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Did you have an imaginary friend? We explore the magical worlds invented by children

PUBLISHED: 09:02 09 June 2017

Ella Fordham reading Imaginary Deedee. Picture Serena Fordham

Ella Fordham reading Imaginary Deedee. Picture Serena Fordham

Serena Fordham

Rollerskating horses, park playmates with pale pink hair, cranky crocodiles or a world of kittens and walking trees hidden behind child-only tubes – we celebrate childhood imaginary friends

Midnight Black, Periwinkle, Dapple Grey, Dobbin, Sunlight, Moonlight, Starlight, I can still reel off the names of my imaginary horses, as smoothly as they used to be pulled along by our car, their hooves slotted into roller-skates, their bridles attached to a rope which I could wind to and fro in order to chat from the back seat of our ancient car to whichever pony I chose.

On the other side of the car my sister had a similar (but slightly inferior, obv) string of horses, beginning with Great Javin, Middle Javin and Little Javin, who also careered after us on roller skates. Once we went on a holiday on a ferry and they were towed behind the boat on individual rubber rings.

I think our parents probably preferred them on roller skates or in rubber rings because when we weren’t confined to the car, we were cantering around on our herds of horses, and despite being imaginary, they caused some very real injuries.

While out riding Great Javin (prancing along a path during a family walk) my sister slipped over and broke her leg. And I was just completing a clear round on Midnight Black (prancing around the garden) when he stumbled against a low wall, threw me and left me wandering around concussed, confusing concerned neighbours with all the talk of horses. (It was the 1970s. We were latchkey kids, but without a key.)

Deciding that real horses might be safer my parents gave in to prolonged pestering and bought a pony. (No they didn’t. It was the 1970s. Only princesses and the heroines of the jolly gymkhana books we were obsessed with had ponies.) They signed us up for riding lessons, where I soon discovered that real ponies made me sneeze and wheeze and were tricky to ride, even without rollerskates.

A generation on, my two-year-old daughter began confusing me with talk of Morothy. Was she lisping Morrissey? (It was the 1990s.) No, she was referring to Morothy, a wild child, invisible to the adult eye, who had very strong opinions on whether her best friend, my daughter, should wear a coat (she shouldn’t), eat vegetables (she shouldn’t) or go to bed (again, no.)

A few years later two opinionated crocodiles were causing trouble in Norwich.

They were the close, but invisible, friends of a little boy who knew that crocodiles should not be taken on supermarket shopping trips, or to school, or to bed, and should not be left alone either. So what’s a boy to do when a pair of crocs might get bitey if they don’t get their way?

The crocs were the ideal beastie besties to help a boy wriggle out of the less fun aspects of his day. Other imaginary friends appear when a playmate would double the fun.

Imaginary Deedee, the creation of Ella Fordham, became a real-life book.

Ella was just 18 months old when she announced that her best friend, Deedee, would be coming to the playground with her.

Three years later, Deedee is still a big part of Ella’s life. “We still pack a bag for her when we go on holiday!” said mum Serena.

And Serena has also written a book starring Deedee, with illustrations by Norwich artist and illustrator Missy Dunning, based on Ella’s descriptions (and available from info@serenafordhamspaservices.com).

“I must admit when she told me that Deedee had light pink hair I found it very funny,” said Serena. “But I guess pink is her favourite colour so it all makes good sense!”

Imaginary Deedee Goes To The Park is a about a little girl, based on Ella but called Bella, who tells her mum that she has an imaginary best friend called Deedee.

The pair play in the park and enjoy a picnic together and the book ends with a bath, bedtime story and goodnight kisses for both Bella and Imaginary Deedee. “Bella gets a little bit upset along the way, but her mummy manages to keep her happy by making sure Deedee enjoys herself too,” said Serena, of Spixworth, near Norwich.

She can join Ella and Deedee on their adventures, but grown-ups are unable to get into Halloweenland, invented by William Grimmer, now five.

His dad, Dan, tried to find out more about William’s world, but remains flummoxed and – and firmly denied access via the tube portals

“William has an ever-fluctuating number of invisible kittens, who live in a mysterious place called Halloweenland,” said Dan. “Only one of these kittens seems to have a name – a white one called Milky. (William seems to know Milky is white, despite Milky being invisible, and does not seem to think that’s odd). William and the kittens are the only inhabitants of Halloweenland, which is buried deep beneath the ground. Every so often William announces he is commencing building work to expand Halloweenland, which is accessible via a network of tubes. On drives, William sometimes shouts from the back of the car that he’s seen a tube, but his parents never see them. He sometimes announces he’s planning to go to Halloweenland in his “really fast car”, primarily to feed the invisible kittens and claims to go there when his mum and dad think he’s sleeping.

“Talk of Halloweenland started not long after William went to the Halloween Parade through Norwich, when he was three.

Details are sketchy, but there are definitely trees there. Not ordinary trees, though, as they have the ability to walk.

And there are houses there too, which William and his invisible kittens live in. In what appears to be a recurring theme of everyday life in Halloweenland, these houses can also walk around. Talk of Halloweenland has diminished in the past few months. But, when questioned, William insists it is still there, although some of the invisible kittens are on the brink of moving elsewhere. He has not elaborated on their next destination.”

Do you, or your children, have much-loved imaginary friends. We’d love to hear about them, and see pictures too if your child has drawn or painted their imaginary companion – email rowan.mantell@archant.co.uk

The magic of imaginary friends

Many children invent imaginary friends and child development experts see them as a natural part of childhood.

Children use these invisible companions to practice talking, boost confidence and for role play, so that children with imaginary friends are often particularly articulate and creative and can fill spare time with the friendship.

Imaginary friends give children, who are forever being told what to do, the chance to enjoy being in charge.

Children who would love a pet, or a superhero friend, might invent themselves an imaginary pooch or princess.

Beware of interfering, as some parents have found that if they are too inquisitive about a charming invisible companion, he or she will simply disappear.

Parents can often find out what their child feels by finding out how the imaginary friend is reacting to situations.

Some children invent imaginary enemies too and these too can be a healthy coping mechanism, helping children manage anger and understand individual differences.

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