Its vaguely triangular shape and the patterned crust around its outer edge gave it the appearance of some majestic monster's ridged head, but was it more like a triceratops or the Alien Queen? I couldn't decide.
Suddenly embarrassed by my own thought process, I brought my fork to my mouth and the monster was no more. Peeking surreptitiously from under my eyebrows to see if anyone had noticed my temporary lapse of sanity, I paid the bill and hurried off to the cinema to see.....a children's film.
The cinema was already darkened when I arrived and snuck into a seat. The previews began; one in particular inducing uproarious laughter from my fellow patrons. My eyes now adjusted to the dim light, I glanced around me, only to see a room full of grown adults. The trailer we were all laughing so hysterically at? Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel. Yes, you read that right. Suddenly, my internal dinosaur/alien debate didn't seem quite so childish.
The main feature began. It was Planet 51 – a film so chock-full of jokey references and spoofs only adults would recognise (including an alien-shaped dog called, amusingly, “Ripley”), that I began to wonder what age group it was really made for.
Since that evening, a question has been bumping against the back of my brain, and I can no longer ignore it. The question is not, as it would seem, “At what point do we grow up and lose our imaginations?”, but, “Why do we grown-ups pretend that we have lost our imaginations?”
There was an advertisement running on TV throughout my entire childhood that had the slogan, “I don't wanna grow up; I'm a Toy World kid”. What nobody ever told me was that adults don't ever grow out of liking toys, they just buy more expensive ones, or pretend to buy them for their kids, instead.
You've only got to look at Pixar to see that fantastic things can come out of adults allowing their imaginations to run wild. (Where would the world of animation be without Toy Story?) The only difference is that, as adults, we have the ability, and therefore the added responsibility, of turning our imaginations into reality.
I recently saw Oprah interview Stephenie Meyer (author of the Twilight quadrilogy). When asked about her crazy imagination, Meyer commented that she had always “thought everybody was telling themselves stories all the time”. Oprah laughed and said that no, this was not normal. But I struggle to agree with Oprah. I truly believe we all have stories in our heads. Some of them get told – to others, to ourselves – but most of them are fated to float around up there for a little while and eventually be buried under a mountain of troubles. Or, more likely, boredom. Or paperwork.
Is it any wonder, then, that while we sleep, our brains have a little party of their own, off in Dreamland? Is it any wonder that, the more restricted and tedious our lives become, the more we watch TV? What is it that makes these things – Twilight, Harry Potter, The X-Factor, Star Wars, the trials and tribulations of Susan Boyle, even gaming, to a certain extent – so popular? Because they're about ordinary people getting to do something different. They are the classic tale of Cinderella re-told again and again for a world that is sick of being stuck behind a desk. (Huh. That just gave me a hilarious image of Louis Walsh as the Fairy Godmother.... Ahem. Moving right along...)
As a kid, I always felt slightly sorry for Peter Pan and the fact that he just didn't get it – he would never know what it was like to grow up, to experience life, to learn new things...But, what if he was the one that had it partly right? What if we've become too smug in our modern and professional existence to see that a bit of playfulness is good for us? Without meaning to go all John Lennon on you, what if we never bothered to imagine a better world? Where would we be? You can't get to Neverland without a bit of fairy dust.
As children, we all have that inner drive to play, to follow our dreams, but, as we get older, we push that aside and become embarrassed by our fantasies and random thoughts. Going back to the dreams can mean having to face ridicule and rejection because someone else doesn't buy into them, or see things in the same way we do. The fact is, some people can't see past the confines of their own, limited reality. They just see a piece of pie, and that's all they'll ever see.
We were never created to suppress our imaginations in adulthood; only to learn to use them for greater things. Every invention, every piece of engineering, every programme, every script, every charitable work, every book, every political ideal, begins with imagination. And imagination begins with a little freedom and a lot of humility.
Sometimes, it even begins with apple pie.