Sunday, 8 March 2015


Studies on memory, such as Martin A Conway’s Autobiographical Memory: An Introduction (1990) generally begin with the premise that the experience of remembering is determined by the recall of events or episodes that are dominated by a particular sense of place and time. The memories of our childhood in particular are often dominated by vivid, visual reference-points that are the remnants of the intense and unmediated experiences of a child. Back in June 2013, in a post called You're My World I recalled what I think is my very earliest memory: of me and my Mum and Dad viewing what was to become our new council house in the early Spring of 1964. The one visual reference point I have of that time was the stainless steel kitchen sink unit, and the two chrome taps that hung over the sink. I particularly remember that these taps had little red and blue dots embedded in them, one for hot and one for cold, like this:

They were called Supataps, and they were all the rage in the 1950s and 60s due, to some extent, to their space-ageish design and to the fact you could change the washer on them without having to turn off the water supply. Supataps also became the council house tap of choice. Here they are in a plumber's merchant catalogue from 1964, the year we moved into our house on Dunstall Walk:

I tend to articulate the memory of seeing those taps in our new kitchen in terms of being transported from a monochrome nothingness into a pop art world of red and blue dots, as my family finally crossed the threshold into 'the Sixties'. But I'm not sure how reliable the memory is, or the sentiment that I now attach to it. As we enter adulthood, the direct sensory experiences of our childhood become dulled by familiarity, and they are gradually substituted by a mode of appreciation and remembrance to the point where we become almost wholly incapable of recalling or even imagining what we saw and felt as a child. Nearly all that can we can experience has already been had. As Jorge Luis Borges once stated:

Memory changes things. Every time we remember something, after the first time, we're not remembering the event, but the first memory of the event. Then the second experience of the second memory and so on.

Or, as the psychologist and author of Pieces of Light: The New Science of Memory (2013), Charles Fernyhough put it, 'Our memories are created in the present, rather than being faithful records of the past'. But if our memories are (re)created in the present, then they also have the potential to be generative of meaning in relation to our future. In the wider context of the history of the council estate, and of its dwindling meaning in a time of acute, market-skewered and ownership-driven housing shortages, my memories of my childhood home could be construed as mere nostalgia. If so, then I'm happy with that, and I will press on regardless because, as Paul Ricoeur rightly said somewhere in his studies of time, memory and nostalgia, 'Nostalgia is to the emotions what idealism is to the intellect'.