When I got up this morning at 5.30am (thanks, Eleanor) and stood grumpily in the dark kitchen I looked out the window and was amazed by the moon. I can tell you that the moon at 5.30am in Berhampore, Wellington was a full, huge, luminous disk and the acne scar shadows on its surface were clearly visible. I can tell you that most of the rest of Berhampore was not up admiring this, and that it was cold when I went outside to get a better look, and the streets were silent: streetlights illuminating parked cars across the valley.
I am tired. Not because I got up at 5.30am, but because I am working. Too tired or busy to write blog posts, or comment on blog posts, or read a book. I was writing another post but it didn’t seem to want to finish itself, and I got distracted by this photo.
Ordinary things become evocative. I’m not sure why we take so many photos of extraordinary things, because most of the photos that I linger over from the past are inconsequential snaps of people in the midst of life. Like this photo of me in my bed from 30 years ago.
Compare it to this photo:
This is a photo of a special occasion. It was taken at my ninth birthday in 1982. I think this was one of my birthdays at Greta Point. What I enjoy about this photo now is the look on my friend’s face (also, his shirt is pretty rocking). Actually, I think that today is his birthday. (Happy birthday, bro. You’re a good-looking fellow now, but you were a lot cuter 30 years ago.)
The main difference between the two photos is that the first one is hugely, personally evocative, and the second one is a record of an event. I think this is because the first one is a symbol. While it is just one photo of one moment, it comes to represent the thousands of hours I spent sleeping there, and all the dreams, and nightmares, and the falling in and out of sleep in that bed, in that place.
I had that bed for a long time. Perhaps 15 years. It really wasn’t very good. The frame was pretty cool, but it was built in the days before bed makers had realised they could make you buy a far more expensive bed by showing you pictures of spines and necks and magnetic underlays and all that (mostly) crap. It had a thin foam mattress on top of a kind of metal net attached to the frame by springs. There was a roller bed underneath, and by the time my bed was in its fifteenth year the springs had given up, and I was essentially sagging down so far I was sleeping on the roller bed underneath.
Not that it mattered of course. I was very happy with my bed, and the thin, striped duvet (Google translate: bedcover thingy). Of course being a nine-year old boy I was also happy with the huge Pink Panther, and I can tell you that the little panda, dog toy had incredibly soft fur. The orange book in the pocket above my head (so handy), was called So You Want to Play Wargames? The answer to that question, by the way, was: “yes, but it’s too fiddly, and I don’t have any money, and do we have to measure everything with a ruler can’t we just set up two armies and biff lego at each other?”
Amazingly, in this photo I seem to have something written on my hand. I have something written on my hand now. It’s how I manage my life. Other people graduated to planners and i-phones, I write things on my hand. My hand system is feeling the strain now that people tell me increasingly important things, but I don’t think I will ever change. In fifty years I will still be using this system. On my hand I will write my name so I remember who I am.
So I remember who I am.
When I was at university our lecturer once explained this idea that our identity is a really a series of rapid repetitions of the same statements, like a film flickering on the back of the inside of our heads. It seems to be the same thing over and over, but like a time-lapse film of a flower you are constantly in flux. Always the same, always involved in change.
I am the boy in the photo.
If I turned to my right in that photo I could see the bedroom door, and behind that door was the rest of the first house that I can really remember. Sometime in 1982 my Gran came to visit this house. If I could go back to 1982 I might choose to go back and get out of bed and see my Gran again. Perhaps disturb her reading a book in the living room.
Or perhaps I would go upstairs and sit at the table and have breakfast with my mother.
I am not the boy in the photo.
I’m the bald, bespectacled teacher, husband, father of two daughters. Two daughters who are busy building their store of childhood memories. Of getting up for breakfast in the dark, and coming across your dad standing in the kitchen looking at the moon.
What is he thinking?
He’s thinking about the concrete wall next to his bed when he was a kid. He’s remembering that it had lots of tiny air bubbles in it. How he spent many nights after the lights were out and his eyes had adjusted to the dark tracing patterns or imagining other places. Imagining what he would be, what kind of star, what kind of hero.
Imagining he was walking on the moon.