Memories

Moments

[There are over 1600 words in this post.]

Writing about “What’s so funny about peace and love and understanding?” last week I described something as “A Moment”. It’s how I summarized watching Nick Lowe perform the song at Hyde Park in the summer of 2013 with my son, then aged 8. Nearly 15 years ago, while eating one of my wife’s roast potatoes, a friend held his hand up and said, “I’m having A Moment”. We’ve been using the phrase ever since, sometimes seriously.

How often can you be expected to have “A Moment”? There was a “Friends” episode where Phoebe was going out with someone played by Alec Baldwin, for whom everything was special, he wanted to capture every moment. In the end his enthusiasm gets too much even for Phoebe, and she describes him as “like Santa Claus, on Prozac, at Disneyland … getting laid”. (IMDB tells me that this is “The One in Massapequa”. It’s a while since I saw it.) Clearly, not everything can be “A Moment”, but are there likely to be more than a few in any given year, or decade, as you go about your daily business?

Memory is state-dependent: when you’re feeling happy you remember other happy times; when you’re feeling sad you’re more likely to remember other gloomy times. So, unless you’re having “A Moment” it might be hard to remember previous times when you felt that way, unless you have revisited those memories repeatedly.

I have been thinking back to times that I have described as “A Moment”, either immediately afterwards or some time later, in retrospect. Bearing in mind that it’s a cold February night, and I feel the beginnings of a cold coming on, here’s what came to mind.

A rainbow over King’s College Chapel

The Chapel of King’s College Cambridge is reckoned by many to be one of the most beautiful buildings in England, fulfilling the wishes of its founder (Henry VI) that it would be “without equal in size and beauty”, as it says on the King’s College website. While I was a student in Cambridge I once saw a rainbow spanning the chapel, an event that you can’t plan for. Here’s why I was in the right place at the right time.

At university I ran a college Film Society. Those of us involved took it in turns to pin up posters for our forthcoming presentations in other colleges. (We wrote these posters ourselves, with marker pens, which most people now call “Sharpies”. It was a chore.) Many weeks I questioned the value of the whole process but I learnt about other screenings by seeing posters for other colleges and a handful of people would probably turn up for each screening based on the posters we put up. I was once the only person who turned up at a screening of “The Asphalt Jungle” at a different college, having seen a poster for it, and the projectionist ran the movie just for me and him. And it was because I had just pinned up a poster in King’s College that I found myself one autumn day in the 1980s walking past King’s College Chapel just as a rainbow appeared. I stopped and looked at it for as long as it was there and took it as a sign: this was my reward for all those boring trips to other colleges pinning up A3 sheets advertising films. As I stood there an old school friend was walking towards me, his back to the rainbow. I pointed it out to him. He said, “It makes you wish you had a camera, doesn’t it?” It didn’t, but it was definitely A Moment.

Food, sport, churches, travel, music

Most of the other things that come to mind as “Moments” (at least the ones I’m going to write about here) concern food, sport, churches, travel and music.

“Communication Breakdown”

“Sounds of the 60s” with Brian Matthews on Radio 2 is our regular Saturday morning listening. When my son was about 18 months old, sat in his high-chair in the kitchen, Brian played “Communication Breakdown” by Led Zeppelin. My son joined in with the wailing, the first time he had ever accompanied anything so enthusiastically. “Wheels on the Bus”? No, we’ll take the first Led Zeppelin album please.

“You can have it all”

This George McCrae single, from the album “Rock your baby”, was always a family favourite and features the lines “You can have it – ooh ooh” as it closes (it’s at 2:02 in this clip). We always sang along with it. When our daughter had just turned two we were driving back from a Diwali party in Northwood Hills and she tentatively accompanied it. We turned the sound down and could hear her singing “Have it – ooh hoo” from the back of the car, the first time she’d accompanied anything like this. The concentration on her face, breaking into a smile: priceless.

“Slipping through my fingers”

Sitting at the Novello Theatre watching the stage show of “Mamma Mia” with my 7 year old daughter leaning on my arm. I appear to have something my eye. I usually do when this song comes on.

As a non-Abba fan I avoided their music as much as possible during the 1970s (not easy, most of the time), but over the decades I have softened towards many of their songs, especially when performed by other people. (It was as much the clean, dirt-free 70s production as the songs themselves that put me off: I like some of the rough edges to be left behind.) “Knowing Me Knowing You” was a small turning point, hearing a version by Danny Wilson which made it sound more like what it is: one of the best pop songs ever written about divorce. And the movie “Mamma Mia” was a turning point too: it’s a Meryl Streep movie, and I’m a fan of her. The stage show is more of an ensemble piece. Her rendition of “Slipping through my fingers” is something I have watched again and again. We went to the stage show twice in 2014. The first time didn’t provide the “Moment”. There was something different about the second time we saw it, but this is the stand-out song for me.

Two All-Ireland Hurling Finals

September 2007, at Croke Park, on my own.

My cousin Eamonn can usually get hold of a pair of tickets for big matches at Croke Park and I have been the beneficiary twice. In 2007 he could only get the one ticket, and he let me have it. Kilkenny beat Limerick heavily. I sat, in the comfortable corporate stand, looking out at where my mother had stood as a young girl, on Hill 16. When she was seven her mother died, her father remarried, and she was brought up by a maiden aunt who was (how can I put this?) not ideally suited to bringing up children. I pictured my mother as a teenager, movies at the Metropole and Gaelic games at Croke Park her main release from the harshness of her day-to-day life. Her mother died aged 38, she made it to 60, old enough to see her children grow up, and to be around for the first three of her five grandchildren. Without anyone around me to talk to I could look out at the crowds and lose myself in thoughts of what had been and what might have been. To paraphrase Flann O’Brien, “a tear of pure alcohol trickled down my cheek”.

September 2009, with my son, then aged four

In 2009 my cousin Eamonn got me two tickets for the Kilkenny v Tipperary final and I went to Dublin for the weekend with my son, then aged four. Kilkenny won the All-Ireland for the fourth year running, a unique achievement in hurling. (We were advised beforehand, by the Tipperary man in the Ha’penny Bridge Inn, that Cork’s 4-in-a-row in the 1940s didn’t count, because they didn’t win the Munster title. An outbreak of foot-and-mouth meant that Cork were nominated to play the final, but when they staged the Munster Final afterwards Tipperary beat them.)

I’ve got a bit carried away here

I’m getting a bit carried away here, so I’ll do what we used to do in school and college exams when we ran out of time, or couldn’t come up with anything better: an “essay plan” for the other things that are on my mind.

Visiting Rome with my mother in 1994, moment after moment at places like the Spanish Steps, St Mary Major, and the Vatican, and her pleasure at the simplest things, like a meal at Le Quick in a shopping centre in Dijon on the way through France.

Paella on a beach at Torrevieja in 1981: they had sprinkled magic dust on that dish and nobody there has tasted anything like it since. My brother turned up later, it was all gone and he had lamb instead. They sprinkled magic dust on them too, but we still talk about the meal he missed.

Visiting New York City for the first time, moment after moment, and especially wandering through Central Park early on a bright Saturday morning in early May. “Itchycoo Park” came to mind: “it’s all too beautiful”.

Visiting New York City again in early 2000, with my future wife, different moments, like sitting in the Windows of the World, at the top of the World Trade Centre, as the sun set, and wandering through Greenwich Village on a crisp Saturday morning, brunch at the Grey Dog Café and lunch at Wo Hop.

Music memories: Linda Lewis singing “This time I’ll be sweeter” at Pizza on the Park (March 2006), Willie Nelson’s solo version of “Always on my mind” (Shepherds Bush Empire, 7 April 2005), Janis Ian performing “Stars” at Bush Hall (16 March 2004).

“Edward the Confessor and the Hot Rods”

I’ll have to revisit this page and spin this “essay plan” into something fuller.

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