Notes from Memory

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Feb 15th, 2011
Sj
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When I started out on this journey, this story was all about my Moleskine obsession, and what drives me to put ink on paper.

But my life never works out quite the way I planned. Rather like the stories I write, some of them surprise even me.

My life’s journey has been charmed. It’s the only way to describe it.

First of all, I was blessed with parents who embraced art, design, literature, and travel with a passion. I grew up in a household where artistic expression was important, the freedom to explore my imagination without boundaries. I am also insatiably curious, and I am not shy. I will talk to anyone about anything.

It’s this last characteristic of my nature which led me, with my usual complete lack of reticence to reply to a Twitter direct message, thanking me for my follow. Upon such a seemingly innocuous act spins the coin of fate.

Half a world away, the gentleman on the other end of this apparently mundane correspondence was Mark Stolaroff, producer of writer/director Henry Barrial’s remarkable independent film, Pig.

Several exchanges and a conversation later, last Friday morning the Fedex man was standing on my doorstep and the latest cut of Pig was in my sticky little fingers.

Ever have one of those moments of total clarity when suddenly you know exactly what course something is going to take? When someone’s else’s vision takes you to a place where everything that you had been randomly thinking, none of which really fit together, just falls into place?

Pig is one of those films. It takes you to places you had never considered. It makes you think about what you’ve got, and how you might re-evaluate it. To learn to appreciate it all over again.

The film’s story revolves around a man, brilliantly played by actor Rudolf Martin, who wakes up in a desert, hands tied behind his back with a hood over his head. Who is he? Why is he there? If he can remember 1 + 1 = 2, why can’t he remember his own name, or even how he knows 1 + 1 = 2?

My life and writing revolves around memory: seemingly random collections of incidents stored and regurgitated, usually to maximum comedic value. My default position on life is that, for the most part, it’s hilarious entertainment. That’s not to say that sad stuff hasn’t happened, because it has. And there are also things that I really rather wish I didn’t know, but…. To have no memory of your past? That’s a whole other thing.

My Facebook page has photos on it, mementoes of my sometimes whacky past. Pictures paint a thousand words. But without the memories that are attached to those pictures, you only have half the story. Some of the richness of the experience–the meaning, the significance–is essentially lost.

Dad and Me, Southern France, 1970

Like this picture of me and my dad. The year is 1970, a deserted road somewhere in southern France. The car behind us is the Viva, one of Vauxhall’s least reliable offerings. The fuel gauge was something of an optimist. And Tahiti, the blow-up boat on top of the roof, had its own part to play in a typical Heckscher holiday. This was a journey not without spontaneous disaster.

My parents were arguing, mainly because my mother’s window-shopping slowed our actual progress down to a snail’s pace. By the time we hit Naples, we’d missed the ferry to Ischia. Dad’s fuse was, by this time, well and truly lit. We found a hotel with an underground car park. Dad swept into the underground car park forgetting about Tahiti.

WALLOP!! Which was followed by a noise vaguely reminiscent of my former French teacher’s nails on the blackboard as she wiped it clean. Then: THUD!!! That was the sound of the roof rack, complete with boat, scraping off the roof, hitting the boot lid and landing behind us in the road.

Dad braked. He looked in the rearview mirror. Then he said a word, with all the world-weary resignation of someone whose last nerve really has snapped beyond all human endurance.

I can remember the look in his eyes and the grumpiness in his voice as though it was yesterday. I remember almost every detail of that holiday, even though I was only five at the time and it was forty years ago. Holidays with both my parents had a certain je ne sais quoi about them. They were usually filled with incident, mostly centred around my mother’s ability to lose things and pack waaaaaaaaaaaaay too much stuff.

Beautiful, tempestuous and flighty, my mother resembled Vivian Leigh, and had in fact understudied her on the London stage back in the fifties. My dad was the dry wit, my mother the passionate firecracker. Holidays were never boring. Weird, yes; chaotic, certainly; but never boring.

After my father passed away, things changed. Suddenly my memories were less vivid, and I started to write stuff down… leading directly to my notebook obsession.

I’ve always written stuff down. In much the same way as I’ve always made up stories as a child, mostly as an ass-covering exercise as school work was (to me) terminally dull. Later it was more a case of recalling the past and using my pattern of experience to make my friends laugh.

And that is my default mechanism against most things: making people laugh. It is a big part of who I am and what I do. Without those memories to back it up, there would be pretty pictures, and a big hole in my psyche.

Memory. It’s a place in my soul. I can’t imagine being without it. The good, the not so good, even the painful.  If I had the chance to start over, I am not sure I would want to. There is detail in my head that has never made it as far as ink on paper. Far beyond facts. Facts are facts, mostly black and white, it’s memories that add colour. Chance and co-incidence add highlights and shading.

Chance led me directly to My Ink Project, which went from a half-formed idea to this post, via a brilliant film which challenged a few things I thought I knew and prompted me to look at them in a new way.

With grateful thanks to Henry and Mark, and my new writing partner, Mel!

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