There was a teen-age boy with big dreams, he was going to travel and see the world but life had other plans for him and he ended up stuck in a job in a basement. So he zoned out, he daydreamed. Until, that is, circumstance would force his hand and send him on the adventure of a lifetime.
In a nutshell that’s the story of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, a film by, and with, Ben Stiller, and one which I have just watched. It’s a kind of fairy-tale for the modern age and resonates with me. Not because I relate to Walter’s situation, I’ve had plenty of adventures, but because I relate to Walter the dreamer.
It always starts with a dream, and let’s face it, I’m constantly dreaming of far-away lands. I picture myself sat by a fire, by a lake, along the Pamir Highway in Tajikistan or hiking through meadows as shepherds and their dogs care for their sheep in the Carpathian Mountains in Romania. I’ll pick up a magazine and see a photo of Tokyo by night and am transported there in an instant, heading out to sing karaoke with the best of them (not that I sing much karaoke mind you).
And then, sometimes, the dream becomes real, and sometimes reality matches the dream. I went to New York many years ago. I’d not been there since I was 3 years old so it was all new to me, and it was all there, walking up the avenues, going up the World Trade Centre (as I said, many years ago), going to a free concert in Central Park. The best bit, however, the one that’s stuck with me most, was a short walk from the station to my friend’s apartment. She lived in Brooklyn, in a fairly residential area and her place was a few minutes from the subway (which by then was overground). On the way I passed some kids playing basket-ball, walked by a vent in the road from which steam was escaping, saw people sat on their front step watching the world go by. All that was missing was for a fire hydrant to have been opened and some children to play with the water. It was straight out of the movies and I loved it. After all, the dream doesn’t always have to be of Central Asian steppes or Bornean jungles.
Even now, as I should be packing in preparation for a trip to the Caribbean island of Dominica, I find myself dreaming of where next. Even tomorrow, when I’ll be sat on a plane crossing the Atlantic Ocean, I’m sure I’ll be looking at the flight-path map and start dreaming. No doubt I’ll see the Azores on that map and my mind will wander towards what it might be like to visit these islands, I may then spot Miami, a city I’ve visited (and am not too bothered about) but will probably start thinking of the Cayes, or Keys, which were home to the likes of Hemingway and that stretch to the south, or the Everglades with its ‘gators and Spanish-moss covered trees.
Then I’ll arrive in Dominica and my daydreaming will subside, just like Walter’s. I’ll let myself be enveloped by the island. No doubt I’ll try to imagine what it must have been like when Christopher Columbus first arrived in these parts (they say it’s the only island he’d recognise today), and will probably have some romanticised notions of the island’s pirates days, but I’ll also be beaming at just being there. I’ll be excited by the dense forest, lulled by the soft accents spoken here, and charmed by the sight of the sun setting over the Caribbean Sea, possibly with a rum-punch in my hand.
A few days later I’ll board a plane heading back to London and will look at the map, once more, and notice Iceland up at the top. That’s when I’ll start daydreaming about waterfalls tumbling over a green landscape and fishing villages of red and yellow houses