J’ai oublié (After Georges Perec)

I forget the face of Martin Guildere, but I remember his fingers and the back of his head. He is tying my shoelaces in a blue corridor. He has become a metaphor for my own childhood physical awkwardness, framed in my mother’s eyes. ‘Martin Guildere!’, who had learning difficulties (although I can’t remember the details). When Martin is not in the blue corridor, he is in a red room behind a glass wall – designated ‘the unit’. In the unit he wears a beige, NHS hearing aid. ‘Martin’ – who I had to ask to tie my shoelaces. A whispered secret. He is sat, facing the wall in the punishment corner of my memory. He will not show his face.


I forget the precise location, but we are a family and we are bringing a Christmas Tree home. I am two years old. It is Canada. ‘Canada’ is contained in a photograph in our red family album. I forget whether this memory is a memory of an actual event, or a memory of a photograph. ‘Canada’ is a poorly lit scene in which the grey-blue snow rhymes with my navy snow suit. My mother’s voice returns to remind me that I was quite capable of dressing myself in the snow suit and didn’t need Martin Guildere. In ‘Canada’ I am possessed with a physical prowess that I would lose in a blue corridor. However, this idea is not supported by the image: I am prone on a wooden sledge. In Canada, my arms are raised in exasperation; a pinched, toddler face pleads with the camera. Feet kick at the grey-blue air. I can still smell the faux-leather cover of the album.


I forget my mother’s voice. I can place it’s characteristics somewhere near the heavier Cumbrian of my Aunt Mary, but there’s always going to be something intangible about sound. It’s odd, because I can vividly recall many physical details: her eyes: slightly mischievous, slightly melancholic; the way she bore herself with a strangely self-effacing dignity; a teenager, miscast in the school play, appalled and thrilled by the knowledge that we are watching. You can see this is in the only video clip I possess of her. It’s Christmas. She is holding our baby daughter in her arms in a yellow room. She wears a red Santa Hat, and slightly rosy cheeks. ‘I am sixteen’ from The Sound of Music is playing in the background, to which my Mother mimes / sings (inaudibly). My daughter is 4 months old. My Mother: 64. She rocks from side to side, smiling, removes her glasses, and barely takes her eyes off our daughter. She is not ignoring the camera, but then, neither is she performing. She is absorbed, self-contained. The sequence is thirty seconds long.



April 11th 2013


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