One of the many astonishing things about growing old is the realization that memories stretching back decades lose neither their strength nor their power to evoke powerful emotions of all kinds. Furthermore, they may pop back into your mind, complete and untarnished, seemingly prompted by the ripples sent out by other memories from different times and places.
Thus, tonight, as I was playing Bryan Ferry's version of the Velvet Undeground song, What Goes On, and being cast back into a vision of the day that I bought that original Velvet Underground album – a strongly tactile memory as the L.P. cover of that album was unusually textured, and I can still recall the surprise I felt when I first slipped my fingers over it – I was kicked back again into a another almost contemporary but differing recollection.
This was a summer's day in the mid 1970s when I went for a walk through the wheat fields leading up to a set of hills not far from my house. These were The Chantries, a National Trust preserved series of hilltop copses that had been managed and semi-cultivated for centuries. Rich in the history of the land itself.
With me I had a Phillips cassette tape player, a bulky contraption compared to the Sony Walkman let alone an iPod, and I was listening to the tinny reproduction through its small, distinctly lo-fi, built-in speaker.
I walked up a hillside path that was shaded by hedges on both sides. Eventually I came to a break in the hedge that let the afternoon sun flood through. It was warm, and as there was a cool breeze, I lay down to let the wind pass over me and absorb the radiant heat.
I put the tape recorder to my ear and let it play. I still remember what I heard – a long song by The Who, A Quick One While He's Away. I can picture exactly the quality of the light in the sky, the scattered clouds, the rustle of the wind through the hedgerows and over the wheat fields.
That was all that happened – there was no drama, no exciting or unusual events at all. It was simply a moment of thoughtful repose, yet it, above almost all others, became embedded in my mind as a vivid and unforgettable memory.
Now, I have been through enough psychotherapy to know full well that the reason this particular memory has such power is related directly to the emotional aura of other events that occurred at this time, events I do not remember so well. These were not so happy, and thus I feel relieved and rather astonished that the recollection that has left its strongest imprint today was so peaceful.
But perhaps I shouldn't be. The mind is powerful and manifests its healing and recovery from hurt in subtle ways. This, I am sure, is one of them.