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Memory Box

In a vague attempt to see the carpet in the front bedroom, I have been working my way through unpacking and sorting out various boxes of my stuff left over from the move last year. Just when I thought that I had exposed a meritable amount of the rug, I was gently reminded of all the stuff I also had in storage in my parent’s. I duly clambered up into their loft space and brought down numerous boxes whose contents and provenance were largely unknown, packed our little car to the gunwales and proceeded to cover every inch of carpet hitherto revealed. Given my profession, it should come as no surprise that I love to ferret around in old stuff and have almost always kept a memory box of letters, tokens and treasures to revisit occasionally. The special thing about this instance of rummaging was that most of the boxes had materials that were created by me or owned by me but collected by someone else. In addition, the imperative here was to reduce the quantity of stuff to fit neatly in my house (which does not have a handy loft for invisible junk deposition!). I began with sorting a couple of boxes of knick-knacks that had been packed into storage when my teenage room was re-purposed into a study and workshop by my parents. I don’t recall why I didn’t tidy my stuff out myself (I may have been out of the country), but time, distance and knowing that the little funky items I was discarding would help a local charity, made this part of the sorting and saving fairly easy.

On Wednesday I sneakily avoided doing the statistical analysis for my latest paper, by tackling the second pile of boxes. These mostly comprised school books from the first couple of years of secondary school, with some bits and pieces from earlier. Page after page of my tiny black handwriting on everything from poetry to maths, interspersed with gems such as coloured pencil drawings of the costumes of Tudor gentry and the rivers of Europe; newspaper clippings of urban residential development in Gloucester and a bizarre Jurassic Park II inspired Easter card in German.

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Wading through the piles of instruction, most of which has been long forgotten, I was struck by two things. Firstly, the materials I was looking at were largely irrelevant to my adult self or to any other observer. With the advent of the national curriculum, I suspect anyone with a tendency to hoard decades-old school work would be able to produce a near-identical stash of maths exercises, geography reports and historical essays from the mid-late 1990s. The physical and intellectual contents of these boxes are worthless and yet the vivid memory they provoked, the context of their creation, was powerful. Luckily I was alone in this task as I became a Jekyll and Hyde of emotion, laughing, crying, happy and sad all at the same time. Even 15 years later, I could explain to anyone who cared to listen the stories of these papers and more, the people and places the fights and friendships, but to what relevance, what would be the point? The places and people are long gone: their significance originally known only to a few, now remembered perhaps by a handful, carelessly curated by one and eventually to be forgotten by all.

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Well not entirely perhaps, as I did select some items including a Christmas card from my favourite primary school teacher, my school prospectus and selection of poems, which brings me neatly to the second thing that caught my attention during this sort out – creative writing. It’s clear from the books that throughout primary school and much of the first part of secondary school that creative writing was something we did a lot of and that I really enjoyed. Strangely, I don’t remember this aspect of English teaching as well as the childish faux-complaint letters and later on the reading, essays, critiques and analysis. Leafing through my books I was set fiction and poetry writing assignments frequently from the ages of about 7-14, after which time the study of English became more about writing compelling assessment and critique pieces about what other, more accomplished, people had written and less about becoming an accomplished storyteller yourself. This is not a complaint – the instruction and practice in academic writing I gained in the latter years of my secondary education paved the way for everything that followed. I had clean forgotten, but according to a review I wrote on 9th September 1997, “…I have enjoyed English lessons, especially writing stories and poems, as some-day I hope to become an author.”

So there you have it, the reason why I have really quite enjoyed updating this blog and why I am writing it still, back on British soil, a year after I began. While I won’t be picking up my quill to write poetry or a novel any time soon, my 13 year-old-self is delighted that this isn’t an academic paper and, on just this one point, I have a tendency to agree with her.

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Bad teenage poetry, R Briscoe, aged 12
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Bad pre-teenage poetry, R Briscoe, age 8