Yesterday, on my way to Addenbrooke’s on a number 2 bus, I travelled momentarily in time. For a second, no more, I was suddenly nine years old in Aberdeen.
I can’t say for certain how many times I’ve been to Aberdeen. Two, perhaps, around the ages of nine or ten; if there was another time, it is too long ago for me to remember. And my memories of the visits are slight, but I do remember one single moment, a few minutes, perhaps, of driving through residential streets with the blazing sun in my eyes, and the feeling associated with that moment. The sun in Scotland has a peculiarly dazzling quality, perhaps because it so rarely appears.
It was this — emotional memory, shall I call it — that was visited upon me yesterday, evoked by the sun and the streets, somewhere around Walpole Road, in such a vivid flash that for a moment it was almost as if I were nine again.
It’s not puzzling that a memory should return. These things happen to us, though they are evoked more often and more strongly by smells or sounds than by sights, in my experience. What is puzzling is why this particular memory has stayed, and not the memory of the lunch I had that day in Aberdeen, or of what I did in the afternoon. What was it about that moment, twenty years ago, that makes it remarkable enough to have remained in my mind when all else has departed?
Perhaps you know the feeling of abandoning all other thoughts and thinking, I must remember this moment to preserve it for the future. I am truly alive and life is wonderful and let’s not forget it. Maybe it’s just me. Anyway, I may have had such an instinct at that moment in Aberdeen. A strange place to feel the joy of being alive, some would say.
Yesterday was a disorientating day generally. When I arrived at the radiology waiting room, there were two elderly women in wheelchairs, both with the exact same face (the women, not the wheelchairs). One was reading a story about Lorna Luft out of a scandal sheet to a woman I took to be her daughter; the other, attended by a carer who might have been from Southeast Asia (or Southeast Cambridgeshire), appeared to be in a state of mild catatonia.
Hospitals are great, aren’t they. Apart from the fact that you arrive feeling sick and leave feeling better (or dead), they are the great centres of democracy of our society, the places where, private hospital patrons gladly excepted, everyone congregates, black or white, rich or poor. I watched an episode of Only Fools and Horses a couple of weeks ago and entirely against expectation rather enjoyed it. Long live the NHS!
I was going to quote a passage from The Prelude by Wordsworth here, to illustrate my point about isolated incidents that may have lasted only seconds remaining in the memory for years, but I find on returning to it not that I’ve misread the passage exactly but that it doesn’t fit what I’m writing about here, whatever that is. Memory’s unreliable.
The proof: I’ve found a photo I took of Rosehill Drive in Aberdeen on the very day I have been remembering, and it not only suggests that the sun wasn’t as blinding as I seem to have thought, but also demonstrates indisputably that I wasn’t nine. It was taken in the summer of 1995, when I would just have turned twelve. I don’t recognise the Aberdeen of my memory in the photograph. In fact the Aberdeen I’ve been thinking of looks a bit like Bath.
I’m a very hard person for me to believe sometimes. I haven’t read Proust, but I imagine it’s like this only with fewer sitcom references.