Children hide behind chairs for all sorts of reasons. Some fun, some not fun at all. When I was setting up my website a couple of months ago, I needed a title for it. Like my Sara Gethin pen name which had been sitting at the back of my mind for years, I had a name in reserve for the blog. It was a name that connected to the five-year-old child in my novel, ‘Not Thomas’, and his habit of hiding behind a big black chair whenever things at home got scary, or when someone unexpectedly knocked on the door. It was ‘The View from behind the Chair’.
I can relate to Tomos’s habit of curling up small behind the big chair. Don’t get me wrong, my childhood was happy and nothing at all like Tomos’s, but at around his age I did spend quite a lot of time behind a chair. I was hiding too – hiding from people who made fun of me.
Well, they didn’t make fun of me exactly, just the fact that I was still attached to my old bottle at four years old. A baby’s bottle that was never filled. I loved it, that empty plastic bottle. We were inseparable. It was like the dummy I’d never had.
There was once a photo of me with it in my mouth, taken by accident. I was standing at the back of a large family group, peeping through the adults’ legs. And there it was – Bottle – hanging like an oversized cigarette from the corner of my lip. No one realised I had popped it in my mouth.
But when the photos eventually came back from the chemist (it was that long ago) oh, the shame! I still remember it. Here was hard evidence of my odd habit. It was burned in the fireplace – the photo that is, not the bottle (Bottle survived to suffer a different fate at a later date) and he and I ran off once more to our hiding place behind the big chair.
Despite the problems he caused me, Bottle also made me think on my feet. One day, a neighbour came to our open back door while I was playing in the kitchen with my older brother and sister. My bottle, as usual, was firmly clamped between my teeth. As I looked in horror at our ‘Aunty’ Lois standing on the doorstep, I silently and with an ashen-faced whipped the bottle from my mouth and dropped it behind my back into the laundry basket my mother was carrying on her way to our top-loader washing machine.
My family thought it was hilarious, especially as I’d stood there staring at the woman for a good five seconds with the bottle still in my mouth before I’d surreptitiously (or so I’d thought) disposed of it. They were still recounting the story years later. It caused me quite a lot of confusion as a child. I was so proud that I’d done something my family thought very, very funny, but I was also ashamed because Bottle was a part of the story. And I was ashamed of Bottle.
Of course, I would never have felt Bottle was shameful if other people hadn’t made me feel that way. While my immediate family mostly ignored my habit, I was teased mercilessly by my many uncles whenever they visited, which was often. I spent hours behind that chair in our lounge, waiting for them to go home so Bottle and I could come out.
I can vividly recall the texture of the fabric on the chair’s back, the raised pattern beneath my fingers, the smell of the cloth, and yes, the view, half obscured by the arm of the chair. A section of the TV screen, a glimpse of a programme I’d been looking forward to seeing. And all the time listening for my name to be mentioned, along with a teasing – ‘What have you got behind there? Come out and show us’.
That’s absolutely nowhere near as bad as the problems some people endured in childhood, I know. And it’s nothing like what poor Tomos has to put up with in my novel. But remembering how I felt as a young child back then certainly helped me put myself in Tomos’s place – small and uncomfortable.
My ‘problem’ was easily resolved in the end. Bottle broke. I’d tried to take good care of him, but he was four years old. That’s ancient for a bottle. So he ended up in the dustbin and I cried and cried. But eventually I got over him. Life without him was easier. And there was no reason to hide behind the chair anymore.
Sadly, that’s Tomos’s place now.
And the blog ended up being called ‘Not Me’, like ‘Not Thomas’, because I’m not Sara, I’m Wendy really. What do you reckon, should I have gone for ‘The View from behind the Chair’ instead?
All other views considered.