I know you’ve not been wondering where I’ve been, but I’m going to tell you anyway.
In the shielding group, so working from home and furloughed at the first opportunity, I’ve taken the unprecedented opportunity afforded by this global pandemic to make a start on “the book”.
Now, now, don’t get over-excited. There is no guarantee that it will ever see the light of day.
It has meant, however, a drastic cut in time spent on social media and sharing sites. Whilst enjoying the process of a longer work, I did take the opportunity recently to post that “editing your own work feels like pushing carrots and peas around the plate, hoping to make the meal more appetising, whilst wondering who in their right mind would want to eat this shit”. It garnered more than a few nodding “hearts” and some wonderful extensions to the metaphor. So… not just me, then, with a healthy, developing, loathing of the process. (Full disclosure: I detest the default serving of carrots with peas!)
What I came to realise, in all the word wrangling, is how important memory is to the process; not only of events but of emotions sparked in response to these events. (Not to mention in being able to recognise parts already included; a fault, I suppose, developed through having only written short pieces.)
It was a particularly interesting early discovery that emotionally charged memory, though often harder to “write”, was infinitely easier to recall. Details may remain obscure, about who said what and in what order, but the emotional context relives in an instant. Where there was anger, a touch of that anger stains the page; where there were tears, tears may fall.
Taking a break last night, however, I became overwhelmed by the memory of a very specific taste. One which I have only enjoyed once; nigh gone forty-five years ago. Completely unbidden, entirely unexpected: Miss Maltman’s homemade oatcakes. Not only the flavour, either. The sensation of warmth in the mouth, the interplay of softness and texture as the oatcake crumbed, the smell. Oh, the smell.
For context, you need to understand that I only met Miss Maltman once. She was the aunt of a friend. We sneaked out of school one lunchtime, and when we arrived at her house Miss Maltman was standing at her stove, over a hot griddle, flipping oatcakes. I am entirely incapable of recalling any detail of the room, whether she presented them on a plate or scooped them directly into eager hands, or indeed anything about Miss Maltman’s appearance. (I suspect long, straight, salt and pepper hair, but I don’t feel any “honesty” in that).
For as long as I live, however, the joy of that mouthful of love will undoubtedly remain.
In considering it, I realised ‘sense’ memory may be as strong as any other, in allowing us to access past events. When we hear a familiar song, it may remind us of a person, a place, or an event; smell, often, catches us unawares in a similar way, after all.
Sight, oddly, may not be quite so adept at intensely invoking memory. It feels, somehow, to be the smile of recognition which pulls sight’s memories into abstract focus. Why is that?
Touch too. A caress may remind us of the previous stroke of a hand, but it seems a more mechanical process, a pulling together of disparate images and emotions, to form a tender portrait of a time past.
Ironically, in writing this, I can ‘feel’ the texture of the Irish linen tea towel, its moist warmth, steam rising through the fibres, which Miss Maltman had used to cover her freshly baked fare.
It had a green border.