Sharon’s question for February – What are you old enough to remember? – has set me thinking about the way we remember and how our memories evolve. I have a lot of gaps in my memory. I remember much less than, for example, my husband Alan who has an amazingly vivid recollection of much of his childhood and often tells me things that I’ve already forgotten about our children’s childhood. I’ve blanked out a lot, perhaps, and more has passed me by while I’ve been lost in the fog of depression. Still, thinking back and discovering what I do remember has been fun…

I remember fish and chips in newspaper, our local paper was the ‘News and Star’ – a man called Billy used to sell them, his cry familiar to everyone who walked through Carlisle in the evening, it sounded like, “on er Evening News, there’s nut muny lift now”, and on Fridays it was the Cumberland News – I remember when Cumbria was Cumberland. I remember another man calling outside our little terraced house for “rags and bones”, and the man covered with dusty black who brought the coal, and the rattling of the coal as he tipped it from his sack into the metal bunker. I remember watching the Woodentops, and then we would say to Mum “What are we having for dinner today?”, and she would answer “nothing for you but sawdust and hay!”. I remember Hammy the Hamster on the riverbank and Andy Pandy and Vision On and Dixon of Dock Green. I remember Tiny Tears (my very own baby) and Tressy’s bronzy hair, and florins and thrup’ny bits and once my father showed us a guinea. We drank tepid school milk through paper straws from little glass bottles, then lay down to rest on mats on the hard floor for what seemed like a forever of wriggling and peeping. We had inky fingers and blotting paper covered in splotchy shapes.

Later on I remember buying vegetables from Jacky Main in his market garden, we would take down a list for Mum and he would fill our bags with his big earthy hands. I remember carrying my books to school in a basket with a plastic flowery cover, and listening to Bohemian Rhapsody for months, new magic every time. I saw Mott the Hoople in Carlisle Market Hall, and listened to Alan Freeman while I did my homework. I wore hotpants and embroidered cheesecloth shirts and love beads and maxi skirts, and bruised my wrists with clackers. I remember my Mum buying Golden Hands week by week, and we crocheted afghan squares and knotted macramé and made strange geometries with nails and thread.

Random, domestic memories, like open windows into the past, let’s see what’s through the round window today… I wonder what has happened to all the rest, those experiences I know I had but can’t recall. Are they there, buried somewhere? Or have they crumbled into dust?

I couldn’t sleep the other night, and I started to think about my grandfather, George Richardson. He was an archaeologist and he took me with him on digs. I can only have been 7 years old when we were digging at Swine Sty in Derbyshire, and I remember how special it felt to touch a sliver of flint, a Bronze Age tool, so so old. Later I washed shards of Roman pottery as we dug on Hadrian’s Wall. I remember that vividly: swirling reddish water and a small scrubbing brush; drinking instant coffee made with Marvel from a flask and listening to the talk flowing above my head in the caravan where we had our lunch breaks; sitting for hours on the ground with a little diamond shaped trowel and a brush, scraping always with the edge of the trowel, not really digging at all, brushing the loosened earth, scraping, brushing, slowly gently bringing to light these treasures that had been hidden for so long.

If there was a ‘find’ – a tiny piece of pottery or a bone, or a stone in an odd place, maybe, they would gather round, draw it, record its position before delicately lifting it out and labelling it. Items from the same section were bagged together and later it might be possible to reconstruct them, fitting these ancient shards together and seeing the gappy, broken shape of what they once were reappear.

I recall all these things, but I don’t know which dig it was. I remember a woman’s name – Dorothy Charlesworth – so I ‘asked’ Google, and discovered that Turret 51A, Piper Sike, was excavated under her direction, in 1970, when I was 10. The time is right and the name rings a bell. It could have been there, but I can’t be sure. My parents don’t remember, so maybe I’ll never be sure – the fragments of my memories are held together by uncertainty.

As I searched for information, the English Heritage site told me “Piper Sike has a cooking-hearth”. Reading that, faint stirrings of memory at the edges of my mind – does it sound familiar, do I remember that?

How easy it is to change and shape remembrance. We have access to collective memories that become entwined with our own. How hard it is to distinguish our own memories from those we have heard about so many times that they seem like our own.

The words we use – remind, recognise, recall, recollect… to know again, to bring back… Reconstructing the broken pieces. Reminders, ways we gain access to the shards of memory that are hidden below layers and layers of years, scraping, brushing, uncovering. Some things should remain undisturbed, but others are delightful and exciting when they’re brought out into today.

For the challenge, I am thinking of fragments of memory as fragments of cloth – a puzzle of pieces, linked together, but not quite fitting, perhaps joined by insertion stitches, which I don’t yet know how to make but can learn from this book.

samplersandstitches.jpg

Mrs Archibald Christie’s Samplers and Stitches, which came to me from my grandmother Peggy Richardson, née Brodie. She learned beautiful art embroidery in Glasgow in the 1920s. I would love this challenge piece to be connected to two people who shared with me their deep love of history and the significance of the past.

Postscript: While I was searching Google I discovered that George Richardson left an archive of archaeological papers, which are in the Tullie House museum in Carlisle. I never knew… how amazing, I can go and look at these and maybe fill in some more of the gaps.

February TIF Challenge 1

23 thoughts on “February TIF Challenge 1

  • February 10, 2008 at 2:08 pm
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    How cool to have gone on digs with your Grandfather!

  • February 10, 2008 at 4:06 pm
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    I can relate to a lot you’ve said here, especially about not being able to remember much – my DH is much better than I am. I can’t remember much at all before I was 11 because we moved house then and I lost contact with a lot of people (and the place). And the clackers! I remember those too…

  • February 10, 2008 at 4:12 pm
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    Ah! I also remember quite a few of those things. Did your rag and bone man give you the choice of a hand puppet with a papier mache head or a goldfish too?. We were never allowed to have the goldfish! We got triangular ice lollies called Snofrutes from the ice-cream van that came around our street. I can still remember the taste of those. Well darn it, see what you’ve done! You’ve started me off again! Thank you for sharing such a beautifully written piece.

  • February 10, 2008 at 4:34 pm
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    What a lovely reminiscence. How fascinating to have been doing archeology work as a child. Having been to some of the places you talked about on a visit to Great Britain 18 years ago, it brought back memories and gave a greater dimension to them.
    Your stitch book sounds fascinating–can’t wait to see what you come up with.

  • February 10, 2008 at 8:40 pm
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    I can identify with a lot of the things you have said here Fiona. Thank you for sharing this really interesting post. How exciting to be able to find out more about your grandfather’s work!

  • February 10, 2008 at 9:07 pm
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    suspect we are a similar age,I had tressy, watched the wooden tops on a flickery black and white TV, got banned from using clackers and had embroidered cheese cloth smock tops and went round school crocheting a bedspread………..well I always was a bit weird.

  • February 10, 2008 at 9:11 pm
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    What great memories of people who introduced you to history — you will enjly learning the insertion stitches to put your piece together.

  • February 10, 2008 at 9:13 pm
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    Fiona, this is a lovely post on remembering! One day, everything will become just memories. How comforting it is to have ‘a better hope’ (Rom 6,23b)

  • February 10, 2008 at 9:18 pm
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    Hi Fiona
    I can remember a lot of the things you’ve written about, and i too was the Mum who excitedly collected the Golden Hands, mine were in beautiful bound yellow volumes , I’ve always regretted selling them on in the ’80’s, they were lovely.
    Many thanks for your kind comments on my March PC blog post.

  • February 10, 2008 at 10:41 pm
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    An archeological excursion is a wonderful metaphore for digging out all those memories, isn’t it? 🙂

  • February 10, 2008 at 10:59 pm
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    I find your memory gaps re-assuring, when starting to think about this challenge. I was shocked at how little I remembered though it does seem to have set a train of thought running. Your use of the language of memory and its subsequent association with layers sounds like an excellent starting point for this month.

  • February 10, 2008 at 11:25 pm
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    Isn’t memory a wonderful thing? I have gaps too, but I think it’s a bit like a hardrive on the computer, there is only a limited amount of space and more current memories are easily found while some of the older ones have been “overwritten” but may still be there if you did deep enough. The strangest things can trigger a deep memory, sometimes something you’re not quite sure is real, sometimes a traumatic thing is thought forgotten but will pop into your head suddenly. Like my memories of a prowler climbing through my bedroom window one night when I was about 10, not sure if it was real or a dream but it is SO vivid. Mum says it never happened, but how do I know she is just not protecting me? Maybe hypnosis is the answer, but maybe better not to know?
    Sorry, this got a bit deep, meant to be a positive comment on your great writing, LOL.
    Hooroo,
    Christine
    http://missmuffettwo.blogspot.com/

  • February 10, 2008 at 11:34 pm
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    Loved this post – I remember so much of that too – but some (like the rag and bone man) rather vaguely. But the flowery covered school basket, and you listening to Bohemium Rhapsody, and the clackers, and Jacky Main. I was just telling someone the other day about going to visit him with the rabbits on leads!

    Also amazing that Tullie House has an archive of grandpa’s documents – did anyone know?

  • February 11, 2008 at 12:52 am
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    When I first read the challenge for this month I panicked because I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to remember much either. But the more I thought about it, the more I remembered!

    I really like your idea to use fragments of cloth to represent fragments of memory. Wish I’d thought of something like that!

  • February 11, 2008 at 8:38 am
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    The coalman, I had forgotten the delight of watching the delivery of dirty sacks. Thank you for sharing your memories they are so interesting.

  • February 12, 2008 at 4:56 pm
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    I had a tinytears too. In the end her sad demise came when I cut off all fer hair and scribbled on her face. What a vandel I was!

  • February 12, 2008 at 11:44 pm
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    Oh, what a lovely post! You’ve hit a connection here with so many people, and with me, too! My memories seem sparse until I begin to follow a thread, then all sorts of things rise to the surface! I’m certain your Feb. TIF piece will be lovely, too!

  • February 13, 2008 at 11:52 am
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    Hi Fiona

    Thanks for visiting my blog. I have decided to call my TIF doll Juno. Thanks for the great suggestion. Please can you email me your snail mail addy as I would love to send you a thank you.

    Angela

  • February 14, 2008 at 9:44 am
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    lovely memories.
    interesting what you note about particular and collective memories getting entwined, something to think about.

    neki desu

  • February 16, 2008 at 12:04 am
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    Whar a beautifully written piece! Gives much food for thought.

  • April 3, 2009 at 11:43 pm
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    I am a niece of Dorothy Charlesworth. I wonder if you remember her dogs, Rob and Snowman?
    She was an archaeologist with the Ministry of Works which later became the Department of the Environment. She is mentioned in Hunter Davies’ book – A Walk along the Wall written in the late 1970s.
    She studied history at Somerville College, Oxford where she was a contempory of Margaret Thatcher and Shirley Williams.
    She became an Inspector of Ancient Monuments and as an archaeologist conducted digs in Northumberland, Cumbria and Egypt. She published in academic journals and one of her main interests was Roman Glass.
    Sadly she died of ovarian cancer in 1981 when she was only in her mid 50s.

  • October 13, 2010 at 5:16 pm
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    I worked for Dorothy Charlesworth on an excavation in Carlisle at the Annetwell site which is where the timber gateway of the Roman fort was located. It must have been in 1978-79.
    I have mentioned her in a book I am helping to write in relation to her work as an Inspector of Ancient Monuments for Hadrians Wall. She worked at Housesteads fort excavating the Commandants House which was consolidated by the late Charles Anderson Department of Environment mason.

  • March 25, 2011 at 6:34 pm
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    Dorothy Charlesworth was my Aunt. She died when I was 10. I wish I’d known her better. She had a dog called Brosner, a little terror!!

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