Ah Yes, I Remember It Well

Gigi is an old MGM film, a musical that came out in the fifties.  It’s all glamour, black tie and Parisian chic. It’s often shown on television around Christmas time.  My favourite part of the film is the duet between a husband (Maurice Chevalier, singing in heavily accented English) and his wife of many years, in which they recall their first date decades before.  The humour arises when the husband’s recollections transpire to be quite different to those of his wife.  She contradicts and corrects each detail he gets wrong, which turns out to be every detail.  Here is a taste of it: (Husband) We met at nine.  (Wife) We met at eight.  (Husband) I was on time.  (Wife) No, you were late.  (Husband) Ah, yes, I remember it well. We dined with friends. (Wife) We dined alone.  (Husband) Atenor sang.  (Wife) A baritone.  (Husband) Ah, yes, I remember it well.  That dazzling April moon.  (Wife) There was none that night – and the month was June. (Husband) You lost a glove.  (Wife) I lost a comb. (Husband) That brilliant sky. (Wife) We had some rain. (Husband) Those Russian songs. (Wife) From sunny Spain.  Husband) You wore a gown of gold. (Wife) I was all in blue. (Husband) Am I getting old? (Wife) Oh, no, not you!

We’re led to believe that the wife’s version is accurate, that her husband has become forgetful with age.  But who is to say she is the right one?  After all, both versions amount to the same thing: a fond memory of a romantic evening in which the detail has been coloured in differently over time.  And how can we do otherwise?  Unless we document every single thing that happens in a life – say through film or photograph or writing – there will always be variations in the telling.  I’ve heard it said that memory is an unreliable guide to the past in the absence of concrete corroboration.  But what if we accept contrasting memories as one might consider and acquire a taste for cover versions of the same song?  Whose version of ‘A Little Help From My Friends’ is the definitive, best, most truthful?  The Beatles’ original, or Joe Cocker’s interpretation?  My adjudication: I love them both.

Even a photograph is open to interpretation, as I found out when looking through a pile of old black and white ones lately. Whose gable wall were we standing in front of in that picture, circa. 1979?  What beach are we playing on in that one?  There were lots of possible answers and a few plausible stories to match. For time plays tricks with memory; it locks in tiny details, makes them large and bright, whilst letting other moments fade and disappear like a old letter written in ink left in the sunlight, what could once be read is now barely decipherable.

There is a dance that occurs between time and memory, one that can re-shape an event leaving it with added romance, extra drama, further tragedy.  Who wants to remember an ordinary day when you can add spice?  Which is not to say that it’s a lie, let’s call it, ‘time’s embellishment’.  Surely, as long as it is not something controversial that is being is being pulled up from the past, the accuracy of the detail doesn’t matter if the story is good. A bit like buying a well-cut but plain dress: add ribbon and lace, a few tucks, some satin stitch embroidery on the cuffa, sew a few pearls onto the neckline, fix a sparkly brooch to the shoulder…. there, that’s better.

So influenced have I been by the power of story and memory that I’ve sometimes re-fashioned details, even gone so far as to write myself into events that pre-date my birth!  For thirty-five years I have held onto, and oft repeated, a solid memory of being refused a new swimsuit one summer and made to swim in my gymnastics leotard.  I could even remember my mother’s words: ‘It will do fine as a swimsuit, cover you up and save on sun cream.’  Ah! How that carpet of memory was briskly pulled from beneath my feet when, hiding in the same pile of back and white photographs, I found a something to invalidate my version of history.  August 1982, Portrush harbour: four cold, wet and smiling children, perched on the diving boards, having just clambered from the sea.  There I am, biting my bottom lip in glee, wearing my candy-striped swimsuit (how I loved it!), big sister by my right shoulder, smiling shyly.  Our best friends B. and S. are in the photo too, and what do you suppose they are wearing, only leotards.

The whole thing makes me wonder, did Miranda remember that inn in the same way as he described it?  Did you, Miranda?

 

Tarantella, Hilaire Belloc

Do you remember an Inn,

Miranda?

Do you remember an Inn?

And the tedding and the spreading

Of the straw for a bedding,

And the fleas that tease in the High Pyrenees,

And the wine that tasted of tar?

And the cheers and the jeers of the young muleteers

(Under the vine of the dark verandah)?

Do you remember an Inn,

Miranda,

Do you remember an Inn?

And the cheers and the jeers of the young muleteeers

Who hadn’t got a penny,

And who weren’t paying any,

And the hammer at the doors and the Din?

And the Hip! Hop! Hap!

Of the clap

Of the hands to the twirl and the swirl

Of the girl gone chancing,

Glancing,

Dancing,

Backing and advancing,

Snapping of a clapper to the spin

Out and in –

And the Ting, Tong, Tang, of the Guitar.

Do you remember an Inn,

Miranda?

Do you remember an Inn?

 

Never more;

Miranda,

Never more.

Only the high peaks hoar:

And Aragon a torrent at the door.

No sound

In the walls of the Halls where falls

The tread

Of the feet of the dead to the ground

No sound:

But the boom

Of the far Waterfall like Doom.

One thought on “Ah Yes, I Remember It Well

  1. A wise man once told me exactly that! That all our memories, and indeed our realities are socially constructed, therefore truth is subjective. Ontological positivism, said he, is the scourge of society. Now I know he let his daughters go swimming in leotards though. No subjective reality about that.

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