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It Takes Me Back

by John Ritchie

I took a turning off memory lane the other day and wandered into the crowded, bustling, back streets of my mind. Needless to say I was soon hopelessly, though not unpleasantly, lost.

I found places and people I had not seen in many years. Some I had names for, but no faces and vice-versa. I was reminded once again of that famous quote from the opening of ‘The Go-Between’: “The past is another country, they do things differently there.” So differently you begin to wonder whose fantasy you have stumbled into.

I knew these places and faces once. Once I could recall them without effort. They were all there was and I had no anticipation that what was to come would crowd them out of my mind. Now not only are they not where I remember leaving them, they have acquired strange new accretions since I last looked. Many memories have crowded together and claim fealty, even though I am sure they have no business being in the same decade, let alone in the same place.

My memories gather for the most part silently, and for the most part defiantly. There is obvious comfort for them in being together and though they will admit to being my memories they are not going to let me start pushing them around. They claim I have no right to interfere with them, since I abandoned them so long ago.

I say that I have never abandoned them, that their very existence defends me against such a charge, but they come straight back and say, ‘Look where you left us: to fend for ourselves, crowded and heaped together. And now you want to pull us all apart and rearrange us for your own amusement.’

I can tell there is a lot of simmering resentment here, so I try to be diplomatic. ‘Look,’ I say, ‘it isn’t that easy keeping track of everything I have experienced, a lot of it happened so fast I barely had time to acknowledge I was experiencing it, let alone make a nice tidy place to keep it.’

‘It! It!’

Oh bugger! I was never much good at diplomacy. ‘Sorry, I meant memories as a concept, not you as the subject of those memories.’

They can see I am struggling and begin muttering amongst themselves. Eventually a spokesman steps forward. I don’t have a clue who he is, but I suspect he may be an amalgam of more than one person: the extra limbs give it away.

‘Look,” he says, “we are happy enough as we are. It’s a bit crowded, but we’re used to that. What we are worried about, though, is your sifting through us, looking for something you think is there but which may never have existed. You are going to uproot us, dissect us, and generally mess us about. In the process, some of us, maybe a lot of us, are going to be discarded and we, and indeed you, will be the poorer for that.

‘So here is what we suggest. You come and visit whenever you like, but let us show you around. Tell us who or what you are looking for, and we’ll do our best to find it for you. You’ll have a nice time just wandering about, and we will get to retain our integrity, such as it is. What do you say?’

Well, what could I say? I had been out-manoeuvred by my own mind, and not for the first time, if memory serves.

Copyright © 2011 by John Ritchie

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