When I Grow Up

Thanks to the kindness of my boyfriend’s sister (side note – she is an excellent sister-of-boyfriend to have in one’s life. I consider myself very lucky) I finally got to experience the utter treat that is Matilda the Musical. I am somewhat of a London disaster ~ I live in one of the most exciting cities in the world and I spend far too much of it sitting in my flat drinking tea and watching old episodes of Poirot. I rarely go out to enjoy the theatrical and cultural wonders that the Big Smoke has to offer (pubs aside). So it was with extreme gratitude that I accepted the ticket to the aforementioned show; time to find out what everybody else had been raving about so heartily.

Before I ramble on in my usual way, let me just say – if you haven’t seen this show, you simply MUST. It is the best thing I’ve ever seen on stage. It made me cry (although that’s not a hard thing to do, I’ll give you that one, sunshine), it made me laugh, it made me utterly terrified. It is such a wholly uncynical, unshowy portrayal of childhood and has captured the spirit of the book I loved so much. Absolutely perfectly. The reception was joyous – each and every audience member was transported back to their childhood, if just for a couple of hours. And that’s a beautiful thing, is it not?

Anyhoo, that slight plug is done now. I’m not being paid by anybody to advertise it. Honestly. That would be a nice job though, wouldn’t it?

The subject of this blog came to me when a certain character was introduced tonight. Several songs into the show, a young woman appeared; and my tummy did a little flip. I know this may sound odd – but Miss Honey was one of the heroines of my childhood. And she was standing in front of me! She even walked past me in the stalls. Should I tap her on the shoulder? Tell her how I used to dream of sitting with her in her little home, eating marge and honey on thick doorstop bread, musing on books?

The titles of the novels they discussed thrilled me. I can remember the strange, unfamiliar roundness of the words ‘Nicholas Nickleby’ ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’ ‘Great Expectations’. They were unknown, tantalising tales. I remember the crisps crammed into Hortensia’s mouth, crumbs spraying as she talked. I remember the gloop of Mrs Wormwood’s hair dye dropping into an alien bottle. I’d forgotten all of this; the days of sitting in my beamed bedroom in the early nineties, Matilda’s world becoming my own. I used to try and move pencils with my eyes.

I wonder if these actors knew what a job they were taking on, personifying the heroes and demons of one’s childhood? How much it means to us? Does this seems a strange thought, coming from an actor who appears in novel adaptations for a living? Perhaps Anne Elliot (I am currently playing her, the wonderful woman of Jane Austen’s Persuasion) meant the world to one person who came to the see the show. Perhaps that’s the power of moving a story from page to stage.

I am now Miss Honey’s age.  I am no longer Matilda – I’m her teacher, the grown up, the one who is supposed to take care of things. I even rock the floral dress/cardi combo on a regular basis. I started this blog with the intention of extolling the virtues of novel adaptations; to emphasise just how powerful it is to see one of your heroes come to life. But as Matilda drew to a close, another, more powerful thought overtook me. We should never grow up, should we?

There is a beautiful song that made me, my friend and the entire audience have a little sniff tonight. The children ride carefree on swings that soar over our heads. They sing these words:

When I grow up
I will be tall enough to reach the branches
that I need to reach to climb the trees
you get to climb when you’re grown up.

And when I grow up
I will be smart enough to answer all
the questions that you need to know
the answers to before you’re grown up.

And when I grow up
I will eat sweets every day
on the way to work and I
will go to bed late every night!

And I will wake up
when the sun comes up and I
will watch cartoons until my eyes go square
and I won’t care ’cause I’ll be all grown up!

When I grow up!

When I grow up, when I grow up
I will be strong enough to carry all
the heavy things you have to haul
around with you when you’re a grown-up!

And when I grow up, when I grow up
I will be brave enough to fight the creatures
that you have to fight beneath the bed
each night to be a grown-up!

And when I grow up
I will have treats every day.
And I’ll play with things that Mums pretends
that Mum’s don’t think are fun.

And I will wake up
when the sun comes up and I
will spend all day just lying in the sun
and I won’t burn ’cause I’ll be all grown-up!

We imagined adulthood as an extension of our youth, with more freedom than we could dream of. If only that were true. I look at children with such envy sometimes. Lucky things for not knowing what awaits them. Fear, responsibility, lack of money. Being a grown up sucks, doesn’t it?

But here’s the thing. I don’t think it has to. None of us got a certificate when we reached eighteen. Well, I didn’t. Did you? Where did you get it from? Nobody said Oh hey, you’re in your twenties now, so time to put aside childish things. It is not a prerequisite.

I firmly believe in jumping in puddles. Whether you’re wearing wellies or not. I believe in being outside until the sun goes down, coming back in for tea. Yes, I’ll probably be the one cooking it, but doesn’t that mean I get to eat what I like? I believe in stuffing my face with chocolate and ignoring all those people that tell me it’s bad for me. I believe in going on little adventures, even if it is just taking a different path to work. I believe in cuddling a teddy bear at night. Even if that teddy bear is no longer made of stuffing and wool, but of skin and bone, with the ability to cuddle you back. I believe in going out and having a little dance in the rain.

It’s easy to forget sometimes. Especially when you’re a couple of thousand into your overdraft, you’re overwhelmed at work, you’re wondering how things got so complicated. We’re still those same kids. Nothing has changed. We’re just dressing in our parent’s clothes.

Miss Honey has a little verse in the song of her own:

When I grow up. I will be brave enough to fight the creatures that I need to fight beneath the bed each night to be a grownup

When do we actually grow up?

I vote Never. And I ask of all those who love me – if I ever start to look like a Grown Up, please take me puddle jumping. And tell me to stop being such a wally.