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Columnists

The tense past

Sarah Dean

Sorting through the detritus of childhood retrieved from a parental loft is a task that I have found to be part nostalgia, part mortifying embarrassment and part terrifying, psychological insight into the adult you. You need to be emotionally strong and ruthless in chucking stuff out. For example while the diary I wrote when I was eight was hilariously grandiose and written with a view that it would one day be 'discovered and read by future generations' I decided the British Library probably didn't need my painstaking records of what we had for tea, how cute Samanatha's gerbil is and what I watched on telly (Blankety Blank and Mash mostly). Likewise I did not reread the teenage notebooks containing way too detailed accounts of snogging boys at gigs.

One thing I did hang onto was a primary school creative writing book. Alongside some pretty groundbreaking poems about autumn leaves ('Scrunch. Scrunch') and fireworks ('Whoosh! Bang!'), there was an incredibly telling essay called 'What I dream about'. The opening line is 'The things I dream about the most are being at Brownies and Nuclear War.' Whoa there! That's some textbook early 80s childhood neuroses you've got there Past-Me! I don't really remember the dreams about skipping round the toadstool, saluting Brown Owl and doing my hostess badge, but I do remember all too clearly waking up terrified due dreaming that the three minute warning had gone off.

This subconscious terror wasn't surprising. A voracious reader, I had scared the living daylights out of myself by reading several dystopian, post-nuclear YA novels at the local library when I was far too Y and nowhere near being an A. Plus my Dad believed in telling children the truth and so his response to my question 'What would happen if a nuclear bomb went off?' was basically a blow-by-blow account of the 80s TV programme Threads, including a detailed description of radiation sickness. On reflection a bit more lying and make believe would have suited this sleep-deprived-child turned- anxious-adult just fine thanks.

Another mind-bending and precocious essay I found was called 'Why God is for adults and Jesus is for children'. My premise seemed to be that there are lots of illustrations of Jesus in Children's' Bibles but no pictures of God, meanwhile in Bibles for adults there are no illustrations of either Jesus or God. Therefore I concluded that adults can cope with believing in a God they can't see while kids can't, so Jesus, God-made-man, is God's way of helping us kiddies along in our faith.

Obviously my argument renders Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith as a bit of an add-on, but you can see my logic. As the Psalmist says 'Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings', and rereading definitely got me thinking about the necessity of incarnation.

I remember writing the essay at home and taking it out to my Dad, who was cleaning the car . His terrifyingly honest response was 'No, we (adults) find it hard to believe in a God we can't see too' and he went back to hosing down the Cortina. At this point I added the salvation of my Dad to the list of things to lie awake worrying about.