MINING THE MEMORY BANK

growingup books

Four books you will never read.

Most of the time, I write for a living but there are also occasions when I feel drawn to ‘the craft’ as a labour of love. A perfect example of this is a four-volume autobiography – my so-called ‘Growing Up’ chronicles – that I have written and designed over the past few years, exclusively for my children.

The complete set covers the years 1963 to 2016. Fully illustrated and printed in hardback format, each book is around 180 pages long, containing an average of 90,000 words. On the surface, this may seem a rather pompous exercise but I was thinking ahead.

In September 2015, an old school friend and I were chatting on the telephone about how much the world has changed in our lifetime. The conversation turned to my father who died in 1983. If he miraculously returned and visited some of the areas of east London in which he lived and worked, would he recognise them? Not likely. Could he possibly have foreseen the World Wide Web, e-mail, digital television and its zillion channels, social media and smartphones, and their effect on our daily lives? Absolutely not.

Thinking of the life that Dad led as a boy and a young man in the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s made me realise how wonderful it would have been if he – and indeed my mother – had written about those times, and kept stories as a resource to hand down to my sister and I, our own children and subsequent generations. As soon as these thoughts raced through my head, I voiced to my friend, “I don’t want my own children to wish the same. Even if they are not interested now, I feel sure that later on in life they would like to sit back and read about my times as a child and teenager because, after all, we are part of each other.”

After consulting some old diaries and a vast amount of photography and memorabilia that I could never bring myself to throw away, out came a long stream of consciousness that I typed out as recollections came to me. There were, of course, many references to music because songs are often like condensed diaries for me. The opening bar of a certain song can trigger a flood of images and scenes in my mind’s eye, and I found that the more I started to write, the more I remembered.

During this process, I discovered that I am a borderline hyperthymesiac. People with hyperthymesia have a superior autobiographical memory and are able to remember the events of any given calendar date, usually back to well before their teens, with stunning accuracy. They can compare similar dates and use their minds like databases, remembering odd details. I don’t fully qualify as one of the few people in the world to have such abilities, however, I remember enough about my very early childhood to fall within the spectrum. Fortunately, my father was a prolific photographer who, like myself, documented his children’s childhood with tireless regularity, and those old black and white snaps gained even greater value as I gave my memory a workout.

OPPORTUNITY

Time gives us context. It allows us to look back, unclouded. We can see the how and why, the when and where, and compare the now with then. With maturity and experience, we can reason with how we could have done things so much better but if life teaches us anything, it is that one only gains these assets by making mistakes – an art I continue to develop!

Few of us ever truly understand before opportunity expires that we must learn to live ‘in the moment’. When life is whipping up a cyclone, one has to find a way to slow down, look around and breathe. If you don’t, you will surely fall into the trap that Roger Waters described in his Pink Floyd song, ‘Time’: “And then one day you find / 10 years have got behind you / No one told you when to run / You missed the starting gun.”

Of course, living in the moment is difficult to achieve when you are writing about the past but, for me, that job is now done. The most exciting thing about life is never knowing what’s coming next.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, the four books in this series were written exclusively for my children, which is why only five copies of each volume exist: one for each of my offspring, plus a reference copy for myself. Several people have urged me to make them publicly available but that’s completely missing the point. However, as well as the book spreads that appear below as random visual examples, I do intend to publish some illustrated extracts in this Blog section in due course (such as the Oasis at Knebworth story), and hope you find them amusing.

Mark Cunningham