This is an appropriate topic as we approach Remembrance Day and Armistice Day and also after my review last week of The Chameleon Theatre Group’s excellent performance of Blackadder Goes Forth.
Why do we need to remember? To be grateful to those who made so many sacrifices, in too many cases the ultimate one, so we can live as we do now. To be grateful to these unknowns who gave up their fathers, sons, brothers, husbands, wives, sisters, daughters and other family so we do not have to give up ours.
And memories fade with time. There are some things which are far too important to be forgotten. Eye witnesses to events cannot live forever and it is important we learn from them before it is too late.
I have absolutely no time for Holocaust deniers but with the relevant generation dying out, it is more vital than ever to ensure historical memories are not erased or forgotten.
Those with their own agenda would take advantage of that. Truth is important. Historical truth even more so, I think. (That doesn’t mean things can’t be questioned – I question the version of events traditionally presented regarding what happened to the Princes in the Tower. It is far too convenient to the Tudors for Richard III to be guilty of the Princes’ murder though I also acknowledge they could have got it right. I’ve good reason to think they haven’t but I covered that when I looked at The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey.).
I agree with the statement “a country that forgets its history will re-live it”. I think this is also true on a personal level. How do you learn? By making mistakes, remembering what they were, and ideally not repeating them!
Memories are so important for history, storytelling, for our own health and so on. The ways in which we remember things may differ from person to person (I often use visual aids to remind me to do something, other members of my family do not. I’m also a great believer in lists!).
The tragedy with something like dementia is the way it strips memory away from people (as indeed can strokes). It is, to my mind, stripping away their soul. Memories go a long way to making us what we are. Take away the memories, you take away a lot of the person you knew. Not all of it but enough to make a huge impact on you. I suppose the only positive here is that the person concerned is generally not aware.
One of the strange things with dementia though is that those with this awful disease can often remember old songs and, of all things, swear words.
The Alzheimer’s Society run what they call Singing for the Brain and this is known to benefit those with this dreadful disease and their carers. Singing can release endorphins, the feel good hormone, as does exercise. Anything that can help someone remember something of their happier past has to be a good thing. Perhaps this post in a small way can act as a thank you to those who run these things. I would love to see a cure for dementia in my lifetime.
The care home my late parents were at had vinyl records on some of their walls. Why? Firstly some had pictures actually on the record, which in itself could be a memory trigger, but also the residents could feel and touch the records. Some of course were kept back to be played on a record player.
I was also intrigued by a recent Facebook post showing how realistic looking baby dolls were being given to dementia patients (of either sex) and the positive effects this was having on them. It seemed that positive memories of early parenting were being called back and just holding the dolls was also a comfort in and of itself. I hope this kind of therapy treatment can be studied in more depth because finding the right triggers for memory recall is a vital component in helping dementia sufferers retain what they can for as long as they can.
Fiction writers reflect memories in their stories via their characters of course. (For a character to seem realistic they have to have a past and even if this is not directly in the story, it should be hinted at. Characters have to remember something like the nature of the quest they’re on!). Also no matter how fantastic your setting, some things always stay the same. Beings are born, they live, they die. They come into a world with its history and its culture. They will remember what their parents told them etc.
Memories also play a crucial role in non-fiction too. Where would history (fictional accounts and straight re-tellings) be without them? I am often riveted by first hand accounts and can also understand the popularity of the TV family history show Who Do You Think You Are? One of the nicest things I’ve been given is a genealogy of my parents’ timelines (focusing on the direct line only) and have discovered taxi drivers and joiners in the family ranks and that some of them came from Hampshire originally. (I’d always thought they’d only ever been in the East End of London, apparently not!).
So how do we treasure our memories and do we do so often enough? Photos are a great help of course. Indeed I think photography should be counted as one of the best inventions ever. Local history groups are vital. It’s good to know it isn’t just you with an interest in how your area came to be the way it is. Here at Chandler’s Ford Today of course we often use pictures from the Eastleigh and District Local History Society (with their blessing naturally) – this is a good chance to say thank you to them directly for that.
The link takes you to the Hampshire Record Office site (officially Hantsweb) and just look at the different things they offer the history fan – everything from parish registers to electoral ones to newspaper archives amongst others. I should imagine that the greatest number of visitors are those trying to research their ancestry. I had a little play with the site here and by putting in a location you could come up with a list of ancestral sites (nothing for Chandler’s Ford I’m afraid but loads for Winchester – no real surprises there).
The real “trick” of course is to treasure the past without forgetting to live in the present.
Sometimes when the news is nothing but grim, it is very tempting to switch all that off and go back internally at least to happier times. (Don’t let anyone tell you time travel is impossible. Every time you take a trip down Memory Lane that counts as a form of time travel. You’re going up and down on your own timeline!).
Of course we all have “preferred” memories. The ones that make us look at our best instead of those times where we looked like an idiot (and we all have those!). But the act of remembering is important. Focusing on where we have been in life can help us think about where we are heading. That is not a bad thing. And in the life of a country it is vital. Remembering so we do NOT repeat the mistakes of the past is so much a part of what Remembrance Day is all about and, remembering to take time out to be grateful to those who gave so much for us, even more so.
Read blog posts by Allison Symes published on Chandler’s Ford Today.
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