Distant Memories (2)

Here are some more of these childhood memories from when I was very young. They are still appearing randomly, as brief flashbacks in my mind.

A young woman, or perhaps a girl, is dangling a thick plait or pigtail close to my face. I think I am in a pram, looking up. Her hair is very dark, and this feels like a memory I have had previously. But this time, I reach up and grab the thick hair. I can sense how big it is in my tiny hand, and actually feel the weave of the plait in my fingers.

I am sitting on a floor. It is simple wooden floorboards, painted black. I can see the heads of old nails in the corners of the wood. I move across to a threadbare rug, to retrieve a wooden toy car. As I grab it, it moves further away, and I have to follow it until it is stopped by the leg of a chair.

My dad is watching television. Something happens to make him jump up and shout out loud. That startles me as I am playing, but then I smile because he is happy.
(I think this must have been a football match, but can’t be sure. My dad bought a TV in 1953, when I was one year old.)

Walking awkwardly toward my mum. Her arms are outstreched, as if to catch me. She is kneeling on the floor, and wearing her glasses. I feel myself falling, and then she scoops me up into her arms.

An older female friend or relative arrives in the room. She is wearing a fur coat, and smells very strongly of perfume. She reaches down, picks me up easily, and kisses me. The softness of the fur is the first sensation, then I sneeze because of the perfume, and everyone laughs.

In an unfamiliar bed, and feeling incredibly, unbearably hot. I look to my right and see my mum sitting in a chair next to the bed. Her eyes are red and swollen, and she looks different. She turns to someone I can’t see and says, “He’s awake”.

Distant Memories

Recently, distant memories have started to appear in my mind, like watching an old newsreel clip for the briefest time. They are always childhood memories, mere snapshots of when I was very young, little more than a toddler. As I don’t remember many specifics before I started school at the age of five, those earliest memories fascinate me. They show that memory starts much earlier than I had ever considered.

With the benefit of age, I can now place those memories in their time, in their part of my life. Perhaps growing older and being a reflective person makes them more interesting to me. I don’t know the answer, but I do enjoy those ‘time-travel’ momentary flashbacks.

Sometimes they appear as dreams, and at other times pop into my head as I am driving, or walking around with Ollie. They open a window onto my childhood that I had never previously experienced, and I see them as a blessing.

My dad is trying to light a coal fire on a very cold day. My mum is holding me, having wrapped me in a knitted blanket, and the smoke from the fire refusing to catch is coming out into the room. Dad is holding a newspaper across the fireplace, and my mum gets up to open the window slightly, hoping to let the smoke out of the room.

I am holding a wooden toy. I don’t know what toy it is, but I can feel the wood. My dad enters the room with a towel around his neck and looks down at me, smiling. I hold whatever it is up to him, showing it to him as if he has never seen it before.

Mum is singing to me. I don’t know the song, but I am enjoying listening to it. She is smoking a cigarette, and I am fascinated by the long ash at the end. It grows longer and longer, and I am sure it will fall onto the chair.

A warm day, probably at the seaside on holiday. Mum is holding me as we sit on a small fairground ride. We are astride a wooden animal, perhaps a horse, and the ride is rotating slowly. She tells me to look at my dad, and he has a camera to his face, taking our photo.

I am in the small back garden of my maternal grandparents’ house. My grandfather reaches out to stop me stumbling, taking my hand. He shows me a handful of runner beans he has just picked. I can smell the earth in the garden.

I hope I continue to get many more of these distant memories. I like them a lot.

Thinking Aloud on a Sunday

Poppy Day

Today is officially Remembrance Sunday here in the UK. The day of the big parade and service in London. It is also known as Poppy Day, as people buy poppy emblems to wear, donating to service charities in the process.

I woke up thinking about this. After hosting a lunch for British Legion veterans yesterday, it was naturally going to be on my mind. But what I was actually thinking about was the fact that for many years, I steadfastly refused to celebrate or support this day. Given my change of heart in later life, this is a memory of a time I would perhaps rather forget. But like many things in life, it might be better out in the open.

When I was younger, I read a lot of books about wars and conflicts. A lot. I began to be appalled by the wasted lives, the wars fought for Empire, big business interests, and capitalist expansion. The betrayal of so many brave men who believed the propaganda, and went off to fight and die for their country. Whatever country that was. That realisation made me inclined to the politics of The Left, and I embraced those as a teenager, becoming a staunch supporter of the Hard Left here, and an advocate for social change, and radical causes.

At the time, (and probably still today) the position of such political thinking was that Poppy Day simply glamourises and glorifies war. So we were opposed to such commemorations, and refused to be involved in them. I would not buy or wear a poppy emblem, and refused to make a donation to the charity that it supports. I went so far as to debate the issue with poppy-sellers in public, even urging others not to buy one. I was young, and I had certain beliefs that were strongly held. Despite having a father who had served as a regular soldier in WW2, and many relatives still serving in the forces, I would not be shaken on my point of view.

Then I went to France and Belgium.

If you have never been to the war cemeteries in those countries, I urge you to go and visit them. Walking among the thousands of pristine white headstones, reading the inscriptions, the names, and the ages of those killed, or seeing the acres of small dark crosses in the German cemeteries, I had a moment of realisation. It was not about the war, but about the people. We were not commemorating conflict, territorial ambition, or even the spirit of Empire. Nothing was being glorified, nothing at all. Here was the reality of it, for all to see. It was those men and women we were remembering. The lives they never had, the bravery and selfless comradeship they showed, and the expectation of a better life for all that they believed would be achieved by their sacrifice. I stood before those stones, and before the larger memorials showing the names of countless thousands with no known grave.

And I cried unashamedly.

I finally got it. That November, I bought a poppy, and I wore it for them.