Saturday, 31 July 2021

8.8.88

'Now, who can tell me today's date?'  I remember the teacher standing in front of the class; a female teacher, so perhaps it was Miss Pinkney or Mrs Sutcliffe - but not Miss Grogden or Mrs Day.  I am at the back of the class to the right, next to Angela - but this may have been the following year.  I half remember sitting next to my best friend, Neil Campion, at some stage, which must have been around this time, towards the end of my infant schooldays.  Perhaps he sat in front of me.  I suppose I should be amazed at how easily I lost touch with him.  I never saw him again, though I do remember being told how his brother - who had a withered left arm with a rather disturbing hook-like device he clipped over it - was killed a couple of years later when he rode his motorbike into an unlit skip late at night.  Apparently his girlfriend riding pillion was also killed, but none of this touched me in the slightest.

'And what is special about today's date?'  Our double desk - whoever it was that shared with me - consisted of a top with a kind of rectangular cavity underneath.  In it we would keep all our text and exercise books, along with pencils and rubbers and set squares and the like.  I remember that I arranged mine in two neat ziggurat forms, one in each corner.

'And when will be the next time that that happens?'  Outside, in the sunlight, lay the grass playing area bounded by a high wire netting fence.  At the far end this gave on to the forbidden sports fields of the secondary modern school next door.  I never knew anything about this place, except that it was where most of those at my primary school ended up.  It never occurred to me to wonder whether I too would go there.  Not that I assumed I would automatically go to a grammar school, because I would not have recognised the concept; it was more that I spent my childhood in a strange kind of volitional and experiential haze.

'Yes, Glyn?'  But I did know what the date was, what was special about it, and when it would happen again.  The answer seemed obvious, and that I should know it, natural.  Like my desk, like the sunshine that poured in through the high windows, like the steady progress through the junior school towards the 11+ exam and beyond, everything in my world seemed perfectly ordered and perfectly right.  My schooldays were hardly the happiest of my life, but they were totally stress-free, insouciant, and frictionless.  I scarcely felt them pass at all.  Time flew by in standing still.

Thus it is that I have few memories from that time, just the odd, flickering image from each year.  But the question that opened that June morning has remained with me ever since.  Eleven years, one month and one day after hearing it, I wrote on my 1977 desktop diary for 7 July: '(remember 6.6.66?)'.  And I did.

And I do today.  The anniversaries are moments of punctuation which come round with a quirky regularity, as if governed by sunspot activity.  Like strange, temporal vortices, they exert a complex force.  All my life, I know, they will give me pause for thought: thought for what was on these dates in the past; and thought for what might be in the future.

(1988)

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