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Elizabeth Hawksley: A Disaster

September 22, 2010

One of my favourite books as a child was ‘A Child’s Day through the Ages’ by Dorothy Margaret Stuart. One of the stories, set in Athens in 438 BC, tells of the arrival of a baby brother to ten-year-old Ageladas and his little sister, Doricha.

It is a time of rejoicing. Their father hangs a garland of olive above the front door to tell everyone that a son has been born. But, as Ageladas’ tutor adds, ‘There is little joy when a girl is born and they hang up a fillet of wool so that their friends may know that there will be no great merry-making.’

Poor Doricha has a rotten time, ‘Already she had been taught that girls must always give way to boys, as women did to men; already she had been made to understand that her part in life would not be to have fun and do interesting things, but to learn to weave and bake and spin, so that some day she might be a good housewife like her mother.’

However, there is one thing Doricha does which sounded really exciting. And that is play on a see-saw – Greek style: ‘Greek children did not sit on either end of the see-saw; they stood up-right, on their toes, keeping perfect balance and timing their jumps to the second.’

There was a see-saw at my Primary school on the edge of the play-ground, next to a rockery. So I tried see-sawing the Ancient Greek way, standing up. Unfortunately, I didn’t have Doricha’s perfect balance or timing. I fell onto the rockery and ended up in hospital having my head stitched.

‘What on earth were you doing standing up?’ asked my mother, crossly.

How could I possibly explain? I spent much of my childhood living as somebody else in my head, in other times and other places. I’d been there, with Doricha, enjoying her feeling of freedom as she timed her jumps perfectly. I still bear the scar – but perhaps it’s a small price to pay for the gift of imagination.

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