3rd March 1976 – Don’t Leave Me This Way


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.

Ayd Instone works with people to explore and unlock their creative ideas in ways they may never have thought possible, to inspire innovation in their lives, and their business.

Book Ayd to speak about the Power of ‘What If?’ and Inspiration for Innovation at your conference, or in your business. A great way to open your event or as an after lunch energiser.

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12 comments on “3rd March 1976 – Don’t Leave Me This Way

  1. Wonderful (again!)
    For me, memories that have that ‘freshness’ about them from far back often have something significant attached to them that makes them more readily available than others. But of course when music is involved music seems to be made just for this purpose – to elicit that memory of a summers day…or some location…with fondness!

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  2. I have different memories of that record because I’m older than you. School discos where the girls really did dance around their handbags. But fleeting memories also, picked out from my sub-conscious. Why those and not others? No idea.

    But it’s still a damned good record!

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  3. I often wonder about this because my son seems to have an uncanny memory for details. Once he describes them, I see them in my mind’s eye, too, and am surprised at how closely his version and mine compare. But there are many other things I forget easily, and I think it is because we can only retain in our working memory so much information at a time. I imagine a very large table on which I place slips of paper containing the events of knowledge of the years. As I get older, the table gets more and more cluttered until, eventually, some of the papers fall off the edge. But those memories that were important for some reason–the ones that flash to the forefront often–do not fall off the edge because they are moved back towards the center with each revisit. I don’t know if this analogy bears any resemblance with neurological workings, but it holds true enough for me.

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  4. I love this story. It made me think of some of my favorite music-related memories. A song can just take you right back, hey? And I hadn’t heard of Melvin and the Bluetones. Here I’ve been listening to all of their songs as Simply Red and Communards covers for all these years… so it’s like finding a new treasure for me, too!

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  5. Ayd, I’m sure this post has touched everyone who has read it, and inspired them to sit still, then draw out and piece together their own memories. You have motivated them to get back in touch with love and integrity. Your descriptions are full of memories combining sights, sounds and smells. Here is a story of one of my memories. For me, the physicality is remembered especially fondly:

    APRIL, 1960

    His arms and knees felt weak. There were strange twinges in his tummy. He didn’t know if it was because he was afraid, or if this was how any human body behaved in these circumstances. Or it could be both maybe.

    Joe Coulter had seen Robert pushing Christopher in his little swing, set up in their front garden. He had told Robert about The Swings, an area of common ground behind Lisanelly Camp. It was mostly rough grass but it had a roundabout and a giant set of three swings. He had said that Robert could go round there with him that afternoon. Then Joe had challenged him.

    “I bet you can’t go higher than the great Joe Coulter,” he had smirked.

    Robert had accepted the challenge, mainly because he was a good loser. He had never been on a swing of such a height before. It would be an adventure.

    Sandra had gone with them both. She was sitting by herself on the nearby roundabout, watching the drama unfold. The loser was going to push her on the roundabout.

    Joe and Robert had both started by sitting down, working themselves higher by stretching their legs straight out in front and leaning back, up to the top of the forward movement. Then, on the backward movement, they had tucked their legs right in under their seats and leaned their weight forward, right up to the top of the back-swing, before flicking out their legs again and leaning back sharply once more.

    Then Joe had stood up. He was a year older than Robert and a lot heavier. His weight seemed to be an advantage. With his feet on the seat, he began to bend his knees up high on the back-swing. Then, precisely at the top of the back-swing, he pushed down hard on the seat with his feet. Robert decided to copy him.

    Joe and Robert were now standing up, side by side on the seats of their swings. Joe, swinging higher than Robert, was rapidly approaching a height that was bringing his body parallel to the ground. The effort was putting a strain on his arms and he was groaning and grunting with each swing. The Swings themselves were grinding and squeaking in protest.

    Robert, facing forwards at each back-swing, saw the ground moving away. The distance was greater than from his bedroom window. Looking upwards at each forward swing, he saw nothing but grey sky.

    His arms and knees felt weaker. His hands gripped the chains tightly at shoulder level as the wind blew strongly all around his flying body. Again and again, he bent his knees as the seat drew up close underneath him. Again and again, he pushed it away firmly. He found a rhythm and a timing that took him higher and higher. Every muscle was aching and every nerve was thrilled!

    “Be careful, Robert!” It was Sandra’s voice, just audible in the rushing wind. It helped him to clear his senses.

    As his legs straightened on a forward swing, he peered down his horizontal body at the seat. It was level with Joe’s. He could feel the seat moving under his feet as his whole weight was transferred to his straining arms. He pushed with his feet and the seat went up, above his head! It was almost level with the supporting bar of the swings! For a quivering moment, he held it, until the back-swing began again.

    At his side, there was a muffled cry of alarm, followed immediately by a yell of panic. Joe’s feet had slipped right off his swing! Robert slowed down and saw Joe dangling by his arms! His legs were flailing around as he tried to get his feet back on the seat! His weight seemed no longer an advantage. He could not grip the chains any longer and he began to slide down. One foot then found the seat but, as he placed his weight on it, it moved backwards. Joe was thrown forwards and landed, spread-eagled, on the ground!

    By the time Robert had stopped his swing and jumped off, Sandra was standing over Joe.

    “You’re the loser,” she proclaimed. “If you’re not too hurt, you have to push me on the roundabout now. Come on.”

    Slowly and stiffly, Joe got to his feet and nodded. Without a glance at Robert, he followed Sandra to the roundabout. As she sat on it, he began to push.

    Robert chuckled to himself as he took a memory picture of Sandra urging Joe to push faster. This was the only way that anyone would ever be able to push his sister around.

    Ten minutes later, they were sitting on the roundabout, sharing the broken pieces of Joe’s bar of chocolate.

    “Of course,” said Joe – he made a loud sucking noise to settle the chocolate piece in his mouth – “I’m still the Lisanelly Roundabout cycling champion.”

    “Where’s the Lisanelly Roundabout?” asked Robert.

    “I’ve never been on that one,” added Sandra, her eyes lighting up with interest. “Where is it?”

    Joe put on a look of self-importance. “In the camp, over there. My bike’s over there, too. It’s in the garage at the moment, where my dad works.” He grinned at Sandra. “It’s not one of these roundabouts. It’s just grass in a big circle shape, with a flagpole in the middle. I can cycle around it four times in a minute.” He turned to Robert.

    “I bet you can’t go faster than the great Joe Coulter,” he smirked.

    Joe showed them a short-cut into the back of the camp, through a hole in a hedge not far from The Swings and then under a rickety perimeter fence. They could simply have gone round to the front gate and walked through, but this was quicker and more fun.

    The grass roundabout was near the front gate of the camp. Robert and Sandra waited there for Joe to pick up his bike from the Military Transport garage. Shortly afterwards, he was racing it towards them with a lot of yelling and whooping.

    The small bicycle had a low saddle and fat tyres. The word ‘SPORT’ was still just visible on the crossbar. It sported as much rust over its frame as original light green paintwork.

    Robert gave Sandra his Timex, with instructions to start and stop them over one circumference of the second hand. They stood by the flagpole in the middle and watched as Joe prepared himself at the kerb of the roundabout.

    “Go!” commanded Sandra.

    Joe pushed off. He stood up on the pedals and leaned his weight down on each in turn. Then he crouched low and pumped his legs increasingly fast. He stretched his arms straight out to control the movement of the handlebars. He leaned left into the circumference of the circle.

    Joe stopped pumping his legs when he reached a top speed at which he could still hold the bike on its continuous turn around the roundabout.

    “Stop!” Sandra ordered, after exactly one minute.

    Joe sat up on the saddle and slowed down. He put his foot down and dismounted.

    “Four and a quarter circuits!” he declared, breathlessly. “Your turn.”

    Robert came forward and mounted the bike. Joe joined Sandra by the flagpole in the centre. Robert had no time to think – and that was not a bad thing maybe. He had no choice but to copy Joe.
    There was a pause as Sandra studied the Timex and waited for the second hand to arrive at twelve.

    “Wait . . . wait . . . wait . . . Go!”

    Robert pushed off. He stood up on the pedals and leaned his weight down on each in turn. Then he crouched low and pumped his legs increasingly fast. He stretched his arms straight out to control the movement of the handlebars. He leaned left into the circumference of the circle.

    His arms and knees felt weak again. There were strange twinges in his tummy again. He was rigid with concentration. He crouched lower and leaned further towards the kerb. The angle of the bike was so acute that he could have touched the grass – except that his knuckles were white, as his fists clenched the handlebars with all the strength he possessed!

    Desperately, his fingers jerked open, first to grip the brake bars, then to squeeze them tightly and repeatedly. His legs were pumping faster, as he tried to force himself to remember what Joe had done next. What was next? WHAT WAS NEXT?

    “Stop!” screamed Sandra. She was holding up the Timex high above her head with one hand and pointing to it with the other.

    He stopped cycling. Almost immediately, the wheels slid to the right. The bicycle fell on its left side. Robert fell on his left side. He was still holding onto the handlebars but the weight of the bike was on top of him, lying on the grass of the roundabout.

    “Wow! I can’t believe it! Six circuits!” exclaimed Joe.

    Joe pulled his bike upright and Sandra helped Robert to stand up. Robert pointed to the bike and addressed Joe.

    “Those – brakes – don’t – work!” he panted.

    “Of course, they don’t,” agreed Joe. “That’s why my dad is going to fix them for me.”

    “Oi!”

    They turned to observe a soldier marching towards them, waving a stick. He wore a peaked cap with a red band, and there were red armbands on his khaki jacket. Each armband displayed the black letters, ‘MP’.

    “Clear orf, you kids! This ain’t no bloomin’ playground!”

    They dashed out of the front gate, with Joe wheeling his bike alongside. Then Joe mounted the bike and cycled ahead.

    Walking up the slope to their house, Robert and Sandra saw Bernard with Christopher in the front garden. Bernard was talking over the little picket fence to Joe, who was sitting on his bike.

    “But I haven’t started yet. I’m not going to teach him until this summer. Then he can have my old bike when I get a new one.”

    “Well, he beat my record, anyway,” Joe insisted.

    “Hey, Robert!” called Bernard, as Robert and Sandra came up. “Tell this silly git that you can’t ride a bike yet!”

    “I can’t ride a bike yet,” said Robert.

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