My Dad was a hands-off parent. He had his moments, but I would never describe the relationship I had with my Dad as being close. Sure, we got along, and we still do, but Dad was an odd sort of old fashioned. He believed very much in letting kids do their own thing. My parents separated before I was born, and so from a young age I stayed with him on weekends. I remember him picking me up, I remember him dropping my off, I sometimes remember us going on trips, but most of my weekly visits were spent on my own. And I loved it.
When I stayed with Dad, I had a bedroom of my very own. A bed that was not a bunkbed, a computer, a TV and a long dead chest-freezer tucked away in the corner that was a tempting death trap for a toddler. My Mum urged my Dad on many occasions to move the freezer out of my bedroom, in the end he compromised and turned it on his side. Dad was not the over-protective sort. While I never climbed into the death-freezer, I did once climb head first into my sleeping bag and got stuck. I was not very old. When I was four, my family moved to Scotland and I didn’t see my Dad on weekends anymore. I braved the sleeping bag before that happened, I’m sure. It can be hard to tell, my memories go back pretty far. Maybe its because I spoke from a young age, but one of my very early memories definitely features a nappy change, so who knows. (This is a sharp contrast to ages 6-10 which are smothered by the kind of blur I would not come to know again until my first year at University with the cocktail Bar opposite campus.)
I always slept in a sleeping bag when I stayed at my Dad’s. It was quick and comfortable, and for someone who was very probably less than four, roomier than you might think. One day I decided to play caves. I held open the entrance of the sleeping bag and crawling in head first, attempting to keep the entrance in place as I did so. Unfortunately, no sooner had I crossed the threshold when there was an unexpected cave in. No problem, I assured myself. I would simply crawl to the bottom of the bag, turn and then come out the top as normal. Things didn’t go quite to plan. I reached the bottom of the bag no problem, turning around seemed to go alright, but finding the exit wasn’t quite so easy. I started to panic. I kicked the top of the bag, I looked in all directions for daylight and I started to get frightened. The bag was starting to get hot, and I was tangled and trapped so I started to shout for my Dad.
Did I mention that years of work in factories left my Father with damaged hearing?
It felt like I shouted for a long time, it probably wasn’t. Eventually I gave up and started fighting the bag again. In my struggle I fell, still in the bag, on to the floor. Now hopelessly stuck, I stayed on the floor and cried until Dad found me. I did not crawl head first into my sleeping bag again.
They say our childhood fears shape us. Over the years, I have had many fears. I was once morbidly frightened of escalators, I was never fond of glass lifts and in High School I was traumatised by Lightwater Valley’s Rat Rollercoaster. I would not call myself claustrophobic, small spaces don’t make me panic, nor do I dread the dark, but I must admit that my greatest fear is of being trapped. I enjoy horror in all its forms. My favourite way to spend an evening is with a good Sci-Fi horror like Alien or The Fly, I like a good monster novel too, but my hear really started to race during the first act of The Descent. A monster movie that kicks off with a failed potholing expedition. It doesn’t even need to be horror. I greatly enjoyed the BBC’s Planet Earth documentary, but a gripping episode in which a pair of divers explore a tight underwater cave network had me pausing to catch my breath.
I am, I suppose, interested in fear. I have never thought myself a brave person; it is fair to say that I have always been in touch with my fears. It is the power fear has over us that seems to influence us the most. For my undergraduate dissertation, I wrote about my two favourite topics. Gothic Literature and Evolutionary Biology. I was fascinated by writing of a Post-Darwin society and its fears of human regression. As society plods along, we see the same trends appear in our horror. It seems the more we discover, the more we fear. MY The human race hasn’t changed that much in its time. We’ve shaped the world to our needs over the centuries, but out fears remain largely unchanged. The dark, the noises at night, the unknown are all constants voids to the be filled with new ideas, and there will always be horror writers waiting the fill them.
I don’t know if my adventures exploring the dark end of my sleeping bag inspired my fear of being trapped in a dark place, but it’s a memory that has stayed with me far longer than it should have. Like a good book, my mind returns to it when I least expect.