I remember…

The mighty Backlisted podcast is having a summer break, but they’ve left weekly drops of their Locklisted podcast to fill the gaps in listeners’ hearts and minds. This week they talked about I Remember, by Joe Brainard and I scurried upstairs to grab my copy.

Brainard was primarily an artist not a writer, and if you want to spend a lot of money on clothes, it looks like there’s stuff out there with Brainard prints. But the book is a lot cheaper and more stylish. It is simply a list of things he remembers, with each sentence starting ‘I remember’. It’s a deceptively straightforward approach, because while it allows for randomness, it also allows Brainard to capture the way that sometimes memories lead to others, which then lead to others. They might be interesting, banal or tap into a shared vein of nostalgia with the reader.

The Locklisted hosts tried writing ‘I remembers’ for themselves and it was good listening, so I thought I’d give it a go, as a prompt. The trick is not to think too much and just the let memories flow.

I remember a biscuit tin full of buttons that my nan had, and how beautiful and fascinating they were.

I remember the moments I knew I was going to fall off my bike.

I remember reading a book in which a girl had a sugar mouse that she kept, and really wanting my own sugar mouse.

I remember starlings flying over and through Birmingham city centre at dusk, when I’d taken the long way home from school.

I remember a Mickey Mouse alarm clock that I had, which ticked so loudly that when my friends stayed over we had to bury it under clothes. I used to find the ticking really comforting, but I’ve never been able to have another ticking alarm clock since.

I remember being projector monitor at school. The hymns were written out on acetate paper and I had to find them and put on the projector screen the right way round.

I remember the excitement of starting a new school term, with a new bag and pencil case.

I remember and old picnic box we had. It was four layers, of alternate white and orange plastic and each layer had compartments for different sorts of food and cup holder for a plastic beaker.

I remember when the cats were kittens and they seemed weightless in the air when they jumped.

In which I draw up the drawbridge

Home from my short stint in Oxford and Bampton, and I was in bed before 8pm last night. I can’t believe I used to get up at 5.30 or 6.00am and drive two or three hours each way to work and back. What utter madness. I had a lovely day of shopping and lunching with my sister, she got most of what she was after and I got a stack of books. Although not much Greek going second-hand, so I ended up with a couple of new Loebs: the Oresteia in one volume, Trojan Women, Iphigenia among the Taurians and Ion in the other.

But that was the best part of 24 hours in company and now I need silence until Monday. I’ve got a ticket to see Black Widow at the drive-in on Friday night, like I was ever going to do two things in one week. I don’t know what I was thinking but that’s a bucket of not happening. I’ve prodded the idea of getting in the car, driving to Newark, showing my ticket, parking up and sitting amongst a load of other cars for a couple of hours, and nope. Nopety-nope nope nope.

Today has been a chain-reading day, which I very much needed.

I started The Left-Handed Booksellers of London when I got home last night, so finished that this morning. It was a nice jumble of bookishness and folklore elements, infused with genuine love of London and awareness of the physical and mental solace of books. I liked the reference to a cricket bag with the monogram PDBW, and at one point one of the characters got some bad news and ‘went and built a sort of pyramid of Dickens and Trollope second or later editions – he didn’t disturb the firsts – climbed in, and has refused to talk or come out…’ Who hasn’t wanted to climb inside a book pyramid? What could feel more reassuring?

Then I read Summerwater by Sarah Moss, which clocked in at under 200 pages and packed a punch longer books could only wish for. One of my favourite narrative techniques is the episodic, multi-person perspective giving the reader a kaleidoscope view of the same scenes. This was various people staying at some chalets near a loch during a week of non-stop rain. Families, couples, all dealing with their own depths and demons, beautifully charted and with a shocking ending.

Finally Hamnet to round off the day. Brilliant in a different way, strong and evocative, with bereavement and grief at the heart of it. Not a plague novel, not a theatre novel, not anything you expect about Shakespeare, because it’s the women who have centre stage and drive this story. It’s a great piece of historical fiction. Maggie O’Farrell’s notes at the end say that the plague is not mentioned at all in Shakespeare’s plays, which does seem an omission. Then again, it doesn’t seem likely that theatre goers would want to see that level of reality.

In which I leave the house

It’s occurred to me that I should make some attempt to rehabilitate myself back into society, against future need. I’m sure work will yank me back in to some awful team day or another soon enough, so I thought I should practice being around people.

I went to the seaside for the day. Or rather, I went to Wells-Nowhere-Near-the-Sea, where the tide was out and showing no inclination to pop back in while I was there. The trip did let me tick a few seaside essentials off the list. I had chips, although in full disclosure, I had posh chips at a sitting down place, because the queue for the chippy looked too much like hard work. And I spent £2 on tuppenny waterfalls, but the amusement arcade was really busy and even louder than they usually are. By the time my money was gone, I was glad to leave.

Public spaces are exhausting. That’s not news to me, but after 16 months of quiet, it’s a shocker just how loud people are. The noise is inescapable and almost physically abrasive. Wells was only quite busy, but a couple of hours of it all was overwhelming. So then I wandered around the mostly deserted residential streets and looked at the profusion of hollyhocks with which the town was bedecked. I wouldn’t have though I knew what a hollyhock was, but the word was sitting right there in my mind, ready to leap out when needed. So satisfying when word and thing come together.

After which, I’d had quite enough of being out and I fled home to the glorious peace and solitude. The problem is, I don’t really want to be out of the house. What’s in it for me, now that I’ve spent more than a year reinforcing my staying-in habit? There has to be purpose, and it has to outweigh the not-being-in-the-houseness (there’s probably a German word for that).

Fortunately, today’s jaunt has dual purpose: to see my sister, even though we saw each other in April and said then ‘See you in November’; and to see what Blackwell’s has to offer in the second hand Greek texts section. I need all the tragedies, because woman cannot work from translations alone. I forgot to say that I decided to take the money I’m not spending on petrol and apply for a PhD next year, so I’m prepping to come up with a topic.

So off I go, again.