I have spent a good part of the day in my loft disinterring old memories by sorting through carrier bags of paperwork, slightly damp books, and yellowing photo copies. This was a difficult exercise. A good deal of it I am putting aside to trash, give away, or in some cases to offer to specialist scholars with a penchant for copies of UK and US Government documents relating to Kuwait in the 1960s and early ‘70s. Sad. Aside from the Kuwait documents, this was a difficult and often emotional exercise.
I am a hoarder. Why else would I have found boxes quite literally containing nothing but newspapers from the 1990s? However when the items I find are Christmas cards from long lost friends, a receipt for studio time in 1985, and heavily annotated 20 year old articles about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, they stir up memories difficult to simply dispose of in the waste pile. A box of photos from the 1980s and 1990s mostly brought me cheer, especially those of my wife and I. Thinking of her does not invoke pain. A copy of a Sunday supplement magazine with Dylan on the cover, and with “For Neil” in my mother’s hand-writing, does.
I found an old cigar box with letters and cards. Some were from a slightly eccentric Edinburgh Quaker who many years ago would send me clippings apparently affirming unmitigated Israeli evil. He himself would not set foot in the Holy Land…on principle. However many were from my now deceased mother and father. I had long forgotten that my father had actually expressed in writing his “pride” in what he thought I had “achieved”. I don’t recall him ever clearly saying such a thing mind you. Rereading a note from my mother expressing similar sentiments was difficult, not because I don’t recall her ever verbalising such sentiments, but because in the end isolation and the disappointment she felt with her life made her love of her sons insufficient to want to keep on living.
Another dimension to the afternoon of half-remembered enthusiasms and distant echoes of longings once felt, and often discarded, were the piles and piles of rock magazines and newspaper clippings. Musicians’ obituaries, gig and album reviews, band profiles. Even a copy of Paul Yates’ execrable “Rock Stars in Their Underpants”. The Middle East somehow took over from, but never entirely replaced, my youthful love of pop. The latter had rendered Tommy Docherty’s Man Utd pretty irrelevant for me when I was a mere 12 or 13. Pop has been a constant. It is a profession that I vaguely flirted with once as a would-be manager (briefly) and periodically ever since as an amateur critic.
The stuff I was going through was overwhelming, partly by virtue of its sheer quantity as it began to merge with the piles and piles of old books and magazines that already clutter our landing. However it also began to make me feel hopeless. Of course your life isn’t defined by old newspaper articles you’ll never read again and notebooks filled with scrawl. However they can say something about what your life was about, and, by now being old, what your life has become. Memories, past enthusiasms, hand-written notes suggesting real concern for the conflicts of far-away places. My notes from the present will not later be discoverable in box files or cardboard boxes. They will be on hard drives and memory sticks. Some will be included here, at least for as long as this blog exists. Their concerns, aside from what I need to do to earn money, will often be personal, whether I am writing about myself or an old band I have seen.
Right now I just want to cleanse myself in all senses of the dust of yesteryear, but the boxes surround me, awaiting collection or council recycling. I am going out tonight and perhaps the booze will wash away some of the cloying sense of the past. At least until the morning when I will sit at this screen again, switching awkwardly between sad musings and professional assignments.