Do you ever get struck by memories that you are sure you can feel, or even taste? Perhaps it’s an age thing, but I find myself experiencing these a lot more these days. The following examples are all real events or moments from my life and they keep returning to my thoughts, often stopping me in my tracks, as if I am going through them all over again.
The heat of a summer pavement through a pair of shorts. I am seven or eight years old, sitting on a kerb in London, and I feel hot. The warmed stone is like perching on the top of an oven; the heat on the back of my legs is bearable, but I feel the need to stand up.
In a class at school, perhaps twelve years old. I know the answers to the questions the teacher is asking, but I am conscious that many of my classmates do not. I hold back, not wanting to appear smart, or to be a know-all. The teacher gives up, and turns to me. “I know you know” she says, “why don’t you answer?” Some of the other kids look at me. My ruse has failed.
In a Wimpy Bar, in a South London shopping street, aged around fourteen. The smell of onions is almost overwhelming, and the rasp of the machine that froths the coffee drowns out conversation. I take a bite from the burger, and I can taste the unfamiliar meat, and the burnt sections at the ends of the onion. The food leaves my lips greasy, in a good way.
Almost eighteen, and had far too much alcohol to drink. I am staying at the house of a friend, and when I go to bed, the room spins, and I keep sitting up, afraid of what might happen. I feel that I have no control over my mind or body, and it is a very disconcerting thing indeed.
Thirty-three years old. I am in a car, asleep in the passenger seat. We are returning from Scotland, and my ex-wife is driving. Something makes her leave the motorway at speed, and the car hits the bank and overturns. I wake up, upside down, and screaming in fear. The car impacts with the road, and turns over again. The noise of the crash, followed by the scraping sound as it slides along the carriageway. Then silence.
Perhaps a year later. I am in an unfamiliar bedroom, working as part of an emergency ambulance crew. The woman on the bed is naked from the waist down, and about to give birth to a baby. Her husband, mother, sister, and another child are also in the room. I have the equipment laid out around me, and my colleague has gone to collect a midwife, as no spare vehicles are available. She starts to bear down, and the baby’s legs come out first. Everyone in the room looks at me. They are certain I will know what to do, and unconcerned about the fact that anything could go wrong. It all worked out OK, but I can still smell that bedroom.
I am alone in my flat in London, it is March 2012. I have not long returned from visiting my Mum in hospital. The flat is full of boxes, as I am moving to Norfolk soon. Sitting up late, the phone rings. It is a nurse, telling me that Mum has died. He asks me if I want to come back and see her. It is past 1.30 in the morning, so I say no. I had a mixture of feelings, hovering between heartbreak, and relief.
These and many other moments can return at will. Sometimes they are accompanied by tastes or smells, usually just the feeling I experienced at the time. They can hit you with some impact, or just make you feel uneasy. I have only noticed them since living here. Maybe I have too much time to think.