Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Going back Somewhere

Hi. I haven't written anything for a while. Sometimes the mind languishes in the mental doldrums where inspiration is totally absent for long periods. I thought this was just me, but I read some comments elsewhere that lead me to think it is cyclic and that other people are currently experiencing the same thing.
So I decided to drag myself out of the stupor and see if my fingers might loosen up and assist my brain in doing the same. Well, we'll judge how well that went later, perhaps.

Last week, we went on holiday. Holidays are a difficult conundrum currently. Once, little ones ere content to sit on a beach, even unseasonal weather, and dig holes in the sand all day; making sandcastles and damming up those little streams one always finds on beaches.
Now at 19 and 17, requirements are different and finding something we all might like is pretty much impossible. So, we booked a house in Portland and threw the invitation out to our offspring, who enthusiastically accepted.

I didn't feel able to cope with anything more exotic than Weymouth. My mental stamina is almost back to what it was, but I confess, my brain is not (yet?) what it was before recent events took their toll. I feel less clever than before and have less clarity of thought when complex information needs interpreting. So a quiet week in Dorset with no intellectual demands was just the tonic I needed.
There were some places I wanted to visit, specifically too.
In 1969, my father got his two children up early. Then Mum, dad and kids, stopping only to bundle grandparents into the old banger that tenuously maintained reliable motive power, all headed noisily to Durdledoor on the Dorset coast. I don't why he chose that spot. He isn't here to ask now.

I remember it was early, even by the standards of a four year old who was always up with the dawn. It was, to my now responsible eye, brave of my father to to think we might travel all that distance in a car of such unreliability with kids and parents. The roads are winding and hilly and I am amazed the car managed the journey without dying in a cloud of smoke and steam. Perhaps, my father, a mere twenty two years old at that time, had the confidence and optimism of youth on his side. But a Morris Oxford that had seen much better days was a worthy chariot as far as we were all concerned, even if the rear footwells were always full of water on rainy days, slopping from one side to the other as we went around corners so we had to keep our feet on the dog-eared leather seats from which the springs protruded.

But it got us there, and on a warm summer morning in August 1969, we found ourselves hopping barefoot over the sharp pebbles of this beautiful beach, a magical feeling I can recall to this day.
My dad had recently got his HGV licence and, as was his wont, had purloined several lorry inner tubes. Inflated, they were tremendous fun to mess about on in the sea. I still remember my grandfather's bum poking up through the hole in the middle after a particularly spirited wave caused him to capsize. A good day was had by all and in the warm familial glow of children oblivious to political undercurrents, we nodded off on the grandparents as we made the 100 mile journey home.

So, last week, being somewhat near to Durdledoor, I decided I had to see the place again. Forty years later, I stood by its iconic arch looking out at the steeply shelving sea, and I tried to connect to the small boy who had sat, examining each rock hopefully for fossils and being disappointed not to find any.
But he wasn't there. His tracks had been obscured.

My hope had been that I would somehow be transported back to the place and the time, with all the associated memories and feelings flooding back. I had thought the sight of the arch, the beach, the cliffs would cause the sudden confluence of memories overlaid upon the sight before me, coming into focus like a picture you might see on one of those victorian stereoscopes one requires sort-of-binoculars to view.
But I wasn't transported. I remember I was there. But I don't remember being there.
I confess, I was disappointed. There was no leaping-to-mind at the prompting of the scenery of memories; what we ate, what we did that day or my grandfather's face (though the aforementioned upturned arse in a truck inner tube is still visible in my mind's eye, which is some consolation, I suppose).

But the scenery was still stunning and the weather held. So, I gazed through the arch at a small boat sailing by - the epitome of freedom somehow as one stands by a shore looking out into an element which is not our own.
Then I returned to the present day and suggested we find somewhere for lunch. Nostalgia is all very well, but apetite usually prevails.


Jane and Lance Hattatt said...

Hello Pete:
Such a wonderful spot, as is so much of the Dorset coastline, but always a mistake to go back if there is the least expectation of recapturing a past which is always, as L.P. Hartley so accurately writes, 'another country'.

Librarian said...

In "Afoot in England", the author dedicates a whole chapter to this topic, entitled "On Going Back" and comes to the conclusion that going back to a place he much liked before would almost always result in disappointment.
I have been time-travelling quite a fair bit myself (and blogged about it; for instance here: http://librarianwithsecrets.blogspot.de/2010/07/your-very-own-time-machine.html) and have not felt such disappointment. Maybe it has to do with one's expectations?
I find that music and scent are very powerful time machine triggers. Some songs I still can't listen to without starting to cry because they remind me of lost love and lost life.

Librarian said...

PS: Durdledoor - what a lovely name for a place is that! Sounds like something straight out of Harry Potter :-)

Jenny Woolf said...

I am not entirely surprised that it all seemed so different. I feel that children notice different things from adults - it's all about emotion with them and they are unable to interpret a lot of what they actually see.

So I would suggest your own memories are more real and truthful than anything you could have found at modern Durdle Door, because they're based on the feelings you had and the impression of having your family with you on this (pretty amazing sounding) 1969 outing.