Tripping down memory lane
©2006 K. Diab
Between the reel and the surreal
Streams of consciousness during these surreal trips down memory lane can turn into torrents. In 2004, Katleen accompanied me on a tour around the artefacts of my ancient self. Seeing some of the remains of my childhood and teenage years has helped her gain new insights into who I am, she told me. Likewise, living in Belgium has helped me gain a deeper appreciation of who she is.
I took her to the house we used to live in as children, my primary school and one of my secondary schools. We took a walk through the local park and had a drink at a snazzy new coffee bar that had opened up on the high street. She liked the vibe of the area, saying that it felt like a cosy inner city village.
It felt strange, thrilling and unsettling to be taking my adult self and my partner in life on this stroll into the past. At moments, that past would trickle through into the present, at others it would blast in. It didn’t feel like we’d stepped back in time – it felt more like time was jogging and jittering and blurring.
The original structures seemed to be more real and solid, but my mind was having more difficulty grappling with the additions and modifications. They seemed to be artificial and superimposed, as in a composite image.
The houses on Sutherland Grove in southwest London looked remarkably unchanged from the outside. The big comprehensive school – which had been the object of both fascination and apprehension for me as a young child and had led me to start taking martial arts classes in order to be able to defend myself against the older bullies – was no longer there. In its place was a small Anglican school and a luxury housing development. Our house looked like it had not been touched since we moved out. But the skip in the front garden indicated that the present owners were finally going to do some refurbishing.
Leaving the surroundings you grew up in has a peculiar effect on your memories. As time winds on, memories become hazy and disjointed, chronology becomes confused. Deprived of the physical geography in which memories are recorded and bounced back at you, and with no one to verify them for you, they tend to take on a faded, unreal quality, similar to that of an old reel of film. Ghostly and surreal, you sometimes wonder if what you remember actually bears any resemblance to the truth. Are yours genuine, first-hand memories or are they, in fact, someone else’s and you’ve somehow taken possession of them as your own? Memories are notoriously unreliable creatures, the more so when you have no independent, outside confirmation of their veracity.
On a similar solo trip I made in 1999, I suspected that, to all intents and purposes, any evidence of my presence had been irreversibly lost; that the buildings and stones and trees would speak only to me, that they would contain messages only I was equipped to read. I had a feeling that to the present occupiers of my old world I would be seen as a stranger, an outsider who was just passing through. They would view with bemusement my lingering stroll, the strange and distant smile on my face, the wistful and absent look in my eyes.
With every step, my memories became sharper. I saw landmarks and building that triggered off an inexhaustible trail of past events and character. My mind was trying dizzyingly to keep up with this crazy helter-skelter hurtling through my head.
This time, I refrained from knocking on our neighbour’s door as I had done in 1999, partly because of time constraints and partly because I was not alone. Pressing the doorbell had taken a lot of courage. Seeing Candy, now in middle age, open the door had been an odd moment. But the freakier instant was to follow, when she actually recognised me, although I had not seen her since I was about 12, and I now sported a beard! “You don’t look all that different. Besides, mothers don’t forget their sons nor the sons of their neighbours,” she told me over a cuppa as we caught up on what had happened since we moved away from Southfields to Chessington and then to exotic Cairo. Naturally, her sons, Vincent and Gavin, our childhood buddies were not living there anymore and, unfortunately, I didn’t get to see them before I left. Read on...
ă2006 K. Diab. Unless otherwise stated, all the content on this website is the copyright of Khaled Diab.