Hazel McHaffie

Reality or fantasy?

There’s been a real battle raging in my head and heart this week. All because of a wedding. No, not that wedding; my niece’s nuptials.

The event was near London, so we decided to take a leisurely route travelling down, and do a little exploring along the way. Fine in principle. There is still so much of this island we haven’t seen.

But what I didn’t bargain for was my brain seizing on ideas and galloping off into new creative realms, leaving me swithering between reality and fantasy and doing neither proper justice.blossom at AlnwickAfter wandering round the lovely grounds, As I listened to graphic tales of deadly plants in the Poison Garden at Alnwick Castle Gardens, in Northumberland, (famous now as Hogwarts School in the Harry Potter films) my mind raced with possibilities for a tale of a breathtakingly audacious murder. A little of this, a little of that, titrated into a rich aromatic curry …

IMG_1872 The water cascade Gazing at the changing patterns of the amazing water features in the ornamental gardens took me into Jane Austen/Jeffery Farnol territory and I was mentally scribbling formal dialogue between muslin-clad teenagers and fancy waistcoated dandies, wandering through the bamboo maze, sketching the turrets and towers, taking tea in the shade of these very same boughs.

Woolsthorpe ManorPeering into the gloom of Isaac Newton’s rudimentary study at Woolsthorpe Manor in Lincolnshire, standing inches away from the centuries-old rustic furniture of his home, the imagination conjured up rural scenes of yesteryear. A young man lost in philosophical realms, experimenting with prisms, pondering the skies, forgetting his farmland responsibilities, sitting under this famous tree being hit by the famous apple …Newton's TreeThe despair of his widowed mother … a landlord bending to extract the dog-eared account book from the drawer of the rent-chair … the bleary-eyed maid stirring the simmering pot of stew at 4am, staggering back to her truckle bed, forgetting to pull the ropes under her mattress tight … the young master finding her …

So many stories, lurking just beneath the surface; such a wealth of research material there for the picking. It was hard to keep dragging myself back to the real world, and adjusting to the everyday 21st century with its deadlines and digital cameras, its mobile phones and motorway traffic. I had to escape periodically, wander off on my own, scribble some notes, let the pictures fade, before I was ready for normal trivial conversation.

The morning of the wedding though, had to be uncomplicated. This was 16 April 2011 after all – a day we’d had on the calendar for ages. I was determined. Now was the time to focus on corsages and buttonholes, cufflinks and waistcoats, fascinators and seating plans, the hymns and order of service … But then my niece, the bride, appears on the arm of her father and she looks as if she’s stepped straight out of a bygone era …

Ah me, the imagination is a wonderful thing. It got me into all sorts of trouble when I was a child. The years have taught me how to harness it for good much of the time, but there are occasions when I am less in this world than I should be. Re-entry can be painful and confusing, but I wouldn’t trade my old-fashioned imaginator, a free gift from my parents, for any modern gizmo, no matter its price!

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