We were in Cardiganshire, Ceredigion, over the end of May. ‘We’ being my wife, Sally, my youngest daughter, my dog and myself. We go to Wales most years. I grew up there and have a brother and sister who wisely never fought their way out. Why would you, with nook beaches backed by green hills and purple mountains, a sunset-sea to the west, fish and chips on the beach and a mandatory ice-cream every day.
Usually we are a little further south, closer to my sister, but we’d edged north along the coast this time to explore. Only much of it was exploring my memory. I’d forgotten how much time I’d spent here with my older daughters and my mother and, much longer ago, day trips from our farm to New Quay and any number of other little harbours and beaches. It was deeply nostalgic but my memories lacked precision.
I realised in Wales that I’ve come to value memory in a different way. I’m only fifty-somethingorother but I see memory more as a commodity now than a given. The laser-like memory of youth is lost. I expect it’s where I last left it. Instead, memory is finite and every snippet returned to me (tea and cakes in Broad Haven with my siblings in remembrance of our parents, a beach-safari on Poppit Sands with my daughters, dropping Sally’s honey ice-cream in Aberaeron, finding a starfish with my nephew) is inwardly celebrated like I’ve found a wad of twenty-pound notes. The sadness is, in recalling these memories, I gauge how many I have lost.
It’s not so bad to have the memories rolled up, agglomerated, its just a little disorientating. A boat ride from New Quay was really from St Davids, that holiday cottage you liked in Pembroke turns out to be in Cornwell. I joked to Sally that I should market a line of upbeat T-Shirts for the old and slightly lost. A bit like the Wham ‘Choose Life’ effort but reading ‘I Remembered!’
Understanding that my deeper past could only be grasped at like thin mist is all part of getting old I suppose. ‘Slippery little tadpoles of memory,’ I wrote in one of my earlier stories. At least the places, the views, the sound of the sea, were all prompts. In my writing. Almost always I use memory to evoke feelings, a melancholic state of mind, thought of loves lost, of the deeper home of youth. It’s an emotional shortcut to the reader. We all have memories, whatever age we are, it’s only lately that I have come to see the value of them appreciates over time. Wham were right about choosing life, living in the present, I guess, but we’re forlorn, individually and collectively without the landmarks of the past.
I’m blessed with aunts. I still have loads if anyone needs to borrow. One was lost to me last year, another is living but lost all the same. When I visit, she no longer knows who I am; talk of the present is redundant. So I ask her if she’ll tell me again about riding pillion on a motorbike in her twenties along the long straight road outside the grounds of Woburn Abbey. She smiles. ‘D’you know,’ she says, ‘We went a hundred miles an hour.’