It is not easy to walk around with Flat Kathy.
For all strangers, or rather, people whom Flat Kathy hasn’t yet demanded I introduce her to, she is simply a sheet of sunshine yellow paper on a stick. With a couple of buttons and some woolly hair sewn on.
She is, I freely admit it, “a bit odd”.
The looks I’ve gotten, both from people who don’t know me from a bar of soap, and those who do happen to know me (and who perhaps have always suspected that I’m a little off-centre), have ranged from the outright, full-frontal “WTF?” to the startled double-take turn-around-in-the-street, “Good grief, are mine eyes deceiving me?” to the sidelong, surreptitious, pretending-they’re-not-curious, “What is that thing she’s carrying around?”.
Responses have also included the no-nonsense psychological assessment, “Oh fiddlesticks (or its equivalent), she’s definitely lost the plot now; I think she’s off her meds.” (That’s from a couple of my best friends, by the way.)
I’m not exactly a raging extrovert. I don’t habitually stride up to perfect strangers and start talking with them. Oh… hold on… OK, I do sometimes. But I see myself as really rather shy. I prefer being in the background, observing and assessing, before I work up the courage to approach someone.
Flat Kathy is a shy person’s nightmare. Or – if you prefer the mature approach of “Life gives you certain lessons that you need to learn and master” – a shy person’s greatest and most challenging lesson.
The thing is that Flat Kathy, despite her name (which really should give her a bit of a clue), doesn’t see herself as “a yellow sheet of paper on a stick”. She sees herself as having a personality and a life, quite independent of yours. I know, you’re probably starting to agree with my friends’ psychological assessment… but bear with me. Besides, she hasn’t lived in your garden flat for two weeks – charming the normally recalcitrant Gilbert the Gnome and a sometimes rather cranky Tuffy-Cat!
If you spend time around her, you’ll start to realise that she has her own opinions on things, is insatiably curious about everything, wants to meet and make friends with absolutely everybody, and is entirely without a shred of fear. Well, she doesn’t like water and is rather leery of fire, but, given that she’s made of paper (i.e. drownable and flammable), I can quite understand that.
So when I introduce her – or rather, when she prods and nags and whines (yes, she can whine too) until I introduce her – to someone, I have to pretend that she’s a real person. Because that’s how she sees herself.
I count myself incredibly lucky that so many of the dear sweet people to whom I have introduced Flat Kathy, have played along with the illusion: Richard’s aunt who had lunch with us and who allowed her to meet the miracle dog that survived the cobra bite; Dr Lizette, Dr Felix and Little N, at whose ‘clinic’ she stayed for a few days; the friendly sales assistant at Thimbles in Durbanville who found us some wool so that we could give Flat Kathy colourful braids; my friend Kimberley whom she surprised with a packet of cupcakes; my mom (Aunty Karin) who lent her a lovely handmade doll’s bed; and – most memorably – the two dashing officers at the Castle of Good Hope. As well as Richard, of course, who, together with my mom, braved the throngs of tourists around the penguins at Boulders Beach and the lighthouse at Cape Point, so that I could get my photographs of Flat Kathy in these famous Cape Town destinations.
They did so with grace, with good humour, with playfulness, with a mischievous and perfectly delightful silliness. They displayed a willingness to tap into their inner child, even when that part of themselves has been deeply buried. I admire and adore and love them for playing along; it has made my task as tour guide, mentor and friend to Flat Kathy so much easier.
Now I hope I haven’t put you off volunteering to invite Flat Kathy to visit you and your family for a couple of days – or even a week or two!
There are considerable advantages to having her around, you know. She is great with kids (somehow, they can relate to her – perhaps it’s her cheerful yellow colour and that big radiant smile?); she can be very quiet and comforting if you’re feeling tired and grouchy; she is surprisingly easy to talk to (er… not that I’ve talked to her that much, of course… um…); and you can plonk her down in front of the telly or in front of a window that faces the garden or the street or some other view, for hours on end, while you go about the rest of your life. Unlike other visitors, she doesn’t need or even demand to be entertained or fed or otherwise kept occupied.
But, if you do work up the courage to take her exploring the outside world with you – ohhh! You will have so much fun! You can use her as the reason why you simply must take a couple of days off to show her around! You can do all the touristy and even cheesy things at which you would normally turn your nose up – because it will be so much more fun with her!
For your first excursion(s), I recommend taking along a spouse or a good friend or a child, someone who is willing to be goofy and silly and whacky. Besides, it is hugely helpful to have someone who is willing to hold her stick, so that you can frame the picture properly – holding her at arm’s length with the left hand, while trying to take a photo with the right hand is rather tricky.
But for a brief, wonderful, magical period of time, you can put aside all the cares and worries and fears and frustrations that being a responsible adult in a high-powered and demanding world brings with it.
And that is the magic offered to us all by Flat Kathy.
Go on, invite her for a visit. You’ll love it!