Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Smelly memories

It is believed that smell is a major factor in triggering memories. I recall an episode of MASH where a soldier ended up in a state of shock when a smell took him back to the moment when his comrades were killed in an earlier conflict, a memory he had understandably repressed.

Earlier this morning, I was washing up, and as I sloshed the water down the sink, the unpleasant smell of stale Mexican enchilada sauce, diluted in detergent and mixed with all sorts of milky badness, only sparked in me the happy memory of the enjoyable meal of last night. A far more unusual example is to follow though.

On Tuesday evening, Lisa and I went to the Camden Roundhouse to see Reverend and the Makers. It was an awesome gig, great support, great crowd, and the main attraction did not disappoint. We were in the seated area of the balcony, and not long after we found our allocated seats, two chaps came and sat next to us. They were both rather drunk and boisterous, but absolutely fine – in fact – bizarrely, they had been allocated the seats on either side of Lisa and me, so we moved up and they sat together. Just before the second support act finished, one of them went to the bar. The other one started up a conversation with me, the usual male stuff of football – he’s a Newcastle fan, poor thing. He had to shout in my ear, so I could understand him, as the Geordie accent and a very loud three piece rock band don’t make for easy listening for me. This also meant he got very close, and I could smell him. His breath. His general odour. Much to my amazement – I loved it.

He was a smoker. Now since the smoking ban, instead of getting cancer by sitting next to people smoking in venues, we now just have to deal with people wandering our and smoking in the open, before coming back with all the evidence of having been out for a fag: a cold blast of air from the door, a wet coat and the stale smell of second hand cigarettes. Happily, when this chap was talking to me, I quickly realised why I was enjoying the smell (not realising might have put me in a very strange situation of homoerotic lust. The association of cigarette breath at such close quarters, was one I’d only ever previously had with my days of going out on the pull. The young girls of Cardiff and Bristol were often smokers, and I was never in a position to be picky enough to say – “no – I’m not snogging you because you are a bit whiffy”, so I quickly became used to the “kiss my ashtray” effect of being intimate with smokers. I even smoked myself (very occasionally, and only to look cool you understand) so I could hardly complain. There is a wonderful sense of realism involved in actually tasting another person, the intimacy of being so up close and personal, that I can be in such a position, far outweighed any unpleasantness of taste and smell.

Being shouted to by my drunken Geordie friend – took me straight back to all the smokers I ever got off with. Hanna, Emily, Monique, Rachel, and one or two more – all unique in their own way, and all well and truly in my past. I’m married now – and very happily so, to a non smoker. I’ll never again experience the feeling of moving in for the first kiss – hoping I’ve read the signs right, that she’s as interested as I think she is, and experiencing the subtle variations in everyone’s lips, teeth and tongue. It is certainly something I miss – but of course I’d miss far more if I decided to go back to such ways! Our memories make us who we are – and from unlikely sources do they make us remember them.

Monday, 14 July 2008

HannaH - still on my mind after 20 years...

There are a few people who meant a lot to me in the dim and distant past. Mostly early girlfriends, some proper "Best Mates". Here’s what I know of them so far.

Lucy - Infant School Girlfriend.

Lucy appeared on Friends Reunited a while ago. Mysteriously she appeared about a week after my initial subscription had expired. the cynic in me would wonder if they checked who people searched for, and waited till they had expired before making the profiles available, hence forcing you to renew to contact them. If that was the case, it worked on me - I renewed and dropped her note. She’s ok - I got a polite response back, I replied to this, she disappeared.

I realised that she probably hardly remembered me. She was 6. So was I. She might have had a dozen guys who offered to marry her, bought plastic rings, and got their brothers to do the ceremony in church. I only had one girl. It would seem she meant a lot more to me than I did to her.

Louise - Unrequited at Junior School.

Taking a step back, before the wonders of the internet, I looked up another "old flame" in the phone book. Knowing her family moved to Swansea, Louise Woodcock should be easy to find. I called her mum, got her number, and we had a chat. I was living in Cardiff at the time, and we met up, had some drinks and a laugh. I asked her how she remembered me, and I was just some guy in her class. She was the object of my junior school affections, consistently out of reach as she was going out with a guy from another school. Single when we went out, I asked her if we could give "us" a go. We couldn't. She's happily married with one baby and another on the way now (I know this through Facebook) but although she accepted my friend request, we've not messaged since. It is nice to know she's happy. I like to think she is happy to know that I'm doing ok too.

Toni - Jilted by me at junior school.

I found Toni on Friends Reunited - she left me with a bit of a worry. Throughout junior school, Toni had a bit of a crush on me, and I don't think I ever returned her affection, except on one occasion, which I won't go into detail on, but it got me into trouble with the teachers, and had the potential to scar the poor girl for life.

The question is, when 20 years later, you get the opportunity to apologise for such an act do you:

A - Apologise, and give the victim the satisfaction that not only do you remember the event, but you have felt remorse for it ever since, and can only now beg for forgiveness now we are all grown up and moved on

B - Apologise, thus reminding the victim that the event happened when it meant little or nothing to them at the time, and getting them all concerned about my memories of the event, re-opening old wounds and sparking the need for months of expensive therapy.

C - Don’t mention it, hoping that she has forgotten it ever happened, but running the risk that she is fuming about it, and has been expecting an apology for every one of the 15 intervening years.

D - Tell the internet about it to show I have thought about these things, and to make me seem all sensitive and caring about all aspects of the poor girls feelings.

I chose C at the time, and I have now done D. I'm still not sure either is sensible.

Which brings me on to my current dilemma?

HannaH - junior school girlfriend (of about a week) but regularly thought about ever since.

Hannah used to write her name with 2 capital H's. (It’s a palindrome you see). She loved Michael Jackson, and had a wall of her room covered with a thousand pictures of him. she's the tall one standing next to me in our school photo, aged 11, when I’m all crew cut, tank top and sticking out ears, and she's all youthful beauty, curly hair, and carefully arranged kiss curl on her forehead (MJ style). She probably would get the credit for getting me into pop music (sorry Dad – playing me your Byrds albums doesn’t count).

Other than our brief "being boyfriend/girlfriend" (I have no idea how it started/ended, only that it happened and we played some form of happy families game with another 2 kids (Ian and Jessica?) which I probably decided should be strip happy families game (I was a 10 year old perv - ok? See Toni above) in her room,) I have very few memories of her.

Somewhere I still have a photo of her blowing out the candles on her 4th birthday. I have no idea why she gave me this photo. Of all my old school friends, she was the one I always wondered; "Where is she now? Is she still as beautiful as she was in the school photo? Did she marry; have kids, and most importantly, DID SHE EVER THINK OF ME?"

I now have the opportunity to ask all these questions. She appeared on Facebook. I noticed her while browsing another school friend of that era's friends, and there she was. Married name present, but kindly also giving her maiden name. I sent the friend request, with a simple note "hello to my second girlfriend".

She accepted the friend request, but didn't reply to the note. This was about a week ago. Now I can see her full profile, it is clear she's been on Facebook for a while. Lots of applications, lots of messages, loads of friends. I started finding answers to my questions.

Where is she now? - working on the ambulances, not far from where we grew up.

Is she still as beautiful as she was in the school photo? - (yes. very different (she could have walked past me in the street, or chatted me up in a bar (like this would happen), and I’d never have recognised her))

Did she marry? (Yes she did)

Have kids? (Not worked that out - no baby photos on Facebook, but that’s no guarantee)

And most importantly, DID SHE EVER THINK OF ME?

Based on how long she has been on Facebook, the (now) mutual friends and the extent of her networks, it would seem the answer to that question is an emphatic NO.

I'll write a proper note to her. I might just send this whole blog entry (and bore her silly, but at least get the full message across), but it seems I’ll have to get used to the fact that:

Certain people meant far more to me than I ever did to them.

I'm very egotistical (can you tell). The world revolves around me, and this revelation does not compute with my high opinion of myself. There can be only one reason which will leave me believing I am still worthy of such a position in my own head.

Somewhere out there, there are a thousand people (or so) who are wishing this blog had been about them, and are sorely disappointed that I never even mentioned them once. Sorry girls. In case you are wondering, I’m doing well, happily married, don’t want kids and I clearly never think of you at all.

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Social Networking Online (Sept 2007)

Filling up space with old blogs...

I have about 60 friends on Facebook, and 200 on myspace. I don't know the vast majority of the myspace ones, as they are fans of my music (or more likely I am a fan of theirs, or we are all deluding ourselves.)

Of my Facebook friends, I know all of them. At some point in my life I have met, dated, married, gone to school with, been related to or worked with them all. I like them. there was one chap on my list who I used to work with, but I realised I never got on with him that well, so I stopped being friends with him.

People find it strange that so many of us have people we consider friends who we never meet. (I have had friends who I have never "met" - only spoken to on-line.) The truth is, that Facebook has an equivalent in old peoples lives.

the "Christmas Card Friend".

Every year, my parents send and receive so many cards they have to go out for extra blu tac just to attach them to the doors, windows, mantelpiece and any other appropriate surface. many of these will have a personal message, about how the kids are doing, great auntie Marjorie's latest bunion update and their new address.

Every day when I'm on-line, I check on Facebook and i find out far more interesting and often personal things about my friends. Lisa is glad its Friday. Max is off to Manchester, Dan is tired. Stu is about to sneeze.

If Sarah goes inter-railing, she comes home, and puts photos on-line. I am told this, so I look at them, and share the experience. I can comment on them and welcome her home.

A conversation on Facebook can take several days, and only be a few words, but at least it happens. Many of my Facebook friends aren't people I phone regularly, if ever at all. (I don't phone my grandma, and she doesn't phone me, but we both know we are there, and love each other very much, we aren't any less friends because of this. (she's not on Facebook by the way - but it would be even better if she was).

Long since deleted from this site, is a letter I sent to some of my closest group of friends, berating them for the effort they put into our relationships. Although it would be vain of me to suggest that the timing of this almost ruined Simon's stag weekend, I'm sure it didn't go down well, and I've felt bad about it ever since.

The outcome of that letter, and the replies I received from the lads, was that I realised that friendship is not necessarily about how often you call, visit, write to or email your friends.

It is about being there when you need them, caring enough about them to want to be there, and enjoying whatever interaction you do have, be it an email every 6 months, a phone call every week, or just knowing that Chris and Sam have added "deep blue something" to their favorite music.

I like it that way.