When I was a girl I used to love reading adventure stories - those fabulous tales of mystery, intrigue and high thrills penned by Enid Blyton, would often cheer up a boring rainy afternoon. I enjoyed these stories so much that my friends and I would go out and actively seek adventures, using the gift of imagination to supply the mysteries in our own back yard. We even started our own secret society, thinking that this would bring new adventures our way.
Of course when you are young, every day can be an adventure, but as we get older, the adventures seem to be few and far between. We become so focused on responsibility that we forget to make time for playfulness; we work our way through a to-do list, when we should be working our way through a bucket list.
In recent months I have been pondering on my current attitude towards adventures and I have come to the conclusion that I have been avoiding them, when once I used to seek them out. As we get older we become more risk averse so we need to really push ourselves beyond our comfort zone. Suffering from disappointments and trauma can also make people less inclined to put themselves out there, preferring to cocoon themselves away as a kind of self-preservation strategy. It works too, but a safe life is also a small life and before you know it you're feeling hemmed in and trapped, rather than cosy and cocooned.
That has certainly been the case with me in recent months and I am just beginning to chip away at the cocoon and think about stretching my wings once more. I think part of the problem is that my perception of an adventure is huge - I dream big - and then decline accordingly!
When I think of an Adventuress I call to mind images of the glamorous wing walkers, dancing on the wings of an aeroplane; or of the women who were spies during the war, such as Mata Hari who was killed by firing squad; or the Suffragettes marching shoulder to shoulder to change the world and being imprisoned and force fed. It's little surprise then, that I have been habitually turning away from adventures, when I hold such high expectations/risk assessments in my mind! I need to adjust my associations.
But what about the other, everyday adventures? To someone who has just been widowed, booking their first solo holiday is an adventure; to the veteran soldier living with a life changing injury a trip to a public gym is an adventure, not to mention an act of tremendous courage. To someone who has had an operation, removing the bandages and looking in the mirror is a brave thing to do. To the heartbroken, just smiling at a new possibility can seem like a high risk adventure, with no safety net. These smaller, everyday adventures are no less important or valid, for without them we are not living, merely existing.
I have also realised that I am missing part of the equation. My own spirit of adventure is triggered by my competitive side, which in turn is triggered by a male presence. Growing up with an older brother and no sisters meant that I constantly had to prove myself; that I could do what he did; that I could catch up and keep up; that I could pull a wheelie on my bike, climb a tree, a rope, a drainpipe (!); and that I could go one better and do things he couldn't do i.e ride and jump horses.
The things we are exposed to as children stay with us and inform who we are as adults, which means that I still respond to a male presence when it comes to being adventurous. In fact, I need it. Some of the best riding I've ever done was at Leeds Armouries when I had the chance to joust against their First Knight - of course I hit him - three times! He hit me too, but I kept my seat in the saddle, refusing to let him win and I loved every minute of it.
The competitive spirit was my driving force, because I was riding against a man and I had to prove myself. The same thing happened when I used to hack out in the woods with a man who was an equestrian trick rider and circus skills instructor - I rode beside him like I belonged there, un-phased by all his tricks, refusing to be impressed by him - except that I was, secretly quite impressed. It made me a braver, bolder rider - if a little reckless at times during our wild gallops through the mud!
Without this male presence to pull my Adventuress trigger, I am less inclined to push myself physically. Without a male playmate to compete against, I turn to my Jane Austen side, pick up a book or my tapestry, and settle in for some girl time. In short, I retreat into the safety of my shell and become the Indoor Girl. This is no bad thing, but too much of a good thing can get you into a bit of a rut.
Which basically means that I need to stop seeing men as the enemy or I'm never going to have any new adventures! I need to start seeing them as valuable playmates instead; pals who can push me to push myself, like my brother used to do. I need to start looking for male instructors to teach me the things I still want to learn ; sword fighting, motorbike riding, archery, rock climbing and more self-defence etc, so that I get the trigger I need from the professional presence of the instructor. That way I can enjoy all the thrills of being a bold Adventuress and return safe home to more ladylike pass-times once the lesson is over. Genius plan, if I do say so myself. What adventures are you planning this summer?