Tuesday, 26 May 2015

The Playmobil bus of grief


It is 14 years this summer that my brother died. It seems as if a lifetime has passed since he drowned while swimming off a beach on the Isle of Wight. Our wounds of mourning have healed well in that time and thoughts of him are more fond and nostalgic than grief-stricken. Occasionally, it can feel as if the loss-monster is twisting his dirty spade into my guts - those mornings when I wake up from a dream of him. Or if I hear his voice on a tape recording he has made. Or stumble upon a picture of him as a student, dressed as a horse at Ascot or some such youthful caper.
But generally, it has been ok. Life goes on and we try to remember him without making too much of a fuss.
But watching my two little boys play together, building towns across the living room floor with Duplo Lego and Playmobil (and the odd Spiderman) I am prompted to think about my brother more and more. For much of the day now (bear in mind I am on maternity leave), I think about him and the childhood we shared.
We spent so many hours building cities with Asterix figures and Playmobil, sometimes in my bedroom, sometimes under the big ash tree in the garden, building dug-out houses with roofs of sticks and moss. I remember the total absorption - the ‘flow'- we experienced when we were engaged in these games that came so naturally.
The importance of these memories came to the fore recently when my parents started passing on my own Playmobil sets to my children. Previous kits (a police car, a medieval castle) had been torn to pieces by my not-quite-old-enough offspring and I was not keen to see my beloved 1980s stuff destroyed in a moment.
"Just let them enjoy them, it doesn’t matter if they get broken" my dad had said offhandedly. I try not to be too materialistic, but I found this wanton squandering of my toys painful.
I had to steal my tattered Playmobil school bus away and hide it in the wardrobe, the thought of it being torn apart by a three-year-old was so unthinkable. 
It took me a while to work out why these lumps of plastic were so important to me. Why does it hurt so much when the youngest one tears a headlamp off and loses it between the floorboards? Why do I feel a tear in my eye when I see three figures of schoolchildren with their hair torn off?
Then it occurred to me: the Playmobil sets are among the last few things I have left of my brother. We pushed that little bus around in the dirt endlessly and it became the basis for so many stories and scenarios that we shared. To lose the bus would be to lose a symbol of those happy and innocent times, before life brought us insecurities and responsibilities and grief.
I have resolved to keep the bus in its hiding place - I will allow myself to preserve this little relic. I have started to raid Ebay to keep the children kitted out with Playmobil sets with less sentimental value. I have my eye on an incredible exploding volcano/Jurassic scene, a sweetshop and a playground. I can’t wait to start playing with them.

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