There are times when life just gets in the way. The demands of my working life in particular have grown relentlessly in the last twelve months and family life, my health and creative life have all suffered. I still search out simplicity.
I still savour this-&-that. I do dream old boats and long walks, and of writing more… But I need to re-balance and attempt it all with a little less guilt, particularly when things don’t work out as I’d hoped. Take this blog for example, it’s becoming more difficult to write as regularly as I’d have liked. So, rather than feel increasingly guilty about that fact, today I’m setting myself a belated resolution, to take time to enjoy the writing and aim for regular posts rather than relentless posts. One or two a week should be possible. In the posts I’ll work on making better connections between things through the use of slightly longer-form single posts rather than numerous shorter ones. The post below is in that revised format, and is a bit of a test bed for the idea. It may take me a while to get it right, but hopefully along the way some of the connections will make sense?
Echoes or ‘ill-considered trifles’
Geoff Kent in an article in the Model Railway Journal No. 236 shares his habit of carrying a camera,
“…in order to record anything and everything that strikes me as an interesting reminder of times not-too-distantly past in the way of buildings, signs, fixtures and fittings.”
I was immediately attracted to the idea not through maudlin sentiment or misty-eyed nostalgia for some bygone age, but because it encourages us to ‘open our eyes, look up, look around and see our often too-familiar world afresh’.
I share his fascination with the stubborn, quiet survival of these remaindered artefacts, they’re poignant echoes of larger enterprises long since lost, they’ve been superseded by the superficiality of now (how long before someone’s recording the fading fragments of our current world I wonder?). From gate posts to brick walls, from lamp posts to ‘ghost signs’ in 24 hours I’ve had the blinkers lifted and I feel my local world’s refreshed and enriched.
Echoes or ‘Madeleine Moments’
Moments when cues encountered in everyday life evoke recollections of the past without conscious effort. They’re often known as Proustian memories after the famous scene in the first volume of Marcel Proust’s masterpiece, In Search of Lost Time, when struggling to recapture details of his childhood and youth, the narrator Marcel tastes a piece of a ‘petite madeleine’ cake steeped in lime-blossom tea, and…
“No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shiver ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, something isolated, detached, with no suggestion of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory—this new sensation having the effect, which love has, of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me, it was me.”
Marcel Proust, In Search of Lost Time, vol. 1
Interestingly, although Marcel’s moment with the madeleine ultimately leads to his recapturing of memories of childhood, it is not as instantaneous a process as we’ve often been led to believe, Marcel actually faces a struggle to make sense of his feelings at the moment of tasting the madeleine. Further tastings don’t work, at least not initially.
“It is plain that the truth I am seeking lies not in the cup but in myself.”
In the book the only way forward lies in deep, repeated plunges of introspection, after which, eventually, something starts to stir:
“I can feel it mounting slowly; I can measure the resistance, I can hear the echo of great spaces traversed.”
The typical conception of a Proustian ‘madeleine’ memory launching us immediately back into the past therefore isn’t quite what Proust wrote. That’s not to say that we don’t all have experience of critical cues, often tastes, smells, snatches of music, that cause unconscious evocations of memory. It’s the combination (and it has to be in combination) of the smell of hot drinking chocolate and ‘Swarfega’ that do it for me. One whiff causes an onrush of memories: early mornings walking to work with dad, down ‘Bath Fields’ in the half light / the whine of the lorry’s air brakes as they charged / the flask of sweet tea he’d share as the lorry warmed up but most specifically the combination brings the memory of the evening after a long day hauling road stone, dad would call at Phillip’s’ Hauliers in Wirksworth, and there, once we’d cleaned the days dirt off our hands with a mixture of the bright green gel cleanser ‘Swarfega’ and sawdust we’d have a scolding beaker of hot chocolate. That mingling of smells and associations takes me to dad, and his world.
Echoes or Green Ship
I took a book home last week to read with The Boys. It was Quentin Blake’s gorgeous ‘The Green Ship’ which describes what happens when Alice and her brother find Mrs Tredegar and her Green Ship over a high garden wall, and their holiday changes course dramatically. They’re trained as the crew of a marvellous imaginary ship and every day they return to the garden to play on the ship, to ‘explore’ the world’ with Mrs Tredegar. their imaginations creating a world of endless possibilities. ‘The Green Ship’ is a celebration of imagination and how we should remember as we get older that the world of imagination remains our magical hinterland, our own private Narnia, just waiting to be re-discovered. It’s a book that Joe’s taken a real shine to, and he’s fallen into the habit just before he falls asleep, of sharing where he’s taking the Green Ship tonight.
He smiles a knowing smile and patiently explains his route around his memories, concerns and interests. He freely associates the imaginary and real, he makes no distinction between fact and fiction, in the drowsy twilight before sleeping his experiences merge in a rainbow of ideas. His descriptions of his planned voyages have encouraged me to think against about thinking, or more specifically about linking my thinking and I’m working on building more ‘spaces’ into my day where I can allow my imagination freer reign. I’m fighting the temptation of privileging one thought over another, after all are work-related thoughts really so much more important in the great scheme of things than the imaginary journey of an imaginary boat? I find that question an oddly comforting one and helpful in re-balancing my skew-whiff world.