I started off by doing a review of Christopher Fowler’s autobiography, Paperboy, but then it morphed into a completely different creature almost instantly. Mainly because Fowler did such a good job of relating his childhood so vividly (and the impact of books and cinema), this has become musings on my own childhood obsessions.
Fowler’s account of growing up in the 60’s as a child considered to have too much imagination is an evocative and charming read. The one thing that bugged me about Paperboy was when Fowler said that girls have interests and boys have obsessions. Though, having a problem with this is possibly because I was a wee oddball. I loved dolls, the colour pink, my little pony, keypers and glo worms. But I also loved dinosaurs, astronomy, insects, my chemistry set, magic set, ghost castle, and my slime ball (it was tennis ball size and had a hideous monster face which you squeezed and it would vomit up slime. I know, amazing).
When I was a kid I was a bit slow; it took me a while to realise that it made you odd to like ‘boy’ things. I remember hating Judy Blume books (didn’t seem relevant to me at all) and didn’t even know what Jackie was until a friend went on about it (I was into The Beano, The Dandy and Oor Wullie). And when it comes to obsessions I had loads. I would live in my own little world and had various projects on the go, including a big folder all about space. I was obsessed with the planets, and I remember making little solar system maps and cutting out tinfoil from kitkat wrappers to represent the moon. The books I read tended to be ghost stories, sci-fi or fantasy (I loved Groosham Grange, Nicholas Fisk sci-fi books, and The Secret of the Unicorn Queen series – this one being uber girly, but I didn’t understand why boys couldn’t like it too).
When I reached my teens my cousin taught me how to be a proper girl, which was actually kinda nice because you get to play dress up. I reckon more boys should be taught how to be a girl, as they’re missing out on a whole lotta fun. Anyway, gender is whatever you make it and now I’m all grown up I know it’s just a game, a persona, and mostly about playing dress up. I don’t think I’d want a world without gender, but I would like a world without gender constraints. We should be more laid back about it and not expect a certain way of being from people who we lump into groups (whenever someone on telly says “…all women love handbags and shoes,” I sit there bemused, thinking I musn’t be a woman. Though, as Marian Keyes recently said, there’s nothing wrong with liking handbags and shoes. What is wrong is making vast generalisations based on entrenched notions of gender and what is considered ‘normal’).
What was lovely about Paperboy was finding someone else who was as intense about things as I was as a kid. Fowler loved going to the cinema, and had a particular fondness for Hammer horror. He had a little book where he would write reviews, and I identify with the obsessive geekiness involved in creating his own ‘stills’:
“I decided to fill my Letts Schoolboy Diary with reviews of all the films I sat through, awarding them between one and four stars. If I couldn’t illustrate the review with stills, I would do the next best thing: re-create the scenes with cardboard scenery and six-inch-high plasticine models, then take Polaroids of them. I would use black and white plasticine for the monochrome movies. It never occurred to me that adopting this hobby over, say, constructing an Airfix Messerschmitt would make me appear as mad as a bag of cats.”
– ‘Paperboy’ by Christopher Fowler
I didn’t write reviews, but I had a top 10 that I updated every week if a new release had knocked anything off my list, or if I decided that on this particular week The Goonies would be Number One. This meant neatly writing the list all over again. The rest of the book was filled with clippings and random musings. I swear I had friends when I was wee. Honest. OK, maybe not that many, but I was happy.
Just like Fowler, I had a real love for the cinema as a kid (still do). It has such a delicious atmosphere that you just don’t get in your living room, especially when you have so many siblings (one time my brother rented a video and said it was about fluffy rabbits (I was a big animal lover). After a few minutes of a man being chased through woods (not a fluffy bunny in sight, which was probably just as well given what happened next) I figured my brother was having me on. After the man was captured at a cabin and forced to look in a mirror while another man pointed a gun to his head and said “Witness this” before pulling the trigger, I decided to give the rest of the film a miss. That and watching Robocop and Razorback too young possibly scarred me for life).
The cinema felt like a magical place, which of course it is, as it transports you to a different world. One of my favourite moments was when my big sister took me to see Labyrinth (mainly because she wanted to see Bowie), and another was when my dad took me to The Princess Bride. There was also Empire of the Sun, though an interest in war was a big no-no for a girl and all my mates hated it. I loved my tales of the supernatural in book form, but it wasn’t until I was much older that I discovered the delights of horror films (apart from Gremlins, of course). Fowler, on the other hand, was deliciously obsessed at a young age and dressed up as his favourite characters from books and films:
“My ‘exploded head’ mask from I Was A Teenage Frankenstein had Kath screaming the house down… Vampire victims went down well, if I could keep still for long enough while clutching a sawn-off bloody tent-peg over my heart. This penchant for theatre continued longer than was strictly healthy. Tying a dead pigeon to my blood-spattered forehead for a re-enactment of a scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds proved to be more unhygienic than frightening, and gave me an eye infection.”
– ‘Paperboy’ by Christopher Fowler
So, you can’t go wrong with Paperboy. A great wee read for the holidays, which will take you back to your own childhood in an instant.