I recently came across an old diary entry from many years ago, made one night after a party, scribbled into my journal in the wee hours in my hotel room as the event drew to a close downstairs. I had always remembered the party as an extravagant, hedonistic event. In my memories, everyone was dancing like they do on Strictly (the good ones, that is) and I threw my head back, roaring with laughter as my Rita Hayworth-like hair tumbled down my back and strangers vied to light my cigarettes. The sort of event that proved that my life had once been expansive and interesting but has now stagnated into dull, uneventful days that roll on meaninglessly.
The diary, however, told a different story. The plush setting got a mention, but I thought I looked fat in my dress, the man I fancied barely glanced in my direction and as the only sober person there, I felt self-conscious and sullen. My hair was not like Rita Hayworth's, and never has been. I wasn't even smoking.
I sometimes think that people remember childhood in a similar way. We have a tendency as a species to endlessly romanticise the past and of course, childhood is the ultimate past. "You'll never get back those wondrous years," people say. "Your childhood years are the best years of your life."
Who are these people, exactly? Have they not forgotten what it's really like to be a child, where everything is disproportionately terrifying, you have almost zero agency over your life and your days are a veritable parade of adults telling you what to do?
Personally, I had little truck with grownups when I was young. This was essentially because I was an eighty year old trapped in a four year old's body and I thought that most adults didn't have a clue. I would ask people for cigarettes and try to read Jilly Cooper novels. When I was ten, I would regularly go to my ninety year old neighbour's house to hang out. She would always offer me squash, which I rejected in favour of coffee. Throughout my entire childhood, my fantasies revolved around being sent to boarding school, making a secret underground dwelling inside the island of our local lake or renting apartments with my pocket money. Well, that and boys.
The things in childhood that we grow misty-eyed over are the things that we would like to have now, like zero responsibility and people paying for everything. OK, maybe it would still be nice to have someone paying for everything, but we fall into the trap of thinking that life was always more simple back then. Life is never simple, because we have this thing called human nature and it likes to find reasons to be glum, regardless of whether you're fourteen or forty. Life is proportionately as not simple for a twelve year old as it is for someone who's thirty three. And yeah, losing your job when you have a family to support is awful and stressful, but it doesn't feel less awful or stressful than losing the family dog does to a ten year old, because the ten year old doesn't have that sense of perspective.
When you're a kid, an argument with your best friend can literally feel as terrifying as a nuclear holocaust, as can taking a bad report card home. At least one of the joys of being grownup is understanding that very few things in life are really that much of a big deal in the grand scheme of things.
Perhaps you're now thinking 'ah, but I bet you secretly miss being a child now, don't you, Liz?' Actually, no. I look forward to the next forty years, when my body will catch up to my wizened old soul and I can dispense my special brand of philosophy without people rolling their eyes at me. That's the good thing about old people; they can't run away that quickly.