Friday, 8 January 2016

Jamie and the Magic Torch

Jamie was a boy of 10. He went to school, had some friends and went to Cub Scouts like a lot of other boys. Jamie was a normal boy in a fairly average sized town in England. He didn't really like football but he played it anyway just so he could have friends, as most of them played football too. He went to Cubs because his parents said it would be good for him to have something to do in the evenings once a week.

Jamie wasn't bad at many things. He didn't like Science or Maths, as they were too boring. There was no imagination in trying to explain how something worked or how many pieces of one thing could be divided into other things. He didn't like Geography and he didn't like religious education. However he wasn't "bad" at them, he just did about average.

What Jamie was good at were subjects like History or English, or Drama. Subjects where he could express himself and use his imagination. His teachers all told his parents just how much he enjoyed writing and how good his stories were. His mother had tutted and said that that might be true but he had to focus on being good at all the other things he DIDN'T like quite so much if he ever wanted to go to university and be a doctor or a vet or a judge.

Jamie didn't want to be a doctor. Or a vet. Or a judge. Jamie wanted to be like Robin Hood or Richard the Lionheart or Sir Walter Raleigh or Spartacus. He wanted to be a hero and have everyone know his name. Another thing that Jamie loved was comic books. He revelled in the classic stuff like Batman and the Avengers but also loved stuff that had a twist. Things like Hellblazer or Preacher. Comics that were supposedly way above his reading level and had stuff that only grown ups were meant to read. Jamie didn't much like the sex bits of the comics but he loved the way that the hero in Preacher wasn't such a good guy. Preacher was rude, aggressive and killed people but ultimately he was a hero because he tried to do the right thing. And as for Hellblazer. Well, John Constantine had once sent a man to hell and told him he deserved it...but again, Constantine was a good guy and he'd done that to save an innocent baby.

Jamie dreamed that he could fly like a bird. That he could fight twenty men at once (even though he knew they probably wouldn't attack him one at a time like in the films). He wanted to be a spy like James Bond. He wanted to do martial arts like Jason Bourne. The more Jamie thought about this the more his imagination ran riot and he loved to write stories, sometimes spending hours in his room scribbling in an exercise book about heroic deeds and righteous justice against abominable villains.

For Jamies 11th birthday his grandmother bought him a torch. It was a special torch because it could shine lights in many different colours and flash and even make noises. Jamie loved this present as it made him feel he was a superhero. He would pretend the torch was magical, waving it around his bedroom. Red for kill (like in those old sci-fi films where the lazer guns made people glow and their skeletons show and then they dissapeared). Green for stun (like in Star Trek). Orange for sleepiness, so people could be taken prisoner. Blue for freeze, like in an old TV show he'd seen in his father's DVDs called Logan's Run.

Jamie loved the torch as it fed his imagination. He wrote stories and would talk to anyone who would listen about how he was going to be a great writer like JK Rowling or Suzanne Collins. His family would laugh and say that was all well and good BUT he had to think about his other subjects too.

Jamie wasn't a bad boy. Nor was he particularly good. He wasn't super popular at school but neither was he hated by other children. He was just a normal, average 11 year old with a very vivid imagination and that made him happy. On long car journeys with his parents he would pass the time staring out of the window making the speeding scenery part of his dreams and fantasies. Jamie was happy because his imagination was a place where he could be a king, a prince or even a god.

One day Jamie's parents got his school report. It noted that Jamie was in the top three in his class for English and the top ten for history but he was very, very low in his other subjects. His parents sat him down and his mother said to him (while staring at him and speaking very slowly and clearly) that he had to think about his future and not think so much about "silly things" and his "silly fantasies". Jamie was sad and tried to argue that his love was writing and his mother told him not to interrupt and repeated everything she'd just said twice until Jamie sat quietly and didn't argue any more.

A few days later when Jamie's mother walked into his bedroom without knocking, to see how he was getting on with his Biology homework, she found Jamie pretending to be a space soldier, using his torch as a ray gun and shining it on the walls, changing the colours. His mother shouted at him that he would only ever be a shelf stacker in Sainsbury's and that he shouldn't be wasting time on his stupid torch. She demanded that Jamie give it to her. He refused and she stepped closer and held out her hand demanding it. Jamie realised that she had no idea how he felt and didn't know just how miserable he was when he wasn't able to use his imagination. He gave it to her, hoping that she would calm down later and would give it him back. Before he could do anything else she snapped the torch in half and threw the pieces into the waste paper bin. Jamie's face crumpled and he started to cry. His mother folded her arms and simply glared at him.

"You won't thank me now Jamie but you'll thank me later. We do enough for you as it is."

Jamie was full of grief. His mother had ruined the toy his grandmother had given him. She had snapped his toy in half and he felt that everything he ever wanted to do was wrong. He shouted back:


His mother glared at him and her eyes filled with tears. Not tears of pity but tears of anger and sadness at what Jamie had said. With her lower lip trembling she waved her index finger at him and said:

"Right you ungrateful little sod! No more lifts to Cubs on a Thursday and no more comic books!"

His mother than sat in her favourite armchair in the lounge and cried for two hours because Jamie had sworn at her and said that she didn't do anything for him. When his father came home he spoke to Jamie's mother and then came and told Jamie he had to go and say sorry for upsetting mum. Jamie refused, staring through swollen eyes at the ruined torch in his wastepaper bin.

In the days and weeks that followed Jamie slowly lost the desire to read all the books that he could lay his hands on. He tried to keep up his passion for reading but he felt that something in him had died when his mother broke his torch in half and threw the pieces away in front of him. He no longer wrote volumes of stories in pencil in his exercise books, the smudges where he'd lent on them making some bits hard to read. Now he just drifted. His marks in English went down but still remained about average. Jamie could write a story or understand a character's motivation in a tale, better than most other people including his teachers. But his desire had gone. His grades in other subjects again became average but overall he was doing well enough to be considered for the second stream at school. There were four in total, with one being for the very clever kids. Two was the slightly better than normal. Jamie's imagination had died with his magic torch. He felt that no one cared how he felt and he was told off constantly at home for "sulking" and making his mother feel bad as she had to come home from a hard day at work to see his pouting features.

His teachers said they were worried about the change in this once smiling and happy young man. His mother said to the deputy head on the next open evening that it was undoubtedly because of the comic books that he read. She hadn't noticed that Jamie had put them in the wardrobe months ago and didn't read them any more.

Jamie took no further love in any subjects at school. He trudged through life feeling alienated and without the zone of fantasy that he'd so gleefully escaped to in the past, he was unhappy and isolated.

The torch wasn't magic in any 'real' sense of that word. It was simply a spark that lit up the world inside Jamie's head. When his mother destroyed it, Jamie's dreams became inaccessible to him.

Years later and Jamie began to write again. He wrote novels for children about bullies and magic and demons and monsters. Stories like the ones he loved to write as a kid. He wrote other books too. Ones that weren't for children. Ones that were dark and sinister and had some people who read them say that Jamie needed help.

Jamie didn't need help. What he needed and had always needed was someone to tell him that his imagination was a wonderful thing. 

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