I remember when I was studying psychology at school that there was a module on memory, in particularly focussing on eye-witness testimony and how unreliable it can be. I remember that smell is considered a strong influence on the recollection of memory – many times I have been walking along a street, or through a market, or past a house with the smell of cooking drifting through an open window, and it has taken me back to Mexico, or South East Asia, or childhood summers at my Grandmother’s house in Jersey. Equally to me, is the influence of music – how a song can take me back to a certain place or time, how a certain place can bring a specific song to my head, even a song I have long forgotten about.
One such song is Madonna’s ‘This used to be my playground’. I remember I first heard this song at a dancing competition my sisters were taking part in. A group of older dancers – probably only about sixteen years old, but the age I was then they seemed so grown up – performed a modern dance, floating, drifting, and to me, with no sense of nostalgia at that age, it was so sad and beautiful that the memory has always stuck. Whenever I am at the park with my son on a grey windy day – there is something about a grey windy day that is so lonely – and we are sitting on the roundabout, the only people in the park, this song comes to my head.
Straightaway I am back at our pink house on Newgate. I vividly remember this house. It was in the town centre with a large back garden where we were gifted with an apple tree, a pear tree and two plum trees. It backed onto a shop which had a beautiful vegetable patch and we were allowed to use a section of it to grow lettuces, tomatoes, carrots and courgettes, and sweet peas that trailed up the wall. I remember workmen were digging up the road one day and cut through the power lines and we had the longest powercut I can ever recall. The power was still out by dinnertime so my Dad went down the road to get a Chinese takeaway and we ate it sitting in front of the fire (it was one of those fireplaces with a big cauldron-like thing hanging in the middle of it). On another occasion, all the water in the house ran cloudy. I remember this specifically because I lost a tooth and had to wash my mouth out with sparkling Abbey Well water that my Mum always got from the milkman.
I loved my bedroom in that house because it had its own sink which meant I didn’t have to fight with five other people for the bathroom each day. I had bunk beds in my room, even though I did not share the room, and I always slept on the top bunk. My bedroom window looked over the road to an unused car lot where we all learnt to ride our bikes. This is the playground I always remember first. All the laughter and how we never fought, then returning home and turning our bikes upside by the garage and pretending we were doing maintenance on them. We were all so upset when a garage opened up there.
My memories move on to when I was in sixth form. We had moved house twice by then, outside of town this time, and I always had to rely on a lift home because I could no longer get the free school bus. I spent the hours after finishing school in the library, firstly doing my homework in the reference section where there were always old men pouring over the newspapers and encyclopaedias, then moving to the young adult section where I would take out my black hardback notebooks and write my stories, watching the rain falling over the bowling green and hearing it patter, harder and louder than it actually was, on the corrugated tin roof over the library. Sometimes, instead, I would curl up in the armchair in the travel section with a pile of travel guides and plan my life away. On the days the library was closed, I would sit in the teashop at the Baker’s Oven making a pot of tea and Belgian bun last two hours while I scribbled away in my black hardback notebooks.
Nostalgia is described by the OED as ‘sentimental longing or wistful affection for a period in the past’. I think in the instance of ‘This used to be my playground’ it is a bit of both. I have so many happy memories of that house, my childhood and growing up. Memories like this make me feel so appreciative of my family and how close we are, and always have been. Then, lines in this song – ‘This used to be my childhood dream; This used to be the place I ran to whenever I was in need’ remind me of how dedicated I used to be to my writing, and ‘that little fire is still alive in me’ tells me that this can still be.