In my Twitter profile I describe myself as an ‘intrepid explorer of [my] Inner Child’. If your Inner Child bears any relation to your historic child – or your memories of it – (Sun may be able to help me out on this one), then my Inner Child is an often unhappy one. Which is kind of ridiculous, given that it (I) has nothing to be unhappy about. Yet many of my memories are of the hurting times, when I was pushed about or humiliated or laughed at because of my general nerdiness, physical weakness and sporting ineptitude. (Anything involving a ball was totally outside my competence; the only sport I even aspired to mediocrity in was cross-country running, when out of a year group, instead of coming last I sometimes managed to come in about 2/3 of the way down the field.)
I blame my mother. Of course. But for all the best of reasons. She had a hell of a childhood: orphaned at 4, and growing up in a succession of children’s homes during the week while her single mother had to work to provide. Consequently when she married and had a family of her own, she was determined to protect her son (and later, daughters) from the hardships she had suffered. So we were protected, wrapped in cotton wool, never allowed to take risks, and generally taught to be rather fearful of life and everything outside the safe haven of home.
My historic Inner Child is a poor, unhappy, shrinking, timid thing.
Yet he is also an idealist, an aspiring hero.
Which is why one of my favourite hymns from the days of school assemblies, is Jan Struther’s now rather unfashionable ‘When a knight won his spurs‘.
When a knight won his spurs, in the stories of old,
he was gentle and brave, he was gallant and bold;
with a shield on his arm and a lance in his hand,
for God and for valour he rode through the land.
No charger have I, and no sword by my side,
yet still to adventure and battle I ride,
though back into storyland giants have fled,
and the knights are no more and the dragons are dead.
Let faith be my shield and let joy be my steed
‘gainst the dragons of anger, the ogres of greed;
and let me set free, with the sword of my youth,
from the castle of darkness the power of the truth.
Jan Struther (1901-1953)
And yes, it still brings the tears to my eyes and a lump to my throat, and dreams to my mind of strength and heroism and derring-do. Can I still sing this, now that the sword of my youth – even if it was a wooden one – has long been consigned to the old chest in the attic of memory? Well, yes, I can. I’m taking that sword down again from the attic. It’s not wooden at all, but finest tempered steel that only needs polishing up a bit. I’m not hanging it above the fireplace, like some ancestral trophy in a baronial hall. I’m fastening it on my belt again. I’m just as determined to fight for the truth, and release it from its captivity to the powers of darkness, as ever I was. That’s not a childish fantasy, but a determination thoroughly worthy of any adult, of any age.
So who’s with me, then?
In those stirring cries my Inner Child loves:
Up, guards, and at ‘em!
The game’s afoot!
Aux armes, citoyens!
And so on.