I meant to write this up in advance and schedule it to appear yesterday (oh, how can I begin to describe the delights of the New Laptop, which does all these clever things at the click of a key!). However, I’ve spent too much time in the garden, then flopped out in my armchair too tired to do anything!
So, here we go with another one off the September Book Stack (I’ve been very good so far, sticking to the list, and tying to read one book at a time). Here are my thoughts on The Enchanted Places, the childhood memoirs of Christopher Milne, son of AA Milne – and the original Christopher Robin – and I’m happy to report that it is every bit as enchanting as the title suggests, just as I hoped it would be.
It must be difficult to carve out your own path in life when your father is a much-loved author whose books for children have become classics – especially when the world knows you as the small boy with girlish hair, a smock and sandals pictured in EH Shepard’s drawings. I always assumed that at this period all small boys were dressed like that, but thinking about it now I recall seeing a photo of my father as a small boy (he was born in 1922, two years after Milne, so it’s the same time) and he was wearing baggy trousers which came down to his knees, a jumper best described as elderly, and a pair of big boots (and I mean big). But Dad was brought up in the East End of London, which obviously makes a difference. Were all ‘posh’ boys dressed like the young Milne I wonder?
Anyway, I digress. For a time Christopher Milne, who died in 1996, hated everything to do with Pooh and Christopher Robin, probably because he was teased about it at school, but he did eventually come to terms with that created image of his boyhood self, and was able to look back fondly on what must, in many ways, have been a magical period.
This book concentrates very much on that part of his life. It does take his story further, but it’s his recollections of the years spent with his nanny (she left when he went to school at the age of nine) that are so enchanting. The family lived in Chelsea, but when Christopher was five his father bought Cotchford Farm for weekends and holidays. It was on the edge of the Ashdown Forest, in Sussex, and the woods and streams and fields became the boy’s playground as he roamed the area playing games with his toys, and this fuelled his father’s creative abilities. There seems to have been some strange kind of symbiotic relationship linking the two worlds of imagination, as Christopher Milne explains.
|The young Christopher, with
It is difficult to be sure which came first. Did I do something and did my father then write a story around it? Or was it the other way about, and did the story come first? Certainly, my father was on the look-out for ideas; but so was I. He wanted ideas for his stories, I wanted them for my games, and each looked towards the other for inspiration. But in the end it was all the same: the stories became a part of our lives; we lived them, thought them, spoke them. And so, possibly before, but certainly after that particular story, we used to stand on Poohsticks Bridge throwing sticks into the water and watching them float away out of sight until they re-emerged on the other side.
And the artist Ernest Shepard also had a hand in shaping things. He :
… came along, looked at the toy Pooh, read the stories and started drawing; and the Pooh who had been developing under my father’s pen began to develop under Shepard’s pen as well….
Most of the places and creatures in the Pooh stories were based on places were based on places and things that really did exist, and those that were made up blended in seamlessly and became part of the story. Only two characters were created by AA Milne: Rabbit and Owl, but Owl’s home really did exist – it was one of several ‘houses’ Christopher established in the trees around Cotchford. With Eeyore it was the other way round: the donkey was a gloomy-looking soft toy, but his dwelling place was dreamt up by Christopher’s father, inspired perhaps by his bedroom and study (the two darkest, dullest and dingiest rooms at Cotchford) or perhaps, by something deep within his own psyche. Wherever that place was, Christopher does not want to go. Nor does he make any effort to analyse the relationship between his parents, or their relationship with him.
And he has no nostalgia or regret for the past, not even for Pooh and his friends (who can be seen in an American Museum).. He writes:
I like to have around me the things I like today, not the things I once liked many years ago. I don’t want a house to be a museum. When I grew out of my old First Eleven blazer, it was thrown away, not lovingly preserved to remind me of the proud day I won it with a score of thirteen not out. Every child has his Pooh, but one would think it odd if every man still kept his Pooh to remind him of his childhood.
|Christopher as an aduklt.
And he adds:
I wouldn’t like a glass case that said: ‘Here is fame’, and I don’t need a glass to remind me: ‘Here was love’.
Re-reading this, I feel I have let the Pooh connection dominate, but it dominated (and blighted) Christopher Milne’s life. However, the book covers much more that, for he also writes about his time in London, his friends Anne (in the town) and Hannah (in the country), his Nanny, the other servants, and his family life, as well as offering glimpses of his schooldays and later life. It’s written by a man who seems to have overcome the problems which arose from his childhood, and was finally able to break free and establish his own path in life, yet was still able to look back with warmth, humour and love.