Generally speaking, it is the memories you don’t remember that define you.
I’m not talking about traumatic experiences that are suppressed in the mind and then go on to shunt a personality one of several ways, although that can sometimes happen (and I’m not just saying that because I’ve been watching a lot of Dexter lately). Besides, you may well ask, is it even a memory if you don’t remember it? Well – yes. In a healthy brain, a memory never truly goes away. There are things that you can forget for days, weeks, years, even decadesat a time, and then one day – sometimes for no apparent reason – remember quite vividly. It was always there.
Memories are funny things though, aren’t they? Little nuggets of your life that have somehow settled into your brain forever over other events of that hour, or day, or week, or month, or year. Sometimes, a memory can be so spectacularly prosaic that you find yourself disappointed in your own brain, which is a terribly confusing situation to be in. Other times, the memory is buoyed up with such joy – or weighed down with such sorrow – that it would be impossible for you notto have made a mental record. My point however (I seem to remember having one) is this: it’s the memories that you don’t bring up on a regular basis that work hardest to sculpt your personality. The ones that are left to quietly go about their business in the back of your head, undisturbed, gently blowing your reactions and decisions this way and that.
It might be something of a cliché to say that you never forget a good teacher, but it’s bloody true. Months will pass where I completely forget they ever existed but, now and again, I will remember three English teachers from my final years of formal education. I was very lucky with my school and (mostly) with my teachers. The three I am thinking of here are Mr Moody, Mrs Bradley, and – I can only hope I spell the name correctly – Mr Lanaway. Today, I shall attack you with talk of Mr Moody.
Mr Moody was the kind of teacher I used to think only existed in sitcoms. Young, talking to the class mostly as ‘one of the guys’, goatee beard, extremely informal (which is why I remember his name was Steve); he thought he was cool. And he was. He had us all engaged in every single lesson, and knew the secret to good teaching that so many teachers fail to grasp; people will learn so much faster and so much better if you talk withthem rather than atthem. His lessons left me with two main memories.
A little background before I go into the first; I was a weird kid. When I say ‘weird’, I don’t mean ‘pull small birds apart and throw the remains at passing cars’ weird. I mean ‘very introverted, pushed further away from my peers by the fact that I was always visibly poorer than everybody else in my achingly middle class school’ weird. I had a circle of friends that, had it been any smaller, would have imploded. Things started getting a lot better very quickly when I hit the age of 16 and the sixth form. I was never really bullied at any age (apart from the time somebody purposefully hurled a basketball at me from close range, and when I showed him how this had unwelcomely reconstructed one of my fingers he laughed). I’ve never done drugs or smoked anything at all, and didn’t start drinking alcohol until I was nearly old enough to buy my own anyway. I also had a habit of questioning the dogma thrust upon us by the Roman Catholic school; when Mrs Rebbit (the RE teacher who, playground legend had it, believed that God had pushed her child on a swing) asked me in utter exasperation why I attended the school if I didn’t believe it all, she didn’t seem to be happy with my answer that I came to school to learn things. In fact, I have one memory I attach to Mrs Rebbit; in one lesson, she stopped in the middle of whatever drivel she was spouting to ask if I was draped over my desk face-down, arms spread, in an imitation of the crucifixion (I wasn’t, I was just tired).
I was 17, and that was my Philosophy of Religion class. Unbeknownst to me at the time she marked my coursework which counted for 40% of the grade, and I got an E.
Short version: Even when I was cautiously accepted into the teenage fold, I was never One Of Them. We lived in different worlds. I was thatkid; the weird one nobody really understood. Anyway, let’s get back to it, shall we?
Work Experience. The words still send a shiver down my spine. It was sewn into the school curriculum and, once you’d done your week of pretending to have A Job, you’d write up your week and read it out in front of the class. I shan’t go into details in order to protect the innocent, but I did not enjoy my week of work experience. I did not enjoy it so much, my writeup (which I dearly wish I still had to hand) was venomous. Humorous, but so acidic the paper probably burned my hands a little.
The result surprised everyone, including me. I don’t remember what I said or how I said it, but I certainly remember getting a lot of laughs. When I was done I had a little round of applause; and Mr Moody, turning to me with a look halfway between admiration and fear, said “Well, if I ever want anything ripped apart, I’ll certainly come to you”.
Later that day, one of my classmates even said to me (with genuine shock) “Yeah, you can be pretty funny actually”. I’d been interested in writing long before that point, but I think that was one of the first times in my life where I realised that if you make people laugh, you can fool them into thinking that they like you. That, I think, went a long way to establishing the importance I attach to humour not just in (some of) my writing, but to my life in general.
My second lasting memory of Mr Moody is somewhat less profound, but can not pass without mention. I’m reasonably sure this didn’t have anything to do with the lesson at the time. Mr Moody, in front of the entire class with the blackboard behind him, hands in pockets, asked us why it was that one’s buttocks automatically clench when one holds one’s breath. He was, I assure you, being completely serious. None of us knew what the hell he was talking about and so, when he discovered with genuine surprise that he was the only one suffering this terrible affliction, he changed the subject. Probably to something on the curriculum. I don’t remember – that wasn’t what made an impression on me that day.
I hope I can encourage you to join me next time for talk of Mrs Bradley, which will include:
Disdain for D.H. Lawrence!
Me acting in a foreign accent!