Hits 1984 | Created 2007-09-26 | Modified 2007-09-26
My very first memory in life is a lie. I'm about 3 years old and we've just arrived at my Grandmother's house, it is sunny and I'm wearing shorts and a striped T-shirt. My Grandmother is waiting on her lawn to meet us with our dog - a large Irish Setter called Finbar. Finbar is excited to see us and runs over to us, almost knocking me over, then licking my face with joy.
Sounds lovely, but it never happened. Let me explain - I've cherished this memory all my life, because it is the earliest I can recall - we had Finbar only until I was 4 years old, so it must have been before then. I was recently chatting with my father and mentioned it to him. 'No, no, no,' he said emphatically, 'you must be wrong - your Grandmother never lived at that house when we had Finbar.' He's really sure about this, and then brought in his support - my mother concurred.
This is typical of my treacherous memory. Even the memories I'm most sure of, most fond of, that are the most vivid, can be works of complete fiction.
Blessed are the forgetful;
For they get over their stupidities too.
Many people I know can talk at great length about their childhood, recalling story after story, seemingly in a chronological order, whereas I'm left with a handful of startling events and a couple of obscure ones. Between 4 and 6, I think I have about ten or so.
The Gym Class
One of my favourite memories of the time is an embarrassing one, which is probably why it stayed with me so long - I turn up at breakfast one morning, fully dressed and ready to go to school, which is probably a first - me having dressed myself in my ever-worn striped T-shirt (one of only two I ever remember owning during this period, the other being the six-million dollar man) and some generic shorts. My mother was impressed, and I was walked to school. All goes well until gym class, at which point everyone, boys and girls together, simply undress in the classroom and put on their gym gear. The problem is that I've forgotten to put any underwear on, having dressed myself. Anyway, there was a lot of laughter from the other children, and I had to get dressed behind a pile of chairs, as mortified as a 4 to 6 year old can be.
Years later, ten to be exactish, I met my best friend from the time, a girl called Zoe, at a disco organised by my local police to keep reckless teenagers off the streets and under police observation (we would drink strong lager on the way there). She was pretty and attractive and chatted away about all the great times we had in infant school. It is possibly here that my memory problem was first encountered, as the only thing, the only thing I could remember from that period was my gym class horror story, and I didn't feel like reminding her about it at the time. I just stood there and looked like a foolish senile teenager.
One other thing I remember clearly from this period was the madman that lived across the street from us - Mad Rob, I think his name was. He was a tall, gangly looking thing with wild hair and 'strangler's hands' (my mother's words). He used to amazingly leap over his six foot yard fence and dance around in front of the terrified children in the street. Eventually his wife and child fled in the night to a distant relative, never to be seen again, and his descent into madness was completed. He had bonfires in his house - having a large hole in his bathroom where one had burned through the floor. We would often see him sitting on his lawn, cutting the grass with nail scissors, all day. The one image that sticks in my mind most though is the bathroom door that he had hung in the place of his front door after burning his last one - the little flimsy lock was on the outside of the door. I could imagine burglars stopping at the door in confusion and then deciding to steal from somewhere else instead.
The Useless Bathroom Memory
A memory that seems rather useless and mundane is one of the clearest. I'm standing in our bathroom with my mother, and the woman from next door - Margaret, and her son, Mark. Why are we all in our little bathroom? We're going to the toilet of course. Why are we all going together? Don't ask silly questions. So, Mark goes first and we stand around and watch, which doesn't seem unusual. But he sits down on the toilet to urinate, not needing a number two. At this point his mother begins to berate him - 'Mark, stand up to do a number one, only girls sit down to do number ones, isn't that right?' She looks at us, and we all agree. 'Are you a girl Mark?' she taunts? And then I remember laughing and pointing, and calling Mark a girl as he hastily stood up like a man, with his trousers round his ankles. He stood there but couldn't go, because he already had of course. His mother continued mercilessly, 'Oh, you can't go standing up eh, Mark? You need to sit down like a girl!'
Poor Mark. I often wonder if he is traumatised by this bathroom episode. I also wonder why on earth I remember this event so clearly, and why his mother was so mean to him?
The Cardboard Box Memory
I have one more 4 to 6 memory, which is also a clear one. My friend and I (whom, I don't recall, though I suspect Mark, of the stand-up, sit-down fame) were playing at my house, and we had a large, square cardboard box, which I had converted into a space capsule by drawing some dials, buttons and knobs on the inside in bold crayon. Fantasy and imagination never purely being enough for me, I came up with a cunning plan - we would slide the box down the stairs with me inside it. I could visualise the procedure perfectly - I would swoosh down the stairs, gliding at high speed until I came to the bottom where I would slow to a perfect, gentle stop. Not bothering to inform the parents, we manoeuvred the vehicle into test position at the top of the stairs. I climbed aboard, and Mark closed the top securely (as securely as a 4 to 6 year old can) and we went through some kind of instrument check followed by a serious countdown. 5 ... 4 ... 3 ... 2 ... 1 ... Go! We have blast-off. Mark shoved me off the top.
My memory gets a little hazy here. The next thing I know is that I'm at the bottom of the stairs, staggering around the lounge with some kind of mild concussion. My mother sees me and says, 'You look a little funny, are you okay?' I retained enough sense to nod and stagger back upstairs, where Mark was looking as pale as me.
'Something went wrong,' he whispered.
'Oh really?' I like to imagine I said.
He told me how he had watched the box tumbling over and over and over at high speed as it made its way down the staircase, ending finally with a large thumping noise. There was no movement for a while, and then a hand unsteadily thrust its way out of the box, dragging a small, confused boy with it.
For the life of us, we couldn't figure out why the box hadn't glided down the stairs as planned. Mark declined at the suggestion that he should try it.
The Bad Boy
One other curious thing that happened at the time I remember, but not as a memory. Rather, I just know some facts from the period as they were told to me. Apparently, there was a boy, nameless this time, who I was a friend with, and who was a few years old than me. I used to enjoy playing with him, as little boys do enjoy older boys. So, one day he simply vanished and I asked my father where he had gone. He looked very serious and said something like this, 'Son, he was a bad boy, and he's been taken away from here and will be looked after somewhere else from now on. He was planning to tie you to a tree and set fire to you.'
'Oh really?' I like to imagine I said.
No further explanation, nothing more. Just the image of my friend tying me to a tree, collecting some bits of paper and sticks and then burning me to death. I suspect this coloured my friendship-relationships somewhat from that point onwards. One curious thing - I met the boy again, about eight years later, at secondary school. I remember I that every time I used to see him wandering around the playground, I used to think, my god, that guy wanted to set fire to me.
And essentially, that's it for 4 to 6. My entire memory file. I'm sure it will be useful when I have 4 to 6 year old children and need a wisdom-resource-store-cupboard.
Oh, except for learning to ride my bike, running away from home and having my father kick a football in my face, which goes without saying.