When I was a child I believed in anything and everything that was magical and wondrous in this world.
I believed in Father Christmas. I believed in the fairies at the bottom of my grandma’s garden. I even believed that, if I could some day conjure up the correct happy thought, I would fly.
I knew magic was real because, when I was seven years old, I received incontrovertible proof that the Easter Bunny existed.
Despite my keen interest in chocolate and all things sugar and nice, the Easter Bunny had been an aloof figure in our household. Mum strongly disapproved of Easter eggs, reasoning that a good, solid slab of Cadbury’s constituted both better value for money and, crucially, more chocolate.
So, because I was no sap, I knew that Easter eggs had nothing to do with a giant, basket-wielding bunny. Rather, it had everything to do with me lobbying mum for whatever chocolate was in vogue, in its all-important egg form. I’d then receive three paltry eggs: one, begrudgingly, from mum; and one from each set of grandparents. The Easter Bunny meant nothing to me.
But then He made Himself known to me.
We were clearing the bottom of our back garden, shortly after moving into a big, ramshackle Victorian house. I’d been hacking uselessly at decades of stinging nettles and brambles with a rake twice as tall as my seven-year-old self, when I discovered something curious: a pile of wood and wires.
My parents told me it must be an old chicken coop. And it was amid the tangled remains of this alleged ‘chicken coop’ that I found the most amazing, miraculous thing I’d ever clapped eyes on. Hiding, half-buried in the dirt, was a pale white egg. ‘An egg?’ I pried it up and inspected it. ‘Ooh… An egg!’ But this was no ordinary egg. No, siree. It was hard and heavy, like a rock. It felt warm and tactile in my hands, and had a friendly farmyard-ish smell.
I yelled for mum and dad to come see, guarding the precious egg from my younger brother and our evil beagle. I held the egg aloft. Mum complained that it reeked of chicken shit and carried on wrestling with the weeds. Dad shrugged and said it was a fake ceramic egg that you gave to broody hens to cheer them up when you took their real eggs away.
I deduced that it was a dragon’s egg, on account of its rock-like composition.
I’d never heard anything so ludicrous in all my livelong days – chickens lounging around on fake eggs! No, I knew what I was dealing with here. This was a magic egg, no mistaking. I deduced that it was a dragon’s egg, on account of its rock-like composition. (Though the farmyard odour was perplexing…)
The only way to be sure, of course, was to wait until the damn thing hatched.
And so, after much, much wining, I was given permission to perch my magic egg in an eggcup at the back of the airing cupboard. Thus stinking out the whole top two floors of our house.
But it was a price worth paying because, with each morning that I scurried from my bedroom to my makeshift incubator to inspect the egg’s progress, I grew surer of the magical magic-ness of whatever was about to burst forth from that shell. Dragon. Stone-chicken. Whatever. I knew my faith would be rewarded.
And then, finally, five days later – when the stench of chicken shit was so thick in the air that you could taste it – my egg yielded its secret.
I stood in front of the airing cupboard blinking in bewilderment. My egg, my magic egg, had hatched into not one – but two – Kinder Surprise chocolate eggs.
Now, the fact that my egg had transmogrified into chocolate form was not in itself surprising. Disappointing, but not surprising. Still magic.
But why were there two chocolate eggs? One for me… And one for my entirely undeserving brother, who’d contributed nothing to the finding and nurturing of this magic egg.
Being no sap, I immediately suspected mum was behind this. She’d been moaning all week about her washing being impregnated with ‘eau de chicken poo’ and so I quizzed her carefully on whether she, in fact, had switched the magic egg for Kinder ones.
But mum was as mystified as me.
“Perhaps it was the Easter Bunny?” she speculated.
I wasn’t satisfied that it was actually Easter-time, but went away to weigh up the evidence.
The most compelling of which was that there was no Easter egg in the whole wide world that mum reacted as vehemently to as she did the Kinder Surprise. She’d rant and rave: they were overpriced, there’s hardly any chocolate to them, the toys inside are a load of tat that she’d just have to chuck away the next day, she’d rather buy a Dairy Milk and a Milky Bar and a crappy toy than waste her money… On and on she’d go.
I had to accept it – mum was simply incapable of buying, not one, but two Kinder Surprises. She would spontaneously combust at the checkout.
So there it was. The incontrovertible proof that the Easter Bunny – whom I could be entirely dispassionate and rational about – was real.
But fast-forward – I want to say one, but it’s probably closer to two years – and mum is ushering me into the sitting room for A Serious Talk.
Dad is there, too, and he’s never before troubled himself with united-front parenting. So when he asks me to sit down, I conclude someone important had died. Possibly my brother… Or maybe they’ve finally discovered where I’ve scratched ‘I hate mum and dad’ on the bannister with a compass point.
Either way, this is serious. I brace myself.
Father Christmas isn’t real and everything you believe in is a lie.
I don’t remember word-for-word, but basically mum blurts out something like: “Father Christmas isn’t real and everything you believe in is a lie.”
Apparently, me and another kid at school are the last two believers (HALLELUJAH! AMEN!) and are being bullied. So my parents decided to stage an intervention.
Father Christmas is my God. I’m confident I have not nodded off once during my annual Christmas Eve stakeouts. I cannot process what I’m being told about the stockings and half-drunk sherries being all dad.
“Well, how come presents from Father Christmas are wrapped in a different wrapping paper?” I demand.
Dad claims he just used a different roll.
Suddenly the logical next question as to where the heck all my carefully penned letters to Santa went doesn’t seem quite so pressing. Because I am no sap. I realise that this is a lie of such magnitude – such a soul-shaking, world-changing lie – that flying reindeer, toy-making elves and personalised letters purporting to be from the North Pole are just the tip of the iceberg.
“But what about the Tooth Fairy?” I venture in a weak voice.
That’s when the whole, horrible truth comes tumbling out – there is no Tooth Fairy. Mum just slips 50p under our pillows and flushes the teeth down the loo. There are no fairies living down the bottom of grandma’s garden. And, no matter how happy my thoughts, I will never, ever be able to fly.
I sit on the sofa, sobbing, flanked by my parents, who think they’ve exhausted the long list of weird and wonderful things in which their daughter so zealously believed.
But I say nothing about the Easter Bunny.
He remains a conundrum in the very back of my mind as I go forth into the world without anything to believe in. I know, of course, that he isn’t real; it’s the fact that I so easily came to believe he was, without much influence from adults and without even particularly wanting to, that bothered me.
Many years later, I asked mum – who had still never bought a Kinder egg – for the truth. She confessed: she did buy them, just that once. And she threw my magic egg in the bin.
I say nothing, but can’t help but wonder: my dragon must be pretty fucking big by now…