In my memory, I was my Granny’s favourite grandchild. We went to the movies together on Saturdays, she bought me stuff on excursions. Her and me, all by ourselves, we were a team. But the oddity of memory is mostly what this post will be about.
Yes, memory, that will be the thing.
Although, in my memory, I was my Granny’s favourite, that’s probably not the entire truth of it. Sure, she loved me and sure we got on but, putting a little cool logic on it, her Saturday excursions with me were probably derived more a matter of practicality than from any particular need she had to be in my company on the weekend. Let’s do some sums. 'Butch and Sundance' came out in 1969 and Granny and me went to see it in the movies. I was six years old, maybe seven, so my younger sister was one maybe two. It’s obvious, isn’t it? Mum just needed a break from me. Can somebody get this unruly kid out of my hair for a couple of hours? Please? Thank you very much. So Granny and I went to the flicks quite a bit, we went to the shops.
On one such excursion, we went to the newsagent and Granny said I could have a comic to read. Cool. I picked one out. Granny looked at it. “Are you sure you want this one?” she asked. I nodded vehemently. It was a comic full of single pane cartoons. A simple drawing, a single punchline beneath. Many of the cartoons were set in offices, or hotel rooms, or tiny desert islands with only one coconut tree in the middle. I wanted it. Granny bought it.
Back at home, I stretched out on the living room floor and read my comic. Remember I was six, maybe seven. I didn’t get too many of the jokes. I remember the jokes came in collections, each of which had its own title. One of the titles was ‘Motel No Tell’. It’s funny the things you can remember when you try.
I was vaguely aware of a conversation that was going on out in the kitchen.
“What did you get him that for?”
“He said he wanted it.”
“We’ll take it of him later. He’ll forget about it. Jesus.”
You’ve guessed it, right? This comic book that I wanted, and got, was filled with cartoons of naked people. Naked people in offices, naked people in motels, lots of naked people in tiny desert islands. I’ve done some Googling to try and find an example of this sort of comic book, where all the people were naked, but I couldn’t find the exact one. I think the one in that image up top is quite close but not quite right. In truth, I had to stop looking because that kind of Internet search is the kind of minefield that can take an unsuspecting researcher into some downright strange places. I don’t recommend you try it. The comic, as I recall, had a sort of innocence about it, a bit like those seaside postcards you used to see. It seemed old-fashioned even then. Oh, and I remember that the men all had saggy bottoms for some reason. I think all the cartoons might have been drawn by the same person and perhaps that was their sort of trademark.
What happened with me and my nudey book? I can’t honestly say. It was, after all, over fifty years ago. I imagine the book was quietly removed when I was sleeping, and I never thought about it again…
Until two weeks ago.
Two weeks ago, I wanted to post something about my Mum so I went dredging around in my memory for something I could write about. The thing that I came up with is there, two posts back. It’s about Mum giving the man next door his dinner every day. It’s fine, I’m glad I found it in my head.
But going dredging in your memories is a funny old business. It’s a bit like being in a fishing boat, with a fishing net, and you throw it out the back of the boat and you let it scrape along the bottom as you row along. When you pull the net back in, you may have the gleaming little fish you were hoping for but you’ll sure as hell have some other stuff too. Muddy stuff. Stuff perhaps left sunken and lost.
This nudey book story is true. I know that. The two details that make it true, for me, are the title ‘Motel No Tell’ and the cartoon men’s saggy bottoms. This thing happened for sure.
But memory is strange.
How much of this can I actually remember and how much of the narrative am I simply filling in, using my knowledge as an adult and my hindsight and, let’s face it, my ability to create false memory?
I think dreams and memories are closely related. You hear people recounting their dreams. They did this and then they did that, then they went there and this happened and this and this and then they woke up. But, really, wasn’t it possibly a lot more abstract that that? A burst of images, an emotion. In the moment when we wake up, in the space before we remember a dream and we impose a narrative on it, don’t we know that the narrative wasn’t really in the dream at all? We naturally and adeptly applied it afterward.
Isn’t it that way with our memories?
Dissect the memory I just told you. If, as I believe, I wanted the comic book in a way that was completely innocent of the nudity being a thing, then Mum and Granny’s consternation is not something I could have expected to have known. I’ve probably put that on afterward, to make a narrative out of the few things I recall. Similarly, with my feeling that the cartoons were largely innocent. This is not something the six-year-old me would be likely to consider. I have again editorialised the memory, to make it more complete.
What’s the point of this? I’m really not sure. Perhaps we should tread a little carefully with our memories. We tend to tidy them up or mess then up to suit the way we retell them to ourselves. We can’t help but embellish and edit and change them a little as we go.
Perhaps that’s why the future may be that much more important than the past.
Because we can’t rewrite it.