so fake memories then

It seems we all carry around at least one memory of an event, action, facial expression or even just an attitude or a state of mind that never actually took place. Fake memories are remarkably easy to implant too, if you set about putting them there deliberately. So it’s unsurprising that so much legal difficulty is inherent in the pursuit of historical abuse cases, or that a domestic row can ensue over what someone may have said or not said on a wet Tuesday afternoon in November 1996. We are used to dealing with and circumventing the unreliability of the human memory. But the question of why we have this, from an evolutionary perspective, does not have an easy answer. A theory I heard recently is that it enables more cohesive social structures in the present by rewriting an angst-ridden past to be more consistent with your current commitments, thus enabling the continuance of social structures that will help perpetuate the species. So that holiday, when you lost all your baggage at the airport and your partner consoled himself at the all inclusive beer tap from eleven o’clock each day, was actually a laugh, looking back. Or that guy, who looked like Rik Mayall and did a very bizarre version of Snoop Dogg’s Gin And Juice in the first bar you walked into at one in the afternoon in that strange town where you missed your parents but didn’t want them there either, actually summed up how you were feeling at the time.

There has been a lot of coverage recently of issues surrounding artificial intelligence and whether one day intelligent machines might one day pose a threat to humans. Let’s be clear. The grandchildren of everyone reading this will be long dead before that’s even a remote possibility. Software is premised on our understanding of computers, not on our understanding of the human brain: that understanding is still primitive at best. We really don’t know why it does what it does. In the meantime, software falls into two categories: performing tricks or getting work done. Educational fashion seems currently to be getting these two categories mixed up. An augmented reality app that turns a wall display into a talking head doesn’t necessarily teach anybody anything: it just looks good. And database apps (applications FFS) are becoming increasingly less popular, and difficult to find on ‘app stores’, but they still run the world, including your bank account and your mortgage. Problem is, they look shit and don’t perform graphically. No brainer.

When your phone or your desktop computer or your laptop or your tablet or your games console or your smart TV or your Sky box or your car tell you that they they’re having a ‘blob day’ and that they’ll probably be OK tomorrow, or when they go offline for several hours and get the fridge to cover for them while they make you a birthday card, then we’re in trouble. Perhaps. In the meantime I’m happy to write reality. That’s what we’re good at.

so separation then

That time again. Wetter than average summers tend to burst tired but sharply defined fire into late September sycamore foliage, and so you arrive at your displacement from your nuclear family in a strange town, seeking quick and uneasy alliances while the trees smoulder and your parents fuss over your bags and boxes. All you really want is to transition (cross dissolve) to that shot of their rear number plate receding into the distance. Then you can deal with your first feelings that now it’s just you, or more precisely with the first stage of that process, because its conclusion is in the general scheme of things yet some years away. Leaflets, tours, corporate t-shirts, tents, supervised and risk assessed bar crawls. The road home is blurred and smeary.

You see someone in the street whose hair, clothes and gait put you in mind of someone you had contact with until recently. I often see from behind a figure that resembles my mother in later life. Diminutive stature, neck length grey hair and a determination to continue. This one has in the early morning a distracted gaze that suggests I’m mistaken. She was all about focus, which is likely why the filament expired so suddenly. Reaching into the drawer to discover that you’ve used the last spare bulb, you remark through your last mouthful of pizza that you meant to get more.

Contact is now more possible than at any time in the history of the planet, and yet somehow more difficult too. A lonely shroud hides your face and body from the person next to you in the food queue that you debated benefit culture and socialism with the night before. You lean past them awkwardly and your pulse quickens ever so slightly as you head for separate tables.

Since my last post, all of two years ago, study is back on the agenda after an absence of thirty years. Back through the turnstiles of a university library. The opportunity to look again at text analysis came fittingly enough in my mum’s garden last summer, to an email address I was about to bin off as it had turned into a spam repository. All in the timing. Or something. Teaching continues, to pay bills and keep me in contact with the passing on of subject knowledge that I still say is my only motivation for being in the profession. Over the last three decades that motivation has slipped steadily down the totem pole in the thinking of the management machine. If thinking it can be called.

Conventional wisdom and the Protestant work ethic have it that compartmentalisation is the template for success. Allow your empathy and your insecurities to bleed all over the compartments and flood them if you like, but don’t expect to accomplish very much. Fuck that though. Let’s not worry and let’s just see what remains. When I was down in London a few months ago I noticed the way that tree roots were bulging the perimeter wall and pavement in Tavistock Square, pushing at the lead-filled holes that held pre-war railings now rusting in the Serpentine. All propaganda, apparently. Not suitable for either munitions or aircraft production. Time runs at different speeds, according to calibration.

The severed head and shoulders of Virginia Woolf look out on the square, rain running down her face, down the faces of the freshers streaming past the windows of a neglected bar conscious of its business plan, down the window where Mum once had her morning caffeine in the context of the sea, dripping off those sycamore leaves that flicker above an old bath tub in her garden. Virginia’s head remembers the weight of those stones in her pocket and exhorts us to stay together for as long as we can.

OK. Drop me your CV if you want.

so sea and earth then

You wouldn’t believe how the grass had grown in your absence. Or maybe you would. Natural enough, after all.

Long time no speak, but then I guess that’s natural enough too. This was the third time I’d been up to your place this year. An all time record I think. Strange how departure presents an epic to-do list. You’d think absence would be a simple state: just not there. I didn’t mind though, so don’t worry.

When we there at Easter I took your pictures from the bathroom wall, the ones you had cut out from old birthday and Mother’s Day cards and glued to the wall. I always looked at that house on the cliff as I was peeing. Wanted to buy it for you. Saw a couple of pictures I had missed, when I was up there at Easter. Now there’s a Happy Mothers Day message in my mirrored writing, imprinted above the toilet.

The Easter visit went well. Stayed at a converted church in the village, ’cos it had enough space for people to chill out, and invited your friends round for a chat and some sandwiches on the Wednesday. Good vibe, I thought. People said I look like you, and people said they miss you. I do too. We were lucky with the weather, as we often have been. On the Tuesday I collected you in granular form from Wick, in a maroon plastic jar. Thursday was distribution day. I took the jar down to Achastle shore, where you used to take your dog, and threw some of you into the sea. If you catch the breeze in the right way, the handful of granular bone just floats off as a cloud, over the water. Almost as if it was your soul, if you believed in that. The sea was very still. Later all four of us were back in your garden. A small bonfire, some more launching of you over grass, trees, bushes and earth. We had the fireworks you requested. It was good to see a light in that living room window again, albeit fleetingly.

You going up there meant that there was never enough time to talk about stuff. But maybe you going up there created the stuff to talk about. It’s another world there and it was always surreal coming back. More so recently. A lot of context will now be missing, but I guess I can provide that. Mice had visited in the interim between your cremation and the Easter visit. I’m sure you’ve mentioned them before. I won’t know now.

It’s nice having recall. You can always go back to more or less any time, if you want to. I know you were tired, so it’s fine that you wanted to sleep. The garden is a metaphorical representation of the mental space you were looking for.

So then I was back up again last week. This time on my own. The journey up was uneventful. Usual stopping places. I missed texting you about where I’d got to, and you texting back about the food you were preparing. The drive down the lane as your caravan comes into view, with the sea behind it, was as it always was, but you didn’t come out to greet me. That was actually the first time I’d driven up entirely on my own.

Couldn’t decide whether you’d be upset or pleased about the grass having grown two feet tall. Your neighbours came round and cut it back for me the next day. I very much appreciated that.

Shoes and clothes on the first day. I’d only ever been in your bedroom a few times. Didn’t realise you had so many shoes. Some you had not had the opportunity to wear, still in cellophane. It was hard working through the clothes you had kept for formal occasions. Drawers and cupboards. You had a mortal fear of someone having to deal with those after you had gone. But they were OK, really. Took a while, but they were OK. On your birthday it rained for a time and I got to hear it on the roof of the dwelling where you spent your final moments, pattering also on the bin bags outside, waiting to be taken to the tip. Yes I know I could have sifted and recycled a bit more, but I didn’t have time and it hurt such a lot. I hope you were watching something good on TV in the moment your heart gave out, and I’m sorry you didn’t get to finish your evening meal. Little did we know over the years when we took all those cans and bottles to the local recycling point that your entire wardrobe of clothes and shoes would one day end up in those two metal skips. Last of your collected just-in-case stuff at landfill now too. All rationalised. Beautiful sound of rain on the roof. Always loved that, with the sea view.

The honeysuckle continues to do well. Perhaps too well. On your birthday the sea at Achastle was very still again. Odd that. I’m seeing your friend Leonard Cohen at the end of the month. Forgot to tell you about Coheed in the Autumn last year. I washed up. Was never too good with that. Used the chopping board that you told me was a piece salvaged from the interior of the Queen Mary. I found some whisky in the cupboard. Had one on your birthday, but left the rest there, in the manner of Loudon Wainwright. I managed to distribute some of your jam, marmalade and chutney. The rest remains in the cupboard below the microwave.

It has been very useful to imagine your voice as I dealt with each drawer. Thank you for knowing me so well. Thank you for being a mum, and a grandmother. I will never be able to repay. Although you were a bit uncomfortable with me saying it, because you thought love was more about what you did, I do, in fact, love you. I took down the net curtains. Never liked them. If people want to look, let them.