April 2018


A Paris interlude: Postcard memories No.3

Concorde: up, up and away.

If there is any validity in the saying that “every picture is worth a thousand words” then my hoard of old postcards could generate sufficient information to create an entire book.

Whether of fact or fiction is open to debate. As reported in previous posts on this topic, two attempts to match the facts recorded on the postcards with my memory of those distant times have ended in failure.

No matter how much I try, I cannot recollect any visit to the Channel Isle of Jersey nor any periods of residence at the address to which several cards were sent.

Better results are being achieved as I peruse many of the others and try to sort them into a vague sequential order. Memories are being stirred, names recalled, places and incidents remembered.

However, as most of the cards are undated and the postmarks are often blurred or lacking details of time and place, they still provide only a random retelling of my life before the internet, mobile phones and messaging.

Among those that ripped the memory bank wide open was the one (pictured above) depicting that marvellous flying machine, ill-fated the Concorde.

This was mailed as I was about to depart from Paris, a place I used the postcard to describe as “this strike-bound city”.

I had arrived there a few days earlier from Australia at the end of what I wrote of as being “the longest supersonic flight yet made”.

To join this one-off experience, I had first flown from Melbourne to Manila, the capital of the Philippines. The Concorde had arrived there bringing European  delegates of an International Monetary Fund conference, or some such gabfest.

Myself and three other Aussie journalists – Frank Gallego, Jack Butters and Charles Sriber – had been invited to join the return flight to Paris.

It was literally an out of this world experience; one of the few that remains bright in the memory.  That soaring take-off, the feeling of the huge surge of power, the weird sense of being confined with only a hundred others in this pencil-thin projectile (only two seats either side of the narrow aisle) hurtling so smoothly way up through the clouds and into the almost translucent rarefied atmosphere beyond.

We were space travellers, peering down on the curvature of the globe far below – a view unlike any experienced in normal flight.

Paris was reached in three relaxing leaps each lasting about three hours; a nine-hour journey to replace the horrendous twenty-four hours or so those of us living Down Under usually endured for visits to Europe. It was made even more pleasurable and memorable by the Michelin-level food and wine that help distract more nervous passengers from the bulkhead gauge showing our progress from subsonic through transonic to supersonic, from Mach 1 and on to Mach 2.

There are, however, other memories awakened by this postcard that go unmentioned in the few words it contains.

This brief visit – a mere three nights in Paris before a tortuous 36-hour journey home – I seized upon to arrange a secret assignation with a “friend” then living in London.

It was soon agreed: we  would meet in Paris.  She could get a couple of days off work – with OPEC, if I remember correctly –  and I had no rigid program to adhere to. My travel companions would be diverted with their own sightseeing.

The best laid plans ….

It was on the morning of the second day that we scurried hand in hand along the Metro platform to board the train. We dashed  through the closing doors of the nearest carriage and plonked down into a couple of seats.

Giggling and breathless we raised our gaze and looked around.  Facing us across the aisle, sagely nodding and with knowing grins, were my three journo colleagues, each of whom was a friend of my companion in collusion.

So much for secret trysts and assignations.

I wonder what memories these other postcards will stir ….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Postcard memories and puzzles – No.2

Souvenir of a visit that is beyond recall.

Yesterday’s gone.  But it lingers on, the details not forgotten unless it was one of those total wipe-out booze-laden occasions. Same for last week, the month that has passed and, hopefully, the highlights at least, of the year before this one.

All are within recall in varying degrees of detail unless one sadly suffers, like far too many appear to do, from some debilitating condition.

Going further back down the tracks of life, however, requires more mental effort. Additional reminders and prompts are needed, like a fading actor who has lost the facility for memorising the lines.

Usually, given the right clues and feeds, something is eventually  stirred. A name, a place, a snippet of music, even a catchphrase can niggle away until the past is brought back to the here and now.

The story thus raised from the dead may have been embroidered over the years; there may be distortions to what was said and perhaps subtle shifts made in the precise time and place. The occasion can be relived, hopefully with pleasure although there is no guarding against unwanted sadness or regret.

But what happens when no amount of nudges, hints, reminders and even solid facts fail to winkle out anything other than a total blank?

Is this what is meant by losing one’s mind? Is this an early warning sign of something more serious?

This is the dilemma – one among many – that this sudden discovery of a hoard of old postcards has created.

Found among them is a handful sent to me by family members at two addresses where I was apparently residing in the city where I worked,  but which was some miles from the town where I normally lived with my parents and younger sister.

No matter how hard I try, I have no recollection of ever living at either address or, indeed, in that city even though it does happen to be  where I have lived for the past eight years.

Today I took a walk. I power-walked up the hilly streets where it seems I once lived. Streets up which I have frequently run many times in recent years. And, as on those occasions, not a tweak of memory occurred.

Similarly, in recent years I have visited streets in towns throughout England where I previously lived way back when. On these excursions,  memories were always revived of having trod those same routes in the distant past. Forgotten people and events were often vividly resurrected.

But not this time. These streets are familiar from the present but have no connections to my past. There is a blank … and this is somewhat disturbing. Best to move on.

So I turned to another of my postcards from long ago; four scenes of Jersey in the Channel Islands, a place I have frequently toyed with visiting.

But it seems I’ve already been, and no matter how hard I try it is an experience I cannot recall.

This card, from 1962, informs my family I am “having three days here for a conference.”  Really! Discussing what?

Apparently I endured  “a bumpy flight and two hours late.”

Once there, I decided “this place is just like Bognor but the drinks are cheaper“. However, there was a downside as there were “horrible flat-capped English holidaymakers everywhere.”

So, that’s Jersey for you as it once appeared to one who still believes he has never been there.

I wonder how many more blank pages of my mind I am to discover.

** Memories from the postcard trove to be continued …

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Postcard memoir from snapshots of the past

Postcard home from Belgrade in 1963. ‘A week back in London, then to Lebanon, Jordan etc’

We all know about the past being a foreign country [LP Hartley, The Go-Between] and in recent days I have come to realise how true that oft-quoted phrase can be.

A large handful of well-worn postcards, wrapped in a torn plastic bag, have taken me back down the years and stirred memories that until now have remained stubbornly dormant.

As one who can hardly recall the detail of events from last month, those of my much more youthful years have long been a blank sheet.

I still remember where I lived, which of the many schools I attended, the places where I was employed. But that is mere outline, the rough sketch drawn before the picture is painted. The details have long gone – dates, names, events, conversations and so much else are almost all non-existent in a brain that otherwise still functions at a satisfactory level.

But now I have my postcards, mostly in my own handwriting to the folks at home, and they are doing a better job at stirring the memory than any expensive session on an analyst’s couch.

Like a SOCO team’s “enforcer” they have battered down a previously unyielding door into the past.  Only a few words on each, but enough to trigger a name, raise a smile, answer  a mystery and, of course, raise a host of many more.

For example, when did I live in Carvoza Road, Daniel Road or in Hatfield Crescent? All are locations in Truro, the city where I transformed from schoolboy to employee. They are addresses that appear beneath my name on  postcards sent by my parents while, so it seems, they were on holiday trips around England.

But the family home was in Falmouth and to the very best of my knowledge it was there – and only there – that I lived throughout the three years of my time working in Truro.

Thus a window into my past has been thrown open but the view it presents is a total puzzle. Was I a boarder? Was the Miss Ditton to whom several of the cards were addressed as being “care off” a family friend, a boarding house owner, a B&B operator?

Postmarks and two separate addresses indicate I “enjoyed” two separate Truro sojourns during July and August 1955 while the rest of the family was tripping around Stratford-on-Avon, Birmingham, Sidmouth, the Lakes District and our wartime home of Fleetwood.

And not a jot of this exile remains in my memory.

Nor does my namesake, another Tony who signs off on two of the postcards sent to Corporal Berry at RAF Abingdon during my two misspent years of National Service.

In one he talks of being halfway through “my grand tour of England” and regrets that “we’ll not reach Cornwall” and in the other he reports  the food and weather  in Conway are excellent and urges me not to worry as he’ll be back next week.

Fine, but who the hell is/was this other Tony?  Why Conway? Why should I be worried at his absence?

Churning over the old grey cells unearthed not a jot of him but his postcards help revive other memories and confirm forgotten details.

Flip through the pack – choose a card, any card, says the conjurer – and  I realise I have a random, higgledy-piggledy  Reader’s Digest version of my forgotten life.

“Hello from 250 miles behind the Iron Curtain” I write in one. So much was left unsaid.

On another: “Can’t resist sending a card from the most primitive place I’ve ever seen. Just returned from the ritual killing of a couple of sacrificial buffalo, a funeral and a three-day festival.”

From what was still Yugolsavia: “Been driving a car across a lake, it’s that frozen. Spent a whole afternoon on my backside in the snow – it’s called skiing.”

Feeling the heat in Israel: “A temperature of 108F should be enough to give me a tan, and have I got one! Phew, it’s hot. Am the only Englishman is a party of  20 French journalists.” Which could be the reason I detoured home via Paris. That and the El Al air hostess.

From Newcastle: “Awa’ hinnie. Passing the night here for a dinner-dance.” Don’t ask …

The nascent foodie in Barcelona: “Had a meal the like of which you’ve never seen. Paella it is, consisting of prawns, shrimps, mussels, squid in a rice dish plus chicken. The way these people eat in unbelievable.”  Well, we were still emerging from food rationing.

And so much more; this was the quick contact pre-Twitter, as many words as you could squeeze into a space rarely more than two-and-a-half inches wide and deep.

Enough to prod at the dark screen clouding my memory and let in some welcome shafts of light.

And this handful  is only the beginning. There are many more promised to come. So many memories  to revive; so many stories to relive, and perhaps even to tell.

Watch this space.