Sunday, 10 August 2014

The Return of Wild Girl

Courtesy of

‘With every day that passes, I care a bit less about how I look.’

I said this to my sister a few days into our annual extended family holiday in Wales, recognising in my growing relaxation about appearances the whisper of an ancient call, a train whistle or a wolf howl in the distance, the rustle of grasses or the rush of wind through foliage, urging me to come outside.

I always start these holidays with civilised intentions.

 I take outfits for a variety of occasions and an array of products and electrical goods to tame my hair. We visit relatives on our first full day: always a best summer dress occasion with delicious welsh cakes eaten among ornaments and catch-up chat. After that, my wardrobe choices begin to break free. T-shirts and shorts seem adequate for most things, and family don’t notice if they are the same ones I wore yesterday. My hair reverts to the style I had when I was three, with additional roughness caused by cliff-top walks and sea water. By the time I made the comment to my sister, I had rediscovered the joys of sea swimming, rock scrambling and windswept mountain-tops, and had managed to injure both feet through heedless barefoot adventuring. I burst out of the cottage every day as soon as I woke up, thirsty for the morning smell of the air, and spent days gazing at red kites, buzzards and a proper rural fox in all their hunting glory. Towards the end of the week I recognised the return of the wild girl who lies stifled and half-forgotten inside me.

That's me in the middle, a day or so in, already not caring much

The truth is, I don’t think I was made to be civilised.
As a child, I attracted dirt the way boys are meant to, and I craved the adventures that are supposed to be theirs. I dreamed of being an enfant sauvage; one of the happiest afternoons of my life was spent with a like-minded friend, on the common, dressing ourselves in ferns like the last vestiges of a forgotten tribe. I loved to spend hot, dusty summer hours in the garden and come in filthy at bathtime. At the top of our garden, beyond Dad’s bean row was an area called ‘the dump’; really just scrubby ground with huge tree-studded hedges you could crawl into and make camps in; this was my jungle home. I loved the head-rushing excitement of tipping my bike over the top of an enormous hill and hurtling down with the wind roaring in my ears, my heart zinging and mouth watering with the thrilling taste of risk.

I still remember the sadness of no longer being allowed to run around bare-chested in the summer.

It was all over for Wild Girl when she was called in from the garden and had to put on a training bra. As time went on, I learned to be self-conscious as we all do, as though an apparently empty room turns out in fact to be crowded with people with their eyes on us, commenting. From then on, to my confusion and regret, clothes mattered; hair mattered; vital statistics mattered, and in all areas, I had to make a lot of effort to satisfy the watching eyes.

Our annual holiday is in so many ways a return to childhood.

 We spend time with our parents, we visit places we have been going to for years. This year it reminded me of Wild Girl, who still lives inside me, for whom dressing nicely, pottering around shops and chatting over teacups are a learned behaviour, a veneer of civilisation disguising a still-pounding, savage heart. Perhaps we all have a wild child inside us – a Mowgli or a Tarzan with a dreaming jungle home – perhaps that’s why tales of enfants sauvages speak to us, because we retain the impulses of childhood that made us happy before we were taught to sit still, keep clean and come indoors.