Ian McMillan: Lost and found

Ian McMillanIan McMillan
Ian McMillan
I love it when you come out of the cinema on a spring afternoon and you step from the dark into the bright sunshine and you're blinking a little bit disorientated and but still, for a few minutes at least, you're in the film you've just been watching. The streets of your Yorkshire town become the streets of Paris and the canal you wander by on the way to the station gleams like the Seine. The man standing in the doorway of a shop reading a newspaper becomes a spy and the woman glancing at you from a passing tram could be the Rom in your Rom-Com if only you could catch her eye before the accordion music gets too loud.

Eventually, of course, reality intrudes and the film fades away and you’re back washing the pots and drying them with a novelty tea-towel with daft Yorkshire words on it that you bought at a garden centre. For those brief moments art and life walked side by side and one informed the other. I love that feeling of total immersion and for me that’s one of the joys of reading, which, after all, is your own private cinema; it’s the way that the characters in a book can burrow themselves into your brain via the power of words that makes reading such a delightful and unique thing to do.

As a boy I would dive deeper and deeper into the books I read, burrowing down into the settee and almost enveloping myself in the pages like they were a tent or a comforting scarf and I could become the fictional people I was reading about. I was Biggles, flying daring sorties over enemy lines; I was Billy Bunter scoffing tuck and waiting for his postal order. As I grew older I became James Bond, asking my mam for my Tizer shaken not stirred when I wandered into the kitchen with Dr No still buzzing around my head.

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To be lost in a book is not to be really lost, I reckon; it’s to be somehow found, in a strange kind of way. I’ve found myself in books many times, found characters who have educated me in how to think and how to see the world and descriptions of places that made me want to visit them.

That’s why I don’t mind when the older generation (which would include me) talk about the younger generation (which would include almost everybody else, these days) spending too much time on computer games when they could be out dancing with the butterflies or looking at tree-trunks. The young people know the difference between fantasy and reality just as I knew that I wasn’t really Billy Bunter. We all need to be able to be somebody else living somewhere else for a while.

My ambition, though, is to be a character in a book, and to make some mark on the plot, if only in a minor way. Then, when I read the book I could read about me being me and pretend that I was 
me being me.

My head hurts. It’s time to read a book, I reckon.

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