Holding out for a hero
As a child, I was a huge fan of the fictional amateur detective Nancy Drew. She was sixteen years old and went about solving mysteries. Both of these things seemed impossibly glamorous to me. I could hardly fathom of ten, let alone an age so grown-up as sixteen. And the most mysterious thing in my small world was figuring out how we got Branston Pickle and Marmite when we lived in a country better known for soy sauce and rice vinegar.
Such was my adoration for Nancy that I asked my Mum if I could change my name. I’ve made this joke before, but as you can see for yourself, my application failed. It wasn’t that I loved the name (apologies to all Nancys out there), but the belief that if I was to have any hope of acquiring such an exciting life I needed to be called Nancy.
She wasn’t my only girlhood crush, either. I wanted to be Helen Slater’s Supergirl (yes, yes, I know it’s a dreadful film) so badly that I dreamed one night that I could fly. That I woke up to find this impossible still haunts me today. I also wanted to be Jane Torvill. She and Christopher Dean had recently won the only perfect score in Olympic ice skating history – and the gold medal to boot – at the Sarajevo Winter Games and my Granny had taken me and my sister to see their ice show in the marginally less glamorous city of Brighton. I wanted to be Jane Torvill enough to declare in writing that I would be an ice skater when I grew up. Life is full of disappointment.
I fell in love with all of these women before the age of eight. And they have stayed with me. Yes, as funny memories to (repeatedly) tell people, but also as expressions of myself. Nancy, let’s face it was nosy – I’m nosy. Supergirl had long blonde hair – I had recently gone through the trauma of having all my (mousey brown) hair chopped off for practical purposes. And Jane Torvill was expressing herself in a creative way that I could understand. I had been ice skating. I liked ice skating. She also rocked the colour purple. I liked purple.
When I fall for a hero, I apparently fall hard. Which is why I am so fascinated by the answer that Donald Trump gave to the seemingly innocuous question ‘do you have any heroes you steer by.’ You’ll not be surprised to hear the response was a rambling mess, but he starts with this: ‘Well, I don’t like heroes, I don’t like the concept of heroes, the concept of heroes is never great...’
I’m not unbiased. I don’t like Trump – he enrages and terrifies me in equal measure. I want to throw things at the television whenever that impossibly small, round mouth starts moving.
But wait. What? You don’t like heroes? Not even as a kid? I mean the man is busy trying to make America great again by signing executive orders that discriminate against women, minorities and – if the rumours are true – the LGBT community, so maybe he doesn’t have much space in his life for other great things, but I just find this statement so depressing.
I can’t think of a single person I know who couldn’t point to at least one childhood hero. I’ve got a cast of thousands, ranging from journalists, authors, actors and singers, to people who have taken up residence in my head thanks to books and films. I’m talking Alice, Ferris Bueller, Cathy Earnshaw, Nan St George, Marty McFly… I could go on. And on.
I’m not trying to dilute the concept of heroes by having so many, it’s just that my life is infinitely richer with them in it. I learned life lessons from some of them - such as never throw open a window on a squally night when you've got a raging fever if you don't want to end up dead (thanks Cathy). And I lived vicariously through others - Ferris is way cooler and braver than I will ever be.
I realise The Donald probably couldn’t give a rat’s backside what I think. But with the world feeling so very far out of my control, I find myself thinking about these people more and more. For me, it’s not a question of liking or disliking a concept, it’s simply about joy. About spending time with people - most of whom I will never meet, either out of sheer unlikeliness, or because, you know, they're not real - who make me happy.
Returning to Alice time and again is comforting, which is ironic given how discomforting the world she finds down the rabbit hole is. I don’t mean in a ‘oh I wish we could all go back to some imagined halcyon past’ way. Just that knowing that she (they) is there waiting for me whenever I need her allows me to take a breather from the world, to get lost in something magical. To live without heroes, to not trust the very idea of them, seems to me a life half lived.
If you haven’t had enough of me waffling on about heroes, then please do check out a brand new podcast that I am doing with my cousin Matt Moon. It’s called Cousins of Hope and is available on all good podcasting outlets. Don’t worry if the name sounds a little earnest. The only evangelism you’ll find is our desire to make you – and ourselves – laugh. It’s going to be a regular podcast about happiness and being yourself and our first subject is all about heroes – ones I haven’t even mentioned here!