Childhood is always the most important part of anyone’s life. It might seem a shame as we can never go back or change it, so we often look at the world through the same childlike eyes; perhaps why so many of us feel the same as we did all those years ago. Some of us ‘grow up’, and some of us still have that child very much inside of us.
Mine was a happy childhood. I lived in the countryside, had very close friends, and played in woods, fields, rivers, and through what seemed like endless hot summers.
I embraced everything around me with the wonder only a child can have. I collected bugs and caterpillars, raised them to adulthood, dissected owl pellets under hot lamps until my bedroom smelt like rancid roadkill, desperately tried to manufacture explosives for a multitude of failed moon shots, built radios, metal detectors and all kinds of electric devices. My dad often helped but I was never encouraged, just a natural inquisitiveness.
It was Carl Sagan who changed my life. I watched his RI Christmas Lectures on the planets and was hooked instantly. Sagan was someone I could relate to; he had an aura of wonder… like a child. I persuaded my parents to buy a telescope and from then on, every clear night I would escape to the garden sketching celestial scenes as I scoured the night sky for yet to be discovered objects.
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I ended up at university studying astrophysics. For once I was being told all the answers. Some would say that this is the beauty of science; the ability to take something seemingly unexplainable, wrap it up in mathematical packaging, tie a bow of physical laws around it and deliver it neatly via chalk on the blackboard. For me, it felt like there was so much we already knew it would take a lifetime to reach the unknown. I felt intimidated. I regret losing that child when I could have been embracing the knowledge around me.
My early adulthood was less than conventional. I became a musician and entered a strange but loving community of misfits with huge artistic talents. It wasn’t a puritanical life. I’ll leave it at that. Eventually, after fame and fortune failed to find me, I did the last thing I ever thought I would… I became a teacher.
I loved teaching science and embraced the awe and enthusiasm you get from young students. I was always theatrical, and I guess a bit of a show-off. The performer inside me used ever more spectacular ways to get a message across. I loved sharing my knowledge with students; lessons felt more like a show than a dry instructional course.
Teaching is a hard mistress though. I finished as Head of Science and as the increasing workload, accountability, and systems took over – I lost the love. Having to force me to get up every morning took its’ toll on my mental health. I lost the child within and life changed from a joyful experience to a prison-like sentence. Depression is something I never thought would happen to me and it hit me hard. It’s difficult to describe the impact it has if you have never suffered. My life collapsed around me. I find it hard to talk about without massive regret for the pain and hardship it put on those around me.
Magic became an obsession; something I could lose myself in, a way to block out the demons and give me a sense of achievement. I felt like that child always looking for answers. They say it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at something… I’m now an expert. I gave up teaching and became a professional magician.
I enjoy what I do. I make people happy for a living, continue to work with children, sometimes in schools and on my own terms. It helps me to focus and I learn something new each day. Like all arts there is never an end… you can always do better… there is always a different way to do things or a new discovery to make. My inner child, the Prodigal Son has returned at last.
The funny thing is you spend hours practicing something, so it looks like you are not doing anything, and the only explanation is ‘magic’. It is the opposite of teaching. I guess life is never a linear progression. Always be prepared to step outside, embrace change, never regret, and never lose that child which is inside of you.