I’ve been thinking a lot about memory lately, about how and why we remember what we do and whether our memories can ever be 100% accurate and objective. It’s a subject that I find fascinating, particularly when I try to piece together my own collection of fragmented memories or hear my mother share her perspective on events that have taken place during her lifetime, but which I’ve heard alternate versions of from other family members. As such I thought I would revisit some of my memories and write them down. My childhood was unusual in many ways because my family moved so often and I spent my early years on a military base in recently reunified Berlin.
My memories, like yours, may not be 100% accurate or objective. This is partly because as time passes we increasingly rely on photographs, videos and the memory itself in order to keep the memory alive, and each of these is partial and subjective, but it is also because hindsight enables us to fill in gaps and more fully make sense of childhood events as an adult, or adult experiences decades after the fact. These fragments are the stories behind my eyes, as I recall them now. I thought I’d start with one of my earliest memories which is the day my family moved from England to Germany when I was four years old.
On my eighth birthday my parents packed up the house in Berlin where we had lived for four years and our family moved back to England. English was my first language, my parents were British, I had gone to an English language school in Germany and I held a British passport, but culturally I didn’t feel British. I didn’t know what a pound or a penny was, having only ever used the deutsche mark and pfennig, and I didn’t know the pop-music or TV shows that were popular among English children my age either. We had SSVC and Cartoon Network in Germany rather than BBC and ITV. I simply didn’t hold the cultural reference points that other children who had grown up in Britain did, and felt like a bit of a misfit.
Last autumn I started to teach myself how to draw and paint. I wanted to know how to draw because I often have ideas for illustrations or comics, and I wanted to be able to realise them in some way. Alongside my sketchbook, I started to keep an ideas notebook or ‘commonplace book’. It’s a simple passport sized notebook with dotted pages (from Muji) where I jot down illustration and comic strip ideas, my favourite quotes from books I read, and thoughts and observations from my everyday life.
I can’t remember the first time I used the internet, but it would have been at some point in 1998 or 1999 on dial-up. In those early days in my early teens, almost everyone I conversed with online used an alias, be they a friend from school or a stranger on Napster or LimeWire. It was seen as entirely normal to mask your identity online and to hide behind an alias for better or for worse. I didn’t publicly share my age, my location, my gender or any of my other personal attributes, because the early days of the internet were marked by distrust. It was a different way of thinking back then. So much has changed over the course of the last fifteen to twenty years.
On Sunday 6th March 2011, I stood on the end of the wooden pier in Sopot,
northern Poland, and looked out over the ice covered Bay of Gdańsk.
I was on the second of what would be many research trips to the Tricity for my
PhD, and I was feeling quite lonely. I didn’t speak anywhere near enough
Polish, having spent the previous year in formal Russian for Social Science lessons*
rather than Polish, and although I had been introduced to a wonderful team at
the University of Gdańsk who helped me to
make contact with my research participants and conduct interviews out in the
tiny villages surrounding Lake Żarnowiec, I was
feeling pretty lost.