Since my recent blog bemoaning the loss of memory a bit of work has been taking place on stimulating whatever part of the brain is responsible for storing and recalling past events.
I’ve been doing some ghosting. In other words, visiting old haunts.
No need to wrap the body in white sheets and utter some mournful moans of “whoo hoo” or any other spooky phrases.
Simply check the postcodes of places where I once lived, key them into the sat nav and the journey into the long ago could begin.
Fortunately, recalling these addresses presents no problem. They are the broad brushstrokes I mentioned earlier; it is the detail that
surrounds them that is the problem.
Maybe a return to the scene of the crime (well, I do make a pretence at writing crime fiction) would help open the closed book that my past has become.
There is always the risk when returning to the distant past that the scourge of development has beaten you to it; that the family home is now a corner of an Aldi supermarket or one of those ubiquitious nail salons.
[In one locale, our former corner shop is now occupied by African Delights, a mixed business which specialises in sending money to Nigeria, thus raising the question of whether remittances are accompanied by the same sad sob stories with which the Nigerians assail our inboxes.]
But I digress.
Never a fan of stories that start halfway through and then wander back and forth, I opted to revisit where it all began.
Thus the past few days have been spent meandering around Kent, “the Garden of England” and my home for my first sixteen years, apart from a five-year wartime hiatus wearing clogs in the fishing port of Fleetwood, way “oop north”.
It would be good to report that everything came flooding back, that this was the trigger needed to raise my dormant memory from its deep slumber. But it was not to be.
The houses and schools were all where they should be, and untouched by wrecking balls and bulldozers,
Although showing signs of age (aren’t we all?), most looked reasonably well cared for and my old school has morphed into a “foundation specialist maths and music school” and a “specialist languages school”.
This discovery did at least provoke a couple of memories of my schooldays: the fight I had with my parents over their insistence I learn Latin rather than German, and the equally bizarre decision to put me in the woodwork and metalwork stream when I was barely capable of sawing a piece of wood in half.
But that’s where the memories end. I have no recall of teachers, of classmates, even of the daily commute apart from the final approach along leafy Church Walk [pictured above]. This is where I spent four years being educated – yet it has all become a blank page.
Finding our former abodes added nothing to the picture. The names of surrounding streets rang a few bells, but there was little beyond the names. We lived in these houses but the daily domestic scenes escape me. No pictures in the mind of the internal layout, where we ate, my bedroom, the garden and so on.
Any information I have is anecdotal, gleaned from chit-chat at family gatherings or based on pictures – mostly uncaptioned and undated – found in old albums.
The whys and wherefores of our many moves are unknown. How did we make the big move from Kent to Cornwall – by train, or car, or donkey and cart? Who did the packing and unpacking? Were there buyers to be found, or new tenants sought?
No sense remains of the inevitable stresses and upheavals these moves caused. It’s as if we were teleported around the country, picked up and gently dropped down into a succession of abodes, No sweat, no tears.
A slight stirring of memory occurred outside my grandparents’ terraced house. From here I would set out on a regular errand, big china jug in hand, up the street, turn left, round the corner and into the pub to get the jug filled with gramp’s favourite beer.
I checked. The pub has gone – converted into a block of student flats. But at least this is one memory that remains.
Elsewhere, my journey into the past did little more than confirm the bare details.
The past is not only a foreign country but, for me, it is one without maps or markers.
Clearly I should stick to fiction. Any autobiography would be far too thin and not fit for purpose.
Now, remind me, what was I saying just now?