Why do we remember some people who have touched our lives , and not others? I'm not talking here about significant people, but those on the periphery. people we might pass in the street. friends of friends who we might meet once or twice, even people glimpsed on a train. Sometimes we remember these people for the rest of our lives, sometimes we have forgotten them by the next day. So what makes a person - or a situation - memorable? What is it about them that triggers something in our minds so that we file them away for future reference rather than consigning them to the rubbish bin? Here are some of my memorable figures:-
The Three Sisters - Looking back they were probably casualties of the dearth of young men after the First World War (see my earlier post "In Memoriam"). Their surname was Codd and their Christian names were Faith, Hope and Charity! They lived in my Lincolnshire village and, as a child, I used to watch them pass on their way to church twice on Sundays. It was the only time I ever saw them. They wore black, floor-length barathea coats and cream, high necked blouses and large black hats. Each carried a prayer book and the three of them looked to neither right nor left. They lived in a tall, grey house with granite steps up to the front door. I never spoke to them - I don't know what happened to them - so why do they so often float
through my consciousness?
The Babushka - Coming out of an hotel in what was then Leningrad, on a bitterly cold Winter's morning, I came face to face with her. She was wearing a long brown coat, brown boots and a big yellow headscarf and she was wielding a besom, brushing away a light fall of snow from the hotel entrance. She was a heavily built elderly woman with the whole history of Russia written on her face. She didn't look at me but she looked at my cream cashmere coat (lent to me by a rich neighbour for the dura tion of my holiday!) with such a look of envy that I wanted to take it off and give it to her. She epitomised Russia for me at that time and that face, and expression, have never left me.
The Bear Man - Standing in a window in Istanbul I looked down into the street in the early morning in the Old Town and saw a small, wiry, weasely man slouching along the pathway, leading two chained brown bears - sad and pathetic creatures who padded along beside him, and I wondered what cruelty and degredation the two poor creatures had been subjected to. It is thirty years since I saw them - I wonder still.
Bertie Webb - Bertie was a friend of a friend and I met him only twice; both times when he came up from Cornwall to my friend in Lincolnshire for holidays. He was a retired Headmaster, unmarried, a spritely ninety and mad about Old Time Dancing. Why is it I can recall his elfin face so easily while often struggling to recall the faces of loved ones who have died? I have written a poem about him:
Death of a Dancing Man.
His the light step, good for the gallop,
or the Dashing White Sergeant.
As the Village Hall throbs to the music
and the bare boards rattle.
His the ninety years of swinging
the girls on his arm;
Doing the do-si-do, mastering the tango,
Passing down the ranks
of pretty girls but never marrying one.
His the death, on the kitchen floor,
The Palais Glide...
The Lambeth Walk...
and The Last Waltz.