Monday, 1 September 2014

The corruption of personal memory

Ruby's post on children (see The grass is greener. Notes from the other side. in my blog list, and her post New life on 29 August) inspired me to write a post of my own.

But it's too hard. I have so many issues about my own childhood that I can't see where to begin. It's not simply about being a trans child.

Well, I have something in draft, and I won't throw it away. It may yet see the light of day.

This area - childhood, and by extension, one's present attitude to children, and what might have been - must be tackled sooner or later, before my memory fades. They say that as you get older you can recall things from long ago with a clarity impossible when younger. I don't find that is so. I tend to find that with the passing of time, memory gets imprecise and plays tricks on you. You recall some things, but not others. Probably because so much is stuff you really don't want to remember.

In fact I'm inclined to take all memory with a pinch of salt. The past has been contaminated so much with modern takes on 'what was' that it's wise to doubt what you think you know, and not claim certainty unless there is documentation to back it all up. At the moment, we are being bombarded with themes such as  'Life on the Home Front in the First World War'. We'll have four more years of that, until the Armistice in 1918 is reached. By then, we'll be so saturated with Great War docu-dramas that all pre-2014 ideas on 'how it was' will have been hazed over with a thick layer of new memory.

I think that the many gaps in my personal experience of growing up in the 1950s and 1960s have been filled to bursting point by modern research, picked up effortlessly from TV and radio, and efficiently absorbed. I like history, and especially social history, and I'm always curious to know. So I'm especially vulnerable. My brain can still suck up interesting facts by the ton, and I'm not the sort to curb my eagerness to find out more and more.

I'm saying that in 2014 I 'know' more about 'how it was' in the 1960s than I did in 1970. A strange state of affairs!

I'm pretty sure that most of what I think I know about (say) 1964 - or any other year in the 1960s - is the result of someone else's digging around. Those researched factoids, especially the film clips, have been seamlessly embedded in my mental storage. It takes effort to distinguish my personal memories from things learned decades later, and especially in the era of the Internet. Before the year 2000, you would have got from me a confused, inconsistent, but at least genuine set of recollections. Now you'll get a well-ordered hybrid history, spuriously precise on dates and trends.

Surely there is a growing tendency to discard one's own real experience in favour of latter-day research, on the ground that they don't tally. In other words I might read something in Wikipedia that doesn't fit what I thought had been the case, and I'll accept Wikipedia's version in preference to my own. That definitely seems rather dangerous!

Hence my keenness to walk the streets of my childhood - Barry and Southampton in my own case - in order to recapture something genuine about what it was like at the time. To walk perhaps from the bus stop to the school gates - a daily ordeal that I have not forgotten, and need no modern simulation or interpretation to call to mind.

So if I do finish that draft post on my childhood and its consequences, you'll have to bear in mind that at least some of it could be fake history that I think is mine, but probably isn't.


  1. It does take time to recall everything from the past Lucy. I started to jot things down a little at a time, specific occurrences only but as I wrote I found I was being reminded of other things too. I am sure you will be able to separate learned facts about the past from actual facts from your own childhood. You have to list the bad with the good too, writing everything you can instantly recall. Once I'd jotted things down I re-read them and found I was elaborating as my memory recalled more information. I wrote things down on paper first of all but then filed it on my computer so that editing would be easier. It took months to collate the information once it was recalled and I ended up inserting extra items as I went along. Hey, if I can do it I am certain that if anyone can, you can! Good luck with it.

    Shirley Anne x

  2. Thank you for the mention Lucy, nice to know that someone reads the posts.

    I do not trust the flood of period programmes we see now on TV. I find myself shouting at the scree that something is so obviously wrong that the poor underpaid tea girl could have done a better job than the over paid researchers! Some of us were there and lived through it but we never get asked.

    The past is an interesting place but looking back and wondering how life might have been can only hurt. Savouring the life we have attained is a high priority just try to keep off conversations about being a girl guide etc.

    At a garden party this past weekend there was only one young mother with young child and she somehow picked me as the guest most likely to be happy which an energetic two year old and be on the floor with them... I could not help but see all the possible life ahead for that girl child, how different we would be now with that life behind us...


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