Thursday, 1 September 2011

Dib Gringe

Let me tell you about Dib Gringe.

It’s not a small, eerie village, with cowed residents slinking about, fearful of what new horrors may be inflicted on them by their evil landlord from his dank castle on the hill overlooking the swamp on which the village was built.

It’s not the swamp itself, some modern equivalent of Conan Doyle’s wonderful Grimpen Mire, into which strangers have wandered to disappear with a gurgled scream, only to reappear at Halloween with dripping rags of flesh still clinging to their skeletal forms, moaning their souls’ agony into the echoing night.

Nor is it a wasting disease with a much more impressive Latin name but with symptoms too nauseous to describe, brought back from the southern ocean in the late 1700s by the crew of Captain Cook’s barque Endeavour and transmitted to the inhabitants of the brothels of British ports and from them on to the towns’ residents.

No, Dib Gringe is not an ‘it’, he’s a ‘him’.

He was born just before breakfast in a bedroom only a few minutes walk from Scotland’s national stadium, Hampden Park. In fact, Dib, as he lets me call him, came into being some five minutes after his mother. There were no midwives, nurses or obstetricians present – just me and my six year old grandson. And the bed was mine – at least for the duration of my stay with him and his 11 year old brother.

Mrs Gringe came about as part of a story we were telling together. She has no husband; Gringe is the name of her own family and her given name is Mrs. I know little more about her because, as I said, Dib arrived a few minutes later and immediately, like all children, became the centre of attention. He was, however, not like other children. When he was born, he was already six years old, six feet two inches tall and an accomplished basketball player. He wore soft leather trousers, no underpants, and a top made of seaweed. (The soft leather was a somewhat disturbing revelation but one which, fortunately, we didn’t explore further.)
We were called to breakfast and Dib was left to his own devices but, periodically, during the day, my grandson reminded me of him and asked questions about his habits, many of which were grotesque distortions of his own interests and activities. I think he began to identify with him and suspect that I was compiling his own biography.

In the evening, the whole family – Mum, Dad, two sons and me – went to a local restaurant. And Dib was there. Not in person, of course, but once we started talking about the sort of food he preferred (don’t ask), the questions started coming again and my grandson began to insist that Dib didn’t exist, that he was simply a figment of my (and his own) imagination. I protested, of course. (All my creations are real to me.) I took a call from Dib on my mobile but he rang off before I had a chance to pass the phone to my grandson. I must confess to being a little surprised when I did, in reality, get a text message from him just a minute or so later. It read:

‘Hi Dr Kirton. Dib here. Hope you’re having a nice meal. Wish I was there. Give my love to everybody.’

I showed it to my grandson, who remained relatively unimpressed. (Rightly so, of course, because it had been sent by my daughter from the other side of the table.)

Then, as I was telling him about Dib’s FaceBook page and debating with myself whether I should set up an email account in Dib’s name, I started wondering whether I’d gone too far. My grandson’s scepticism was refreshing, his hold on reality secure, and yet he wanted to believe – no, not believe, pretend to believe – that there was such a being as Dib Gringe. Kids are so open and receptive, not yet indoctrinated with the idea that everything is explicable. Their ‘normality’ is much wider than ours. (A granddaughter once asked my wife whether she’d seen Stanley, the fairy who lives under the dripping tap in our bedroom.) Kids are also quite trustful and if we’re insistent that fictions are real, they want to accept them as such. That’s fine for a while, with Santa, fairies, and the disappearing coins which then materialise behind their ears, but if they start trying to convince less imaginative friends in the playground that the 3 inch tall fairy who lives in Aberdeen and the six feet two six year old basketball player in soft leather are real, they may find themselves in trouble.

So Dib Gringe has now retired. But I bet he reappears when I’m next in Glasgow.

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  1. Your grandson is right. Children are often much smarter when it comes to reality questions like this.
    At the moment we are having the Dutch equivalent of the American series: 'In therapy' on tv. They have given each character them twitter accounts, so we can actually follow their thoughts. It annoys me. Fictional characters do exist, they are real, but only in our heads. What's not in the story, is in our imagination. That is what makes them real. A Twitter account or Facebook page disturbs that.
    Again: smart kid. You are a lucky man with such intelligent family members.

  2. I know, Anneke. I also agree about the reality of characters being in our heads. As I spoke of Dib, he became more and more real to me.

    As for giving characters Twitter and FB accounts, it's something I've thought of doing for Stanley if he ever gets resuscitated. It occurred to me to invite him to do a guest blog too.

  3. The characters we create become very real to us. But by sharing them with readers, they become, in a way, creators as well. If you've done your job well, the charactes become real to the readers but part of that reality is in their minds. So, in a way there are different characters.
    Stanley is written from Jack's perspective, first person. If he starts blogging himself, what will happen. Will he be still my Stanley?

  4. I'm glad your grandson has a vivid imagination combined with realism - hope he keeps that. It's your own imagination that's slightly more disturbing, Bill - what a list of possible explanations for the name Dib Gringe!

  5. Good point, Anneke - the characters being different in other people's minds. All of which spookily implies they have an independent existence.
    And Stanley will never be anybody's Stanley.

    Rosemary, as you well know, words have their own suggestive power. Dib Gringe could never, for example, be one of your Regency heroes - unless you wanted to start a new genre - Regency punk maybe.

  6. Surely, we can all boast to the fact that colorful characters inhabit our area of the world. As a writer, it’s wonderful when I can draw from a living well of personalities that grace my work with their amusing antics that could only be conjured up in the wildest of imaginations. My little corner of the world breeds such wonderfully zany people, and they sure make my job a lot easier, when the only alternative would be to dream such characters up.

    And concerning the children’s belief in fictitious characters, certain ones may have saved my children’s lives when they were young. We lived on a bayou, and my campfire tales were always about flesh-eating sea creatures. Their weekend, backyard campouts were always over shortly after dark, for fear that these monsters may find their way to our backyard. And, they certainly stayed away from the water.

  7. I actually find that if I try to base characters on real people (however colourful or eccentric they are), they don't come alive. The real 'model' is inhibiting. 'Flesh-eating sea creatures' on the other hand ...

  8. A fascinating post, Bill. I get the impression you’re much the sort of grandparent I am, the sort who delights in the delight of the young in shared fantasies of every kind from hilariously horrible narratives to gobsmacking magic trickery. And what happened with Dib Gringe in the restaurant is something I recognise from my own experience and from watching others.

    Yes, kids love make-believe. They love to live with monsters and magic for a while. But even the most brilliant fantasy has its natural span – its sell-by-date, or should I say sell-by-minute. And if projected beyond this, the child will become surfeited, bored, restless for a return to reality, and the bubble will burst. Every attempt to revive the fantasy then will fall flat, as flat as an old worn out joke. Worse, there can occur a sort of child/adult role reversal, with the adult making increasingly desperate attempts to recapture a mood that has simply gone. I suppose the trick is to recognise when the sell-by-minute is approaching then let the bubble float away free on the breeze.

    Last Thursday I took my seven-year-old granddaughter for a walk beside the Shropshire Union Canal and we watched a narrowboat pass through the famous Staircase Locks at Bunbury. It was an afternoon I know will stay with us forever, an enchanted afternoon, the bubble finally floating free with our fantasies of boating life intact.

    How lucky we are to have such wonderful grandchildren, Bill.

    Best wishes,


  9. Beautifully put as usual Paul, and I go along with every word. Granddads can be cool until kids reach the teen threshold, whereupon we can become embarrassments. Then we have to spot the signs and refashion our credibility in another way. I find bribing helps.