintances (and their families) who lived in my neighbourhood. When I started freelancing for IPC's 2000 A.D. in 1985, I used it in the credit boxes because it was easier to fit in the allocated space.
"Two is the beginning of the end." However, I refuse to grow old. I'm going to be a "boy eternal" (as SHAKESPEARE put it) and try my best to retain what KENNETH GRAHAME calls "the spirit of youth" within me. In the end, of course, it may not stave off expiration, but life is a hell of a lot more fun along the way.