The first major incidence of the phenomenon that I can now recall was back in the seventies when we had an German exchange student staying with us, a woman studying architecture. As a favour to my parents - perhaps as a way of saying thank you for letting her stay - she took me off their hands for an afternoon on a trip to visit Welwyn Garden City and Harlow - of some significance to students of architecture and town planning as they were both "New Towns" built in the twentieth century in the commuter belt to ease overcrowding in London.
Whilst we were in Harlow I started playing a strange game with myself. To clarify, this was playing a game in the sense of "let's play Star Trek" rather than "let's play Tiddlywinks". I started imagining that I was visiting a futuristic New Town called "Lowich". In almost every sense the details of the game and the details of reality were exactly the same (except for the name of the city) but for some inexplicable reason I got much more enjoyment out of the situation with a fictional filter placed between my mind and reality.
In the game I was a character visiting this special new city. I tried to look at roadsigns and the names of buildings in such a way that both the "Har" and the space after "low" was obscured so that I could imagine I was actually in the story.
This wasn't the only occasion that I had this strange sensation, this compulsion to insert a layer of fiction between myself and the real world. Sometimes I would watch TV programmes pretending that I had never seen them before. I particularly remember watching the title sequence of The Goodies with this mind-set. If I had never seen this before, I mused, what would I think?
We do. Anything. Anytime.
A series about three guys who did exciting things like dancing on the moon, being cowboys and somehow being back in cavemen times. Which of course was what it actually was, but watching it through this fictional membrane of never having seen it before somehow made it much more enjoyable.
Similarly Go With Noakes. Viewed through the first-time goggles it suddenly became about Noakes the Action Hero, who had all sorts of adventures like jumping out of aeroplanes at twenty-five thousand feet. Looking at him through a refractive surface of un-me allowed me to unhook his familiarity to me from years of Blue Peter.
Because what most of these scenarios boiled down to was this: What if I wasn't me?
The outside world remained the same, it was just my reaction to it that was different. I made my reaction a story, most of the time one that was far better than reality. The Goodies and Go With Noakes were far better programmes when viewed through the smoked-glass of otherness, and Lowich was a far better place to live than Harlow.
Of course I also did used to enjoy the more traditional mode of play. Often we would "be" characters from Star Trek - I was always Spock and my friend Peter always insisted on being Kirk. Peter/Kirk was obsessed with the idea of "going down with his ship" as frequently the games seemed to involve the Enterprise being about to blow up. I still have a very clear picture in my head of looking back as we escaped in the shuttle craft (of looking back as we walked away across the playground) and seeing Kirk (Peter) sitting alone on the bridge (alone on the steps outside a fire exit) waiting to be consumed by fire as the ship exploded. We could never persuade him to come with us.
As I got older these kind of games became harder to play as the imagined world jarred against what I could see was in front of me. Perhaps this is where the appeal of the "imagining a thing that already is" came from. They couldn't be spoilt by incongruous reality because they contained reality.
I still play them to this day.