13 July 2016

Memories

Time - what is that? A straight line that moves steadily towards some distant future? More likely it zigzags about so that in any one hour we have been absorbed by the present, contemplated the future and revisited the past. Every day it's the same - a kind of fluidity, not just plodding forward into the future upon a predictable highway but looking left and right, remembering where we have been and imagining what lies beyond the hills up ahead.

How easy it is to slip back into the past  - reviewing  moments that our brains choose to highlight when so many other moments have been swept away, forgotten. These memories are often mundane - not always recollections of  peaks and troughs in our lives - but memories of the everyday, the ordinary...

It is 1958 and Uncle Tom is holding my hand. We are behind the school's new toilet block and there is a bed of nettles. He tells me that you can make soup from nettles. He seems very tall and his silver hair undulates in tight waves across his scalp. His hand is big and warm. Soon we go back inside but the rest of that day is lost to me. There's just me and Uncle Tom and the nettles.

It is 1970, The Isle of Wight Festival. I am camping on Desolation Row. One night we are sitting by a bonfire. Strangers. We tell each other where we are from... Denmark, America, France, Edinburgh. And then I ask the next guy. He's older and a little aloof. He says, "Me? I am an earthling". And for a moment the rest of us are quiet. Why did he say that? Later I knew.

It is January 1978. My first day as a teacher at Dinnington Comprehensive School. Sitting in Bob's sky blue VW Beetle, the windscreen wipers are swishing the sleet away as we travel along the country lane from Gildingwells. I can still hear and see them making their fan shapes in the sleet but I can recall nothing else about that day.

Of course there are bigger, more predictable memories - of the births of our children, of deaths, of achievements - special times - but they are outnumbered by the mundane, like the unexceptional moments alluded to  in the previous three paragraphs. I think such ordinary memories are important to all of us but I struggle to say why. I should look for a good layman's book that explores the patterns and mechanics of memory because this is something I often find myself thinking about.

24 comments:

  1. Great thoughts and perspective. Life happens, a lot of it still a mystery. Warm greetings.

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    1. When you blog, you are often touching on mysterious aspects of life so it doesn't surprise me that this post had special resonance for you Blogoratti.

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  2. This is so true YP. When my kids were little and we were out somewhere or doing something fun I would say 'try to remember this'..but of course memory can't be ordered. Who knows why we remember certain bits and pieces from the tapestry of our lives...my greatest wish sometimes is that I could sit and watch my life as a film..from beginning to present day and in a straight time line so that I could say 'oh yes... I remember that'

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    1. Yes. Memory cannot be ordered. It finds its own way. That is very true Libby.

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  3. I can't think of any kind of deep or thoughtful response to this post today, but let me just say that I liked it a lot.

    Have a good day!

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    1. With all those painkillers and the pain you have been enduring I excuse you for not providing a deep response.

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  4. These kinds of memories usually surface for me YP in the middle of the night if I can't sleep. Right out of the blue comes a memory - something I haven't thought of for years - or maybe even didn't know I had remembered. I always tell myself that my brain has thousands of little filing cabinets and something has just triggered one to open.

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    1. That's a good way of looking at it I think - lots of filing cabinet drawers but for some of them we never find the keys.

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  5. The triggers are often smells - our sense of smell is the oldest we have, from an evolutionary standpoint.
    I find neurobiology and all that entails a most fascinating subject and have read quite a lot on it, but - typically for me - can not recall any author's name right now that I could recommend.

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    1. I am sure that you are right about smells. They are fundamental.

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  6. You are absolutely right, it is the mundane, random but somehow meaningful moments that I remember. An interesting post YP.

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    1. Maybe these mundane moments have subtle symbolic importance in the construction of who we are.

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  7. Well, I've never really thought about memory. I like what you suggest. My wife and I remember vastly different things. some things she remembers I have absolutely no recollection of.

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    1. Yes. Isn't that strange Red? You were both there at certain events and she remembers different things from you.

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  8. Memory is a fascinating subject. What we remember, why we remember it and as The Weaver says, how out of the blue comes memory about something we haven't thought of in years.

    Alphie

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    1. And I wonder how memories interplay with our dreams...

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  9. Snippets of the past

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    1. Yes just snippets without any apparent importance.

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  10. Perhaps nothing we do is mundane, no matter how insignificant it may be or seem to be. Maybe nothing is forgotten. Maybe nothing is insignificant...maybe everything is stored away in the pigeonholes of our mind, only to re-surface during dreams. And then, some dreams are forgotten upon waking, taking with them the lost memories that,for a brief moment, revisited.

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  11. Interpretation is all,pop over and you will see what I mean.

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    1. Okay. I am coming to see you Angela.

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  12. It is strange what we remember, though I can see why an outing with an uncle or such a memorable exchange at the Isle of Wight might stay with you! (So why was he an "earthling"? Were you speaking to David Bowie? :) )

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  13. Ha. Lee beat me to it. As I was reading the comments it occurred to me that what we think of now as being mundane might have been far from mundane at the time. I am hopeless at recalling things to order but often odd things will bring other 'mundane' things flowing back. Of course the older we get the more things we have experienced to recall. Perhaps happiness or fear or sadness or some other emotion we experienced when the event occurred fix it into our recallable memory.

    I was recently reminded by someone of a very important happening at which I had undeniably been present many decades ago. I would have denied it emphatically had I not known from rational deduction that I obviously was there. It helped afterwards that he produced undeniable evidence of my presence.

    It would be interesting to make a note of these things as they occur to us and do what you have done. I must try and remember to do that.

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