PLACE, MEMORY AND IDENTITY
The previous blog, I should have pointed out, was about memory, but also about place and identity. For everyone there are places which are bound up with our sense of who we are and where we've come from. My example was of boarding school. But there are any numbers of others. Many writers have thought about what is often called 'the sense of place'. Place can often remind us of who we are, perhaps because places often remain the same while we ourselves change. Coming back to the scenes of our childhood we are often most interested to what is still just as it was then. We have grown older and change, but the field, the house, the river, these seem to be no different. And by contemplating these we find we are contemplating our own past and our own identity. Such memories, such places, need not, of course evoke happy memories. In many people's experience is the loathed place which seems to stick with us.
Perhaps because I'd been thinking about my very much loathed boarding school to write the previous blog, which necessitated turning up notes of what I made a visit to the place which still was then partly 'the same', I had a dream a couple of nights ago in which the English teacher there, Miss Wilson, appeared and got into my bed beside me. Here is my first draft of a poem about it.
I dreamt of Miss Wilson, my dead English teacher,
who had wire-wool hair, and taught me in year 5
and doubled as senior matron, checking our flies
as we came past her on the stairs to breakfast.
She gave a lot of black marks, as if
she didn’t realise it meant the headmast would beat us
in our thin pyjamas before we went to bed.
She said to me once, with an almost smile, “The cat
on its wild lone.” She read us the Mowgli Tales
to which, in spite of her, in spite of the great game
the white man’s burden, I’ve come back and back to.
Is that why this cold virgin came,
pulled back the sheet and got into my bed last night,
and turning her grey head on the pillow, hugged me?
The poem is just a draft as yet, and that's worth emphasising, because in the process of making it better from the point of view of expression, rhythm, and so on, I will hope also to get clearer in my own mind what it's really all about. In other words, we can't really separating, rewriting and 'style' from the deep down stuff - that might or might not be there (perhaps it'll turn out to be not worth keeping).
But mention of the dream, takes me to the next topic we'll be looking at to do with place, and that is imaginary places. Of course there's never a clear line between memory and imagination, and indeed if we read writers like Lacan (in my case, Lacan where I can make sense of him, if indeed I do) there's no clear line either between everyday experience and imagination. We are often not aware just how far we 'make up' our own 'real life' experiences. This is fairly clear when we fall in love with someone and see them only partly 'as they are ' (but who's to say what that is), but it's also true when we taken in, often without thinking about it, ordinary everyday experiences. But that's something to think about later.
 black mark: a punishment written on a school notice board together with the offence. The be ‘paid off’ later when the head teacher had a session of caning.
 phrases from the English writer, Rudyard Kipling, much admired at the school for his nationalist sentiments, but but me as an inventor of an imaginary world into which it seemed I could escape. It is still debated how far Kipling’s Jungle books represent a miniature imperialism, how far an expression of his own unhappiness as a child in Southsea