Lost and found

Having belly-ached that I had lost this and that, whilst sorting out and slimming down my various ridiculous collections (every New Statesman since 1977, for heaven’s sake), I have of course in the process found much more including my Bardot poster, which was underneatth a very defunct Leak Delta 70 amplifier). The process of sifting jolts the memory: I have birthday cards sent to me in my teens, my father’s boots, the letters of condolence sent to my mother on the death of her father, in 1958.

My son, who has been helping me sort this lot out, said he understood the instinct to hang on to things. What will you do, I said, with the various poems and articles I’ve had published which I have just ripped out of their original publications and put in archive boxes, when I am myself sent to the great attic in th eternal roof. Keep them. of course, he said. And what will you do with the stuff I’ve collected of my father’s and my mother’s? Keep them, he said (a bit less sure). Okay, I said, what about the stuff my father kept of his father’s? And that his father kept of his father’s?

There is a point where family relics turn into clobber, and you could see that he had begun to take in just what an amazing about of things I have managed to accumulate. Perhaps most bizarre is reading letters I sent to my parents when I was eighteen, and at university (I was looking for something else in my mum’s possessions, and out they fell). They refer to a number of people, some of whom come back with startling clarity, and some of whom (about twice the first number) of whom I have no recollection. In one letter, I refer to a strange coincidence. When I was eleven and on a ‘school trip’ in the Mediterranean, I had the first experience of asking a girl to dance. It was very lucky for me that ‘dancing’ was by then a non-contact business, and that it essentially meant jiggling. I was terrified of asking someone to dance. But don’t ask, don’t get, so I did eventually persuade some other twelve-year-old to peel herself off the wall. We had one dance, and all I discovered about her was that we had the same birthday (presumably, literally, exactly the same birth-date). I discovered nothing else except that, after one jiggle, you were not necessarily invited for another.

According to the letter written to my parents, I was at a party while at university when I was introduced to someone called Pam, and said instinctively, ‘When’s your birthday?’, and yes, it was the same person, only some seven years later. Those three minutes had certainly stuck. But I had forgotten all about it, of course, until I read the letter.

The most spectacular instance of this happened to me with Su Elliott, the actress whom I first saw with the travelling theatre group Incubus, and later on TV in Coronation Street (she was Don the taxi-driver’s girlfriend – he was the one who had only one foot, I’m sure that’s right) and also as Stick Insect in the television version of Adrian Mole. I met and talked to her in the 1970s when she was with Incubus. I met her again in the 1990s, when she was appearing at the local theatre. In conversation in the 1990s, we realised and recognised that we had both been in the National Youth Theatre, both been in Zigger Zagger at the Sunderland Empire, and both been to a particularly memorable party in Consett. Yet this connection as teenagers had been missed when we met in our late twenties. Strange.

And this means I have achieved what I set out to do – see if I could write a daily blog for a year. Day 365, as the annoying announcer says (or said) on Big Brother. It’s the equivalent of having written The Great Gatsby three or four times, possibly less skilfully. Freedom! I can have an irregular blog from now on!

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