I am feeling much better. Still not so much with the sleeping, but not sick anymore, so that's a bonus.
Have you seen that website I Used To Believe? It's an amusing read. People submit the crazy things they used to believe when they were little, like believing you could grow potatoes in your ears if you didn't wash behind them properly. (Anyone else's parents tell them that? No? Just me then!)
There are lots of funny and crazy things kids believe. I think it's because when we're little, we're so much better at the whole suspension of disbelief thing. Once we get older we need proof, but before the age of, what, 11 or 12 we take most things totally at face value.
I will never forget the day the 'Smiley Gang' was spotted near my school. I must have been 9 or 10. It was just a regular day at school. My junior school was huge so each year group had their own playground. I must have been in Year 5, because I have clear memories of the discussion taking place in the Year 5 playground.
It was morning break and we were all doing our thing, as kids do. The boys were living up to the stereotypical "jumpers-for-goalposts" scenario, with the goalie playing monkey rush because there were only 3 or 4 on each team, and us girls were dotted around in twos or threes walking and talking hand in hand, or playing clapping games, feeding into another cliche. I was with my friend who for this purpose I shall call Hannah.
Hannah and I were walking the perimeter of the playground, trying to avoid the stray footballs that resulted from the boys' poor aim. The twins came up to us looking scared. We asked them what was wrong.
"Have you heard of the Smiley Gang?" Asked twin number one.
"No," Hannah and I whispered, desperate and yet deathly afraid to hear more. The nature of this particular gang suggested by their name was not backed up by the tone of twin number one's voice.
"They're this gang that drives around in this blue van," said twin number two. "They wait around for kids and then if they catch you they get a knife and make tiny little cuts in the corners of your mouth. Then they put acid on it."
"Acid? On the cuts?" I was horrified.
"Yeah, but that's not the worst of it," said twin number one, relishing the moment. "Then they punch you in the stomach and it makes your face rip right along the cuts. That's why they're called the Smiley Gang, 'cause they give you this big huge smile for the rest of your life."
Hannah and I were frozen to the spot at the very thought. "Why are you telling us about them?" Hannah whispered, dreading the response.
"Charlee saw a blue van on her way to school this morning," said twin number one. "That means they're around."
Hannah and I glanced around at the alleyway that ran adjacent to the playground on one side and the woodlands that sprawled for miles behind us. If you visit my old school now the woodlands is all fenced off, but in the early nineties the world was obviously still considered safe enough to allow children to play near the woods with minimal risk. We were not allowed to play in them, but of course we did, never straying far from the school, but daring each other to jump back and forth across the tiny stream that marked the boundary of the woods and the school.
Suddenly the woods that held so many happy memories seemed full of danger, evil positively resonating from the very trees.
The whistle blew and we lined up for class, but how much work we actually got done, who can say? The classroom buzzed with talk of the Smiley Gang. Suddenly more sightings were coming out of the woodwork. Things that had seemed innocuous hours earlier suddenly reinforced Charlee's story. Someone had seen smiley face stickers stuck on trees and the fence all down one side of the alleyway. That was the Smiley Gang's symbol, their way of marking their territory - territory in which they would hunt little children in order to give them a permanent 'smile'.
Lunchtime came verging on hysteria. Suddenly kids were seeing clues everywhere. No one from any of the six Year 5 classes would pass an imaginary line that would place them too close to the woods. Hannah and I hung out as close to the woods as we could stand, whispering to each other, on the verge of tears from fear, but compelled to look out for clues or sightings.
Lunchtime passed without incident. No children were discovered hideously disfigured. After a few days the rumours died down and we got used to playing close to and even in the woods again. But it was a long time before I really believed that the whole incident was make believe, based on rumours and urban myths.
For children, the monster under the bed is real. The vampire outside the window exists. The sadistic gang of villains is truly parked a block away from their school.
Despite how scared I used to be of even getting out of bed in the middle of the night, part of me is nostalgic for that time, when my whole world was dependent on the heights and depths of my imagination.