Typing Test


At the age of five I had arrived at certain important decisions about life to which I still adhere strictly. 1. Flowers dance not just when the wind ruffles them but also on their own at night. 2. One should never marry a mole since he will make you spend the rest of your life underground. 3. However uncouth I may be in real life, the inner me is a ballerina, one delicate foot up in the air. 4. Stay clear of black brollies - unfurled above your head, they give you bad dreams. All this precious wisdom came from a single book - Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales gloriously illustrated by Janet and Anne Grahame Johnstone. The stories gave me lifelong friends - Little Ida and her dancing flowers; Thumbelina, who gets saved from marriage with the cheroot-smoking grumpy old mole at the last moment; the one-legged steadfast tin soldier and his lady love, the ballerina; above all, Ole Luckoie, or the Dustman, who holds a black umbrella over wicked children to give them nightmares and one with moving, beautiful pictures over good children to give them sweet dreams On its first page, the book had a tall, lanky man showing a papercut of a top-hatted figure to two eager children. He looked much like the Dustman - similarly pale and tall, somewhat androgynous, kindly but not over-indulgent. Much later I learnt that the man is meant to represent Andersen himself - he was fond of creating papercuts in the Rorschach style so that one half of the paper mirrored the other. The mind’s workings must have interested him. Andersen, born on April 2 more than 200 years ago, had a life that was a mix of fairy tale, realist novels and Dickensian stories. His father died when he was 11, his mother remarried, and he was sent to a school for poor children. In his teenage years, he tried his hand at theatre, only to be shown the door. His fairy tales earned him spectacular success in later years, making him a member of the European glitteratti, but he remained notoriously unsuccessful in love - reportedly wooing both men and women, one of whom, the opera singer Jenny Lind, gave him the copybook dismissal by calling him "brother". A life of such opposites finds reflection in the characters he created - happy in the way only children can be, and yet wounded, missing something, already a bit subdued by life. There’s the tin soldier, the runt of the box in having just one leg; the "ugly" duckling; the little boy Kai from ‘The Snow Queen’ who becomes nasty overnight when the splinter of the evil mirror gets lodged in his heart; and the Little Match Girl, unwanted, cold, hungry, dying alone, dreaming of her beloved grandmother. Such sentimental depictions of childhood were, of course, trending in Andersen’s time, with Dickens making his orphans cry buckets, but in Andersen’s stories the children themselves seem to be somehow aware of the ice in their hearts that will one day claim their body - they know Death.Andersen was a devout Christian: church bells chime comfortingly in his stories; roses bloom. Yet his most remarkable character is the Dustman, who, "an old pagan", the brother of Death, has been spinning dreams and nightmares from the day man first went to sleep. He tells flaxen-haired little Hialmar one story for each day of the week. One would have expected his Sunday story to be the most joyous: yet on Sunday, the Dustman lifts Hialmar onto the window sill and shows him Death riding away, his black cloak floating out behind him. This moment, so loaded with symbolic significance, comes and goes just like that, but you know Hialmar has grown up after the sighting. "‘Death is a very beautiful Dustman,’ said Hialmar. ‘I am not afraid of him.’"