Memory, that most fallible and enabling of devices

by the riverMy earliest memory stems from when I was just a few years old, I would say three, maybe four, but probably three. The family was outside our next door neighbours house back-door (which of course was to the side of the house and not at the back; it was called the back-door to be the opposite of the front door). This back door was paved to the front gate, so-called because it was at the front of the garden, in front of the house, and so was appositely named. My father challenged me to a race home; I remember vividly he let me run-off first – I raced to the end of the path, opened the gate, two steps to our front gate and then I hurtled toward our back door. I knew I had won – he had let me win maybe – but I wasn’t thinking that of course, no-one had overtaken me, he hadn’t overtaken me. My head still in racing position and I never let up until I got to the end of the race, and when he stood there and stopped me, ahead of me, in front of me, and not lagging behind I couldn’t understand what could possibly have gone wrong. I left first, no-one, least of all him, had overtaken me. My mother was there shortly after, they both laughed. I looked back towards the gate, the gate that I had, as a two year old, fallen against and gashed my forehead requiring two stitches – I don’t remember that fall, though I still have the scar. The pavement that I had just ran down was where I had  tripped over sometime previously and knocked my two front teeth out; I don’t remember that either. But I do remember my parents laughing at my confusion and how it was that Mrs Young, our next door neighbour, had volunteered to show me what had happened, how it was that I had ran the race whilst he had simply strode across the boundary wall in what I suppose for an adult, would have been a three pace race.

I don’t remember the picture either; it was shown to me last week by my twin sister, that’s her seen in the picture slightly lagging behind me. I know where it is – by the White Bridge across the River Ouse, nearby what became Newnham swimming pool. I don’t recognise the joy in the face of that boy either. I was clearly some kind of celebration, a long way from home for a Christening, so not that I’m sure. This place was quite close to my father’s parental home, though I suspect they wouldn’t have been with us. So I’m all at sea, on what this the significance of the bow-tie, smart socks and my twin sister’s pretty dress. And she can’t remember either.

runningPhotographs do possess strength, not only the strength to invoke memories, but also to invoke responses:

All this is true, up to a point. Photographs are evidence, after all. Not that they are to be taken a face value, necessarily, nor that they mirror the real, nor even that a photograph offers any self-evident relationship between itself and what it shows. Simply that a photograph can be material for interpretation – evidence, in that sense: to be solved, like a riddle; read and decoded, like clues left behind at the scenes of a crime….. A photograph can certainly throw you off the scent. You will get nowhere, for instance, by taking a magnifying glass to it to get a closer look: you will only see patches of light and dark, an unreadable mesh of grains. The image yields nothing to that sort of scrutiny; it simply disappears.

            In order to show what it is evidence of, a photograph must always point you away from itself. Family photographs are supposed to show not so much that we were once there, as how we once were: to evoke memories which might have little or nothing to do with what is actually in the picture….” Annette Kuhn, Remembrance. The Child I Never Was. The photography reader ed’ Liz Wells pp 395

I was very pleased to have found this photograph, and to have had time to (re) live in it for a while. We don’t know who took the photograph, so to whom I am running isn’t known. I suspect it wasn’t my father.


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