It’s a different sun. It’s more golden. Like in the old films. I feel the warmth of it on my skin. It’s my brother’s birthday. He’s four. It’s March the 3rd and it’s already high summer.
We’re playing out in shorts and shirts with no jumpers on the hot tarmac in Meldon Avenue. This asphalt is less than a year old, still inky black and soft like rubber. Something tells me that this is going to be the hottest summer on record. The ladybirds aren’t here yet, but they will come, in their millions.Gillian’s baby sister can’t say ‘chicken’. She says, ‘ticken’. Still the sun shines.
I go off for a walk, past the tarmaced Play Area One, as we call it, along the fence of the cornfield. It’s made from the wire that the fences that surround tennis courts are made from. They’re the ones that, if you hit the ball at it hard enough it gets stuck in the gaps, although I’ve never hit a tennis ball. Not yet. The fence isn’t that high, but is too high to climb. We’ll get in through a hole someone will cut later on, at the other end of the summer, and create a labyrinth with secret corridors and rooms within the corn.
But there’s no corn yet, just the dry brown ploughed earth stretching into infinity. I see something black and shiny, glinting in the sun, caught between the grass and the fence. It’s a 7” flexi disc, a record. I pick it up. There’s dried mud on it, clogging up the microgrooves that encircle one side. There’s some writing, but I can’t read it because I can’t yet read.
Memory is like a darkened room with all sorts of objects, known and unknown, littered about in it. No-one knows what is in that room until we shine the torch of the conscious mind into a corner, picking out a few odd details of the room. But we are unable to focus on more than one thing at a time. Whatever the torch is shining upon may well be brightly lit and visible, but the rest of the room will remain in darkness and although still there, cannot be seen and we cannot guess at what may or may not be hidden.
The present day conscious mind is like the tip of the iceberg that feels it is all that exists, unaware that it is but a tiny part of the powerhouse that is the unconscious, the storehouse, the deep engines, the foundations of the years. It is not the gentle wind that gives the iceberg direction, but the invisible currents that exert those powerful forces deep underneath the surface. What is memory? What causes some events to be recorded and others not? Why are some clear, crisp and accurate like the microgrooves of a record and yet other tracks, covered in mud, may not re-play.
I race home with my new treasure and with the help of mummy wash it. The furniture in the lounge has been re-arranged, presumably for my brother’s party so the record player has been moved. Daddy lifts the lid. There’s a smell of 1960s electronics. He flicks the switch to the 45 r.p.m. setting and slots the flimsy disk onto the spindle and pushes it down onto the rubber platter. The cream coloured metal arm that contains the needle swings across automatically and, robot-like, lowers itself onto the rotating disk. The room is filled with the sounds of a song, Don’t Leave Me This Way.
Amazed by the startling success of my brief adventure I set off again, this time with my brother, to look for new treasure. We head to near the same spot, just a bit further on. Yes! There, a few feet into the field, flapping in a dry furrow is another disc. My brother sees it too and quickly and gingerly is up and over the fence, retrieves it and hands it to me. We return home and after the same preparatory ritual is followed, the sound of You Keep Me Hanging On, by the Supremes, fills the air.
Then my memory comes to an end and I’m back in 2012. My brother is 40 today. Outside large flakes of snow fill the sky but at 2 degrees it’s not quite cold enough for them to lay.
It was just a day. Just a particular day and yet I remember it all as if it had just happened. Perhaps our memories are all there, all stored somewhere. Perhaps it’s not that we forget, rather it’s that we forget where we’ve put them until some trigger, some key, unlocks the doorway to them.
I have no recollection of the rest of that day. No knowledge of an actual 4th birthday party, or even if there was one, although I feel sure there was. I have access to no recording of the following day, 4th March 1976 and nothing for the day before either.
If we are our memories and we lose access to them, who are we then? Caught by the paradox that we won’t know what’s gone, we don’t remember what we can no longer remember. Not being able to remember is like losing part of who you are. Without remembering, you become less, you begin a journey to being nobody.
Perhaps my mind isn’t a carefully catalogued library of books after all, but instead is a collection of broken pottery. The occasional piece is cracked but complete, but most of the collection is broken fragments and clay shards. Perhaps the ‘being’ that I call ‘me’ can only be a museum curator of these memory artefacts, an archeologist of my own timeline, every day re-defining who I could be based on the scant remaining evidence.
I typed my password into iTunes. Don’t Leave Me This Way by Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes downloaded in 17 seconds and began to play.
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