Saturday, 9 May 2009

Old snake skins

Hampstead Heath again, noon today.

I woke from a dream at six this morning, and couldn’t go back to sleep.

In the dream I’d met a fellow from my class in secondary school, and hadn’t been able to remember his name. I tried, called him by a name, but it sounded wrong. I tried to correct myself, and called him another. He looked insulted, so I tried a third, but it still wasn’t right.

When I awoke, I really couldn’t remember his name. I could recall his face, conversations we’d had, but no name.

I tried remembering the names of others in that class. I could only summon two or three names, and nine or ten faces. I tried remembering names of classmates in primary school. Three or four.

What else could I remember of my childhood? The only childhood birthdays I have any particular memory of are my third and my sixth. My third birthday was the last before we left Denmark for Ireland. A present, a corduroy horse called Fanta, so called because some Fanta was spilled on it at the party.

On my sixth birthday I was sick. Six and sick, so no party. And my mother was making strawberry jam, lots of it. For years afterwards I couldn’t eat strawberry jam without experiencing nausea.

I don’t have any precise memories of my brother’s birthdays. Did we have birthday parties after we moved to Ireland? I don’t remember. I don’t recall seeing any birthday photos in the album that my brother has.

Other children’s birthdays . . . I only remember two birthday parties, both for the same girl. The first was memorable because someone hit me in the face with a stick, and I had a spectacular nosebleed. And I remember a game of pin the tail on the donkey. And the birthday girl’s father playing a practical joke on her, an enormous parcel with several layers of wrapping, and only a block of wood in the centre. And I remember her on the roof of a garden shed, throwing stones at her guests.

Perhaps I’m muddling together more than one party. The last memory is separate, though, of delivering a present to her on her birthday when she was a few years older, only to discover she’d had a party earlier in the day, and I hadn’t been invited.

I think I was desperate. Desperate at twelve, desperate at three.

I became intensely focused on imaginative drawing at a very early age, around age three or four, around the time we moved to Ireland. Now I wonder if this monomania was an attempt at creating a refuge from change, a carefully constructed world of my own, an alternative to a strange land with a new language.

One other memory from when I was three, in Denmark, playing in the sandpit with my friend, the boy from the neighboring farm up the hill, telling him we were leaving. But now my memory of the memory is confused. Which one of us was wearing a green jumper? And what was his name?

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