Tuesday, 9 April 2013

I Remember, I Remember...


It seems to have become a week for thinking about memory and stories, so:

Are you sitting comfortably?... then I'll begin...

My daughter claims she is currently in Facebook purdah until her dissertation is completed - she told her Mother recently that it was too hard to give up Facebook altogether, for it was so full of personal history she would find hard to lose...

When a friend's house burned down some years ago, the only thing she could not replace were the photographs of her son growing up.  It was her social network that replaced some of the precious baby pictures after the fire, as friends rallied round to find photographs to try to give our friend some memories back....


When our daughter was born I regularly borrowed our school VHS camcorder to record videos of the precious infant. The sole copy of the tape was loaned to a family member (who will remain nameless) and returned with an episode of Inspector Morse recorded over the first hour. Yet there are scenes from the lost footage I still remember clearly.

But before all these technological repositories existed there were stories - told and retold. Human beings seem to be hardwired for storytelling. It is story that supplies the emotion, meaning and order to the memories the aide memoires provoke

My mother was a great mythologizer of our life events. I have many memories from my early life in Letchworth (Howard Park paddling pool, then and now, pictured right). We moved away when I was four years old. Yet my wife barely remembers her life before school. I'm sure that some of the incidents I still remember have been imprinted more by my Mum's storytelling than by any photograph.  On a recent return to Letchworth, for the funeral of an old friend of Mother's, I could barely see the real town for the layers of memories.
 
Listening to the news this week another story floated to the surface. Back in the early eighties my old friend Hugh told stories at the Albion Fairs under the monicker of Billy Bullshit :
Mendacity and Deception a SPECIALITY  1p a FIB.  2p a WHOPPER. 
He reckoned he only needed a handful of stories to satisfy all commissions. As I recall, the most popular request was for a lie about sex. The story he told? How he deflowered Margaret Thatcher...

So I sent him a link to this article about the power of story, by Pam Allyn in The Huffington Post.

Inspired, I believe, by Tom's Midnight Garden, my 12 -year old daughter left a letter to her 18-year-old self under her mattress. When the due date arrived the letter was opened and judged to be rather dull. Perhaps six years was not long enough to polish the halo of nostalgia.  Beneath the knowing surface of Jeremiah MacDonald's video, is rather beautifully captured the ambivalence of remembering all too clearly our former selves and how much, and how little, we really change...
Perhaps, then, we're lucky if we were born before it was possible to capture our youth in so much detail.  That said, somewhere around, there is a black-and-white cine-film of my wife cavorting naked in a paddling pool...