Where Do You Get Your Ideas? No 3 Other People’s Memories

Other people’s memories are a rich source of ideas. It’s easy to see why. You can only live one life. You may live it in several spheres and so have personal memories of being, for example: behind a launching ship; delivered of a first baby; responsible for burying a parent; in the queue to matriculate at university; treated for a stab wound; in a crashing a car…

On the other hand, it’s likely that if you’re familiar with cars and how they crash, you’re not too hot on how to survive on a Scottish moor after the pony collapses and dies beneath you. There’s probably a relative, though, who heard such a story of life in the Highlands during their grandparents’ lifetimes. Listening to the elderly and the very old is a rich seam to mine, but it does need checking.evacuees house This photograph was taken in temporary accommodation used by evacuees during WWII. They were bombed out of Clydebank. The memories will be different for each family member and for each member of the host family too. I remember visiting a tied cottage on Pumpherston farm where the household cooked on a stove just a little more modern than this one.

Raw information will have been edited in the person’s brain. It’s only natural that good acts will be attributed to their friends, their Church and their chosen political party. It’s likely that criticism will be reserved for those they disliked, the Church they didn’t attend and the politicians who were of a different persuasion. Even so, raw information resonates with the experience of escaping a riot, a flooded pit, an explosion. It tickles the fancy with little details about how much ribbon was stitched to the younger sister’s Easter bonnet or how no brother ever washed a dish.Manchester night out The shoes to the left were abandoned in Manchester city centre. Which will be the true memory? ‘The strap broke and I fell. Lucky I didn’t break my neck.’ Or ‘She was so drunk, she fell down the steps. Lucky we were there to catch her. Never again!’

Not only the technical world, but lifestyle has changed so much in my own lifetime that it is sometimes difficult to persuade people your memory is sound. When I was in Febfest’s playwriting workshop in the 1990s, it was impossible to persuade a student that local authority houses had been rented to the male in a marriage and not to both partners. When I was discussing gun ownership in the UK, it only slowly came back to me that as a child I had seen a villager with his shotgun over his arm, cracked, and a string of wood pigeons dangling from his other hand. Useful stuff. He was filling the pot in straitened times. I’d buried the memory because it is now very unusual for anyone to do that. There are a lot of oral history archives and projects. Schools do invite grannies and granddads to visit and discuss what they did in their youth.

Create Your Own Memory

 Many small museums have artisans who will assist you to operate, for example, a spinning-wheel. I have a small ball of wool full of knots and rough bits that I spun under supervision in the West Highlands. I loved the experience: the movement of the foot pedal is rhythmic and soothing. The rough bits and knots would have taken much more experience to smooth out. but – now I know how a person spun and what it felt like.

Cherish Your Own Granny

I never heard my granny talk about spinning, but she taught me to knit. She had been a seamstress and over time we owned several foot operated sewing machines although I never made any headway with dress-making. Till very near the end of her life, Granny would order a parcel of remnants. Her prime was a very different world: finding a shilling in an old jacket during the miners’ strike, keeping a pig at the end of the garden and ordering a bale of remnants from which you might make a rag rug – we had at least one – or even a blouse. Her memories are gold dust.


4 thoughts on “Where Do You Get Your Ideas? No 3 Other People’s Memories

    • Hi Rosemary, I hope we’ve become a bit more conscious of how quickly it disappears from view if you don’t pause and take note. I’m sometimes frustrated by the way things overlap. You know someone was, say, a bus conductress, but you don’t know how that fits into the other things they did. Memories are such shifting sands. Anne


  1. Talking to older family members and recording their experiences is becoming more and more important as changes come so swiftly these days, Anne. Not that their accounts are always accurate, as you remark, as each has their own viewpoint on an event. Since trying to follow up some aspects of family history using notes made by my mother and discussions with an uncle I have found the official reports such as Census returns and Miltary records tell a very different story to either (and they varied in many key ways.)
    As for practical hand-on experiences we have found many opportunities now being offered at museums and attractions such as learning to from “knit” in the way the first Elizabethans did when visiting the Shakespeare Houses and testing foods cooked to recipes from Cromwell’s day in Ely.


    • Hi Ann, We have to be very careful when listening to my mum-in-law, now. She has conflated a lot of events and also mixes generations – she sometimes thinks we’re the same generation as her so we ‘must have been there’. confusing and interesting in its own way. Anne


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