Saturday, April 30, 2005

Technical Update #4. Posted by: Mark

Why am I doing this?

Because memory is random. I’ve got snippets in my head, you’ve got snippets in yours. They’re not the same.

Because sometimes I get so frustrated by the loss I want to smash a fist through my eyes and scoop out all the memories like gunk from a clogged drain.

Because of Mr and Mrs Hobson:

My Ghosts Posted by Hello

These people are my great-great-great-great-great-grandparents. It’s hard to believe from looking at them, but we share genes.

That’s about the only thing we share. I know they lived in the North, and I know the names of some of their children because I looked them up on a census site. But that’s it.

Apparently genealogy is the second most popular activity on the internet, after sex. All those millions of people floundering about in the archives trying to learn something more about their own Mr and Mrs Hobsons, and 999 times out of a thousand all they come up with is a list of names.

We have a family bible, handed down through the generations. It has a list of names hand-written on the frontispiece: all the people who’ve had charge of it down the years. It starts with the bald statement:

‘Richard Tomson bought this book for Mary his wife (daughter of Commodore Fox RN and Susan his wife; and only sister and heiress of Rear Admiral William Fox) in London in 1765’.

I’m haunted by that one small fact, because it describes a man going into a bookshop and coming out with something special for the woman in his life. Did he do it because he loved her? Because he thought she needed religious instruction? Because he wanted to impress her influential relatives?

Who knows? All Richard Tomson bothered to tell us was he bought the damn book. And the people on the list that follow are even less help: they just tell us who got it next.

When I pass the bible on to my eldest daughter, it’s going to have a 200-page appendix with cross-references and photographs and internet links and probably a couple of CDs sellotaped in there to boot. Just to give my great-great-great-great-great-grandchildren a fighting chance.

The people who scour the internet looking for their ancestors aren’t looking for a list: they want to know who their predecessors were. What they loved, what they admired, what they feared, what they did. I don’t mean ‘did’ in the sense that I know Mr Hobson was a shopkeeper – I mean ‘did’ in the sense of the stories they made of their own lives. The random snippets they kept coming back to, replaying like a looped tape in their heads until the day the power finally shut down.

I was talking to Pat on the phone the other day. We were trying to remember who’d been at Knebworth in 1974. We didn’t stick to Knebworth: reminiscing isn’t like that. 1974 was also the year of the flat in Colliers Wood; and the Grateful Dead at Alexandria Palace; and for me at least the first time in my life when education made absolute sense, after two failed college courses and a year sweeping Bishops Stortford hospital; and the first year LCP field trip to Ireland when fifteen odd-looking photography students descended on Dingle Bay to discover what Guinness really tastes like; and even only a few months off the best concert any of us can remember going to: Little Feat at the New Victoria Theatre.

And Bertha, of course. 1974 was a heck of a good year.

Of course you can’t pin it on the year. And you can’t really pin it on the weather or the music or the government of the day or even the age group. There’s something awesome about being 22 years old and untroubled by mortgages and children and thoughts of mortality, but good memories can accumulate at any part of your life.

You can pin it on the people. For sure you can pin it on the people.

I wonder if Mr and Mrs Hobson ever had a really good year? One that was packed with friends and adventures and wild schemes and learning and music with the power to make you dance or break your heart?

I’ll never know. That’s why I’m doing this.

(Normal service will be resumed shortly. This story was never going to be linear. Besides, I'm hoping some Knebworth pictures will show up soon)


Blogger Ms Mac said...

I think that's why I'm doing it too. Not quite in the same fashion as you and certainly with not as much style, but definitely for the great-great-great grandchildren.

10:08 am  
Blogger Mark Gamon said...

Thanks for the comment, Ms Mac. And the compliment. I was beginning to think this was a post too far and I'd alienated everybody with it...

4:07 pm  
Anonymous caroline morphess said...

Not me chum. Right up my street. A lovely post.

4:21 am  
Anonymous caroline morphess said...

I re-read this the other day, and the read your post.

Time has transfigured then into
Untruth. The stone fidelity
They hardly meant has come to be
Their final blazon, and to prove
Our almost-instinct almost true:
What will survive of us is love.

from The Arundel Tomb, Philip Larkin.

6:37 am  
Blogger Mark Gamon said...


9:35 am  
Anonymous caroline morphess said...

sorry, obviously have problem with the words 'them/then'....

Still, you get the picture.

10:44 am  
Blogger Mark Gamon said...

I do. Now I'm thinking about it. This may take some time...

10:54 am  
Blogger Deirdre said...

Caroline always says what I want to say... !! (stomp stomp hissy fit)

Lovely post. Memory is such a slippery little bugger, we really do need something to pin things to. People, photos, letters, something that will catch and hold what otherwise disappears.

2:02 pm  
Blogger Mark Gamon said...

I'm amazed at what a few photos can do to prompt the memory. Watch this space. There's a batch in the post...

1:25 pm  

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