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Thursday 9th November 2006

I have been asked to write a blog for a new website of the New Statesman magazine. I want to make the content different to this blog if possible so have spent some spare moments of the last couple of days working something up. I sent it off this morning only to be told that the launch of the website has been delayed by two weeks. So my rather topical entry is now useless. Would have been nice if they'd told me before I did the work, but that's the way things go. Here's what I wrote:
"November 5th
Every Sunday I review the papers on the Andrew Collings Show on 6Music. We can only go with what the papers give us and usually it’s an endless parade of celebrity infidelity and paedophiles going on holidays at our expense. But today we had some proper breaking news: Saddam Hussein’s sentence of execution. I appreciated the court’s efforts to work on a Sunday just so they could make the announcement on Bonfire Night! Ah, the delicious parallels between Fawkes and Hussein: the authorities accusing them of terrorism, but always the suspicion that they were being set up by the government to focus hatred on a religious minority. At least King James’s soldiers managed to “find” Guido’s weapons of mass destruction. Though suspiciously never his matches.
Hopefully this means that the people of Iraq will be able to institute their own November 5th fireworks night to celebrate the tyrant’s downfall. The people of Baghdad have been through a lot these last few years and I think for one day a year they deserve to relax and watch the night sky brightened by a series of colourful explosions.
I know Saddam isn’t the nicest bloke in the world, but execution seems a bit barbaric. I think of him as a kind of well meaning moustachioed comical figure, a bit like Borat. Yes, he’s said and done some bad things, but only because he doesn’t know any better. Surely our Christian nation can forgive him. If nothing else in about five years time he’d make an excellent contestant on “I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here” or “Celebrity Big Brother”. Like James Hewitt or Michael Barrymore he could make up for his past transgressions and win his place back in the public heart by eating some earwigs or dancing around in a funny wig. Before you pull that lever Pierrepoint, please think of the ratings. Think of all the highly paid, unimaginative, morally bankrupt TV executives you could keep in employment. And think of the brilliantly funny Pizza Hut advert that Saddam would be able to appear in.
But if he has to die then hanging seems a bit prosaic for such a showman. If we are going to go back to the old days of capital punishment, as favoured by these backward countries like Iraq or America, then let’s get some proper entertainment value. How about having him tied to two horses and ripped apart? Or let’s get properly medieval on his arse (I am English, I can’t say “ass”) and draw and quarter him as well, then chop off his cock and stick it in his mouth while he’s still alive. Personally I believe that he who lives by the giant statue of his own hand holding a sword should die by the giant statue of his own hand holding a sword. What an execution that would be!
However he goes, once he’s been pulled down from the gallows a couple of American soldiers have to drape his face with the Stars and Stripes before hastily remembering that this was actually all done for Iraq’s benefit."

I managed to get to the library this afternoon, hoping to crack on with the script which still remains entirely unamended. I discovered I had left my all important Final Draft disc behind which meant I couldn't edit the document I had. I could have done work in Word or on paper, but somehow my oversight was too deflating.
But even though I still prevaricated away from the script I couldn't bear to entirely waste the time. So I decided to write a little essay based on some of the stuff I was thinking about re this family based script. I wanted to try and work out my earliest memory, which is something that is much harder to do than you might think. This is what I came up with:
"It is almost impossible to determine the genuine memories from the false ones. I am convinced that some of my earliest memories have been conjured up from photographs of myself that I have seen. I feel as if I remember the moon landing, or at least the launching of the rocket and yet it seems unlikely. I was barely two years old when this happened. But I have a fuzzy, black and white memory of sitting around the TV and seeing flames coming from the boosters. It’s only a moment of recollection, like a few grainy frames of otherwise destroyed film, but I have a real sense of the excitement around me. Of knowing something was happening, but not being able to understand it, beyond the fact that all that noise and bluster and fire on the television must have been exciting.
Yet is this a real memory or just a projection of what I think I would have felt? Was it the launch of another rocket I remember? Or am I actually recalling seeing a repeat of the event a few years down the line?
I can’t be sure and yet that sense of exhilaration still rises in my chest as I think about it. So maybe.
It’s harder to place other memories and to be sure of how old I was when they happened. I remember living in Pocklington, which we left when I was just four, but the only coherent reminiscence I have of that time is when I was out for a walk (with who? My sister maybe? Or some forgotten playmate? Surely there must have been an adult with us too) and we discovered a chick that had fallen from its nest into the road. It’s orange beak and bulbous eyes come vividly to mind as I think of it, but so vividly that I can only assume I have added this picture into my memory banks at some later time in the retelling. We took the bird home and we tried to feed it and save it, but of course we failed.
Pocklington also seems to be associated with an incident where my family were visiting an elderly relative and I bounded up the stairs at the front of their house and rang the bell. An old woman came to the door and glared at me through the glass, not knowing who I was. I can still see her confused and disdainful expression. She was ready to tell this young bell ringing hooligan off for disturbing her. I remember being scared and running back to hide behind my parents. But maybe this didn’t happen in Pocklington. I don’t think we had any relatives there. And maybe it happened at some later date when we were visiting from Loughborough.
I think I remember the day we moved to Loughborough, but again this memory is in the vivid colours of a 1970s photograph of our arrival. I recall having a box of Jelly Babies or liquorice allsorts, but I am sure that this is only because in the photo (which I haven’t seen for a good while) you can see I have hidden the box under my jumper. So is it a memory of the day or a memory of the photo? More weirdly when I think about that day I recall eating a banana once we arrived at the house. But I only ate half a banana. That’s just come back to me. Why would I have stored that irrelevance up somewhere in my brain? It’s so boring that I think it must be true. And I am sure it’s not just the photo. I was four by now and moving house was a big day and I definitely remember some of it. But the photo has definitely informed the memory. We lived at 160 Leicester Road, Loughborough (I am pretty sure) and I used to be able to remember our phone number… but beyond it possibly having a 6085 in it, I don’t any more.
Do I remember eating dirt in the garden and then coming into the house covered in mud (possibly whilst visitors were there) or am I just thinking of the photo? And was that Loughborough or Pocklington? Or was I 28 years old and it happened in Balham? I think I would have been two or three. I think I remember the texture of soil in my mouth. I think I recall some worms being involved. By this is a very unreliable memoir.
I remember being on holiday (probably in Arran) and standing by a stream throwing stones into the water. I lost my balance and fell in myself and went head over heels and got caught up in the current a little. I definitely recall the spinning around and the confusion and fear I felt, but I am sure that time has exaggerated the descent. I feel like I went over a waterfall, but am sure the stream was much too tiny to match up with the memory. And once again somewhere there is a vivid colour photo of me throwing a blue rock into the stream and I might mostly be reproducing this. And I might have been as old as six or seven when this happened. So that’s no kind of earliest memory at all.
It’s actually quite embarrassing how little of my first five years I can bring to mind.
The first big event that I have a proper recall of is finding a stray kitten inside our Guy Fawkes Night bonfire in our back garden with his side badly burned. But was he burned in our fire or was he just hiding in our as yet unburned bonfire after being injured elsewhere? Not sure. I seem to remember him being inside the construction which would suggest we hadn’t lit our fire at this point. I think this happened in Loughborough so I was at least four and maybe older. I remember the injury though and the vet coming to look at him and the cat being in the garage. He got better. We were allowed to keep him. Good old mum and dad for letting us and for paying for the vet bills and stuff. I wouldn’t have considered that back then. We called him Oscar. After this early brush with death he lived to a ripe old age (in cat terms anyway). He died when I was 18 and away on an archaeological dig. So that’s over twenty years ago. Good old Osc.
Anything else? Anything earlier? Anything specific? I remember a little plastic and cloth cap I always used to wear. It was yellow, and maybe red or orange. I remember my mum uncharacteristically losing her temper with me (and I bet I was really annoying) and being frightened and her then being sorry and hugging me. I remember running into a little slide at nursery school and cutting my cheek. Or was it just that I got a scar from that (you can still just about see it) and so it’s the telling of the story I recall rather than the actual event? No, I think I remember the blood. I also think I recall the slide. It was white and plastic. That might have been in Yorkshire. I remember the Loughborough nursery school because we used to have to go to bed in the afternoon and I hated that. They also had a TV with none of the insides in it, which you could get inside and pretend you were on TV. I really liked that. Isn’t that funny.
I remember making my mum and Nannan laugh with a little puppet show using finger puppets. I liked their laughter, even though now I see they were laughing as much at me as with me. That is was my audacity and cuteness that amused them rather than the tightness of my gags and the plotting of my story. I was probably six by then though, so that doesn’t count.
I also pooed myself at infant school once and nearly got away with it. I tried to cover up the smell by claiming that a naughty dog was doing poos outside. My clever ruse came unstuck though as I was wearing shorts and some of the poo worked its way out on to the classroom floor. The teacher asked whose poo it was and I ran off to the toilets crying, which I think confirmed my guilt. That was at Emmanuel school. I would have been five. Though I pooed myself at school a few times when I was about nine or ten. I think this was something to do with it being considered shameful to be known to have done poos in the school toilets. Kids would jump up and try and look over the cubicles if you were pooing and taunt you. So I chose to poo in my pants instead. What an idiot. But I was nine or ten. That’s not a first memory. That’s an embarrassment from a time when I remember much and yet still understand little.
I am hoping that if I really push this that I will remember something horrific (more horrific than a pant full of poo) and thus discover the reason I seem to have forgotten so much, because there was some terrible incidence of abuse that has made me repress those infant years. But so far nothing springs to mind. I think the fact that my mum slightly losing her temper is scorched on to my memory files probably shows how well I was treated. She was a bit weepy. It was probably her time of the month. I couldn’t have known that then though.
I have to conclude that I have so few memories, because so little memorable happened to me. There’s a part of me that wishes I had repressed stuff for some dark and sinister reason. I could use it to explain away by deficiencies as an adult. I could write a best seller book about it, but alas I remained unbeaten, undefiled and unpaedophiled and so all my faults are truly my own.
So injured animals and a face full of mud and a pant full of faeces. These are my defining images of infancy."

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