A place like this seems to be designed to encourage a certain amount of introspection. So how long do you plan to spend on this?
DC. We should see how it goes, perhaps two months to start.
That’s very much the wrong thing to say. If I’m in here in two months time you’ll be speaking to a corpse… but that scares me. Should I be flattering myself with the idea that I’m any different to the others here? Am I? Anyway should I try to differentiate what I actually remember from what I know? Do you want me to try to do that?
DC. You could try.
I think if you get a little stimulus you can then remember quite clearly an incident and what connects with it branch by branch... going backwards I think I can work my way down to the roots... for example I saw a picture of a man digging a hole in a piece of ice somewhere and instantly what that did was make me think of the time I was in Kazakhstan somewhere in winter. We all went out to the side of the lake and watched the old guys drilling holes in the ice and putting their lines down. I remember all the old men with their big drills... drilling holes to catch fish. Somebody doing something similar today must have triggered that whole block of associations. I don’t even know why it seems relevant now. I remember the game of chess I was playing thirty minutes ago… the pink and blue plastic pieces but, and this is very strange… I don’t remember who won. In most cases if you can’t remember it probably means you lost… in my case I don’t think it means that at all. It means I’ve forgotten.
I worked in the City from ’77 to ’92 or ’93… the early nineties seem rather boring… I remember less about what was happening. I remember the crash when it all went terribly wrong… share prices going down day after day… in the summer of ’87 the market was at an all-time high… then we had the hurricane… I slept through the whole thing. It was the Thatcher years… suddenly she adopted a sensible monetary policy… I was trading in chunks of twenty million.
The ’70s and ’80s were really good fun… music was better… but… well, don’t talk to me about Roxy Music… my wife had a relationship with Brian Ferry… not quite… they knew each other… she was besotted with him… it was always tickets back stage and that kind of stuff… I never met him but she did… I think she did. I was dragged along. This is early on. I was forced to see them at the Albert Hall. We were right at the back but I was there. But I should start at the beginning.
I can’t say I was born on the 4th of July 1958 and call it a memory so we should start with my earliest memory. I remember the layout of my house, which was a normal two-storey suburban house... I remember the little garden on the back… the garage on the side. I remember playing in the garden... and I can remember walking down the long road to the primary school… and this is partly memory, partly what I’ve learnt… I remember being a bit of a child prodigy… and bizarrely it seems that I used to carry copies of the Encyclopaedia Britannica down the road to school… why I did this I don’t know. I’ll flatter myself and say that I considered myself to be a budding intellectual at the age of six but, putting the intent aside, I can remember carrying the books down the road to school… the physical act of holding them and carrying them.
I’ve had three fathers… my natural parents died when I was a baby. My natural father died when he was in a car crash when I was about a day old… I had a complicated birth… my mother was told by the nurse that her husband had just been squashed and she died on the spot as result. So then I was adopted. I had no problem at all with that. I was brought up in this house and I can’t remember the name of the road but I can remember coming out of my front door and walking down this long road to the school. I remember the walk. Sorry, what were we talking about?
So what are we doing now? Just recounting early memories? I’m finding it hard to put names to things. My mother, the one who adopted me, was married to a chap called Mike… and when I was seven he died of a heart attack… it is a memory but this is a reinforced, re-remembered memory… I remember waking up in the middle of the night just feeling hot and sweaty and I remember wandering out of my bedroom and wandering into my parent’s bathroom... and my father was there… he said something like, “I feel funny”, and then he collapsed. And I can’t say I did some dramatic ‘Catch him!’ moment, but I somehow remember… and again this is more a physical memory… I remember him collapsing and me trying to support him and he was already dead. He died of a heart attack in the bathroom and landed on top of me.
I don’t really have any early memories of my schooldays… I remember the layout of the school but no actual experiences… I could say I ran away from school on my first day because most people say that. I’m not sure anything happened beyond a few games. I’ve still got quite a good memory for spaces. I could draw you a map of the house and the route to school but I couldn’t tell you what happened in those spaces other than totally random flashes of memory.
I’m finding this more difficult than I expected. I’m trying to think now of what national events happened in the fifties. I’m not sure anything important happened in the fifties or the sixties. I suppose it was the end of the period of austerity… there was a definite sense of a moving-forward away from the war years. I suppose we were a fairly poor family, running their own business, late fifties, we had our own car, a suburban house, a caravan, a couple of pet dogs. What on earth was the business? I’m trying to think what they sold and I’ve got a very funny feeling it was sort of… I really don’t know why this is there but there must be a reason… I think they were trading medical supplies to doctors’ surgeries… swabs and wipes and that sort of thing. I remember huge bales of cotton wool in the garage.
My adopted brother’s mother was very ill dying of cancer… we were originally from different parts of the community… his father lived in a great big house in the best part of Newcastle… his wife and my father were both very ill so my mother and his father became close friends, supporting and consoling each other. When both of their partners died within a few months of each other they thought, “Well, why don’t we get married?” They were already very good friends, they both had seven-year-old children… it was a bit like a business merger.
Stephen was a bit of a bully… he was sporty and I was academically quite bright. His parents were quite affluent. His mother was dying of cancer and his father was always off on business trips so Stephen always had nannies and maids to look after him so he was really spoilt shitless. My mother and myself came into this situation because we obviously moved into the big house and she wanted to change everything and that caused quite a lot of friction and a few temper tantrums. I remember it as a very fluid, slightly unstable situation. I don’t want to make it sound terrible… it was an adventure.
I thought when I left school that I’d be a bank robber… then fairly early on, certainly a long while pre O Levels, I had an idea that because I liked buildings and had a certain spatial awareness that… and looking back I was quite logical about all this… it seems very weird… first I thought that I’d be an architect and then I switched to the idea that I’d go into town planning. That stayed with me for years. I studied the whole new-town movement in post-war Britain. There was all the excitement of regeneration. My aspiration was to build the next Brasilia, then of course logic takes over and I realised that it was far more likely that I’d be applying for a job with Epping Council and after years of paperwork I’d work my way up to Assistant Planning Officer and then I’d spend the next two years deciding on the route of a ring road or a rubbish dump. At that point I decided I didn’t want to be a town planner.
I moved to a boarding school just over the road from the sea… I hated it at first. I remember being cold almost all the time. I just remember the layout of the school and the fact that it was cold. I’m finding this more difficult than I thought but I’m not sure you could say I’ve forgotten some things because I’m not sure I ever remembered them. I’m not 100% sure that my parents sold medical supplies. I don’t know if I thought they did before I came here. The sight of medical wadding may have given me the idea.
My situation now is quite surreal… I can’t say I fully understand what happened to me… I’m trying to think of the sequence of events… the only way I can tell you is to do sort of mind blogs. We’d been on… no we were on holiday and I… in some sort of way, I was disorientated… I don’t know why… and there was a bit of wandering around the corridors trying to find my room… but that was very isolated. We had a great holiday and did all the things you do. We came home and my wife persuaded me to go and have some tests and I got admitted to the hospital… there’s nothing to say of any significance whatsoever… and then I was taken to some other place… I think maybe it was for brain scans… I can remember lying down in this great big machine… I can remember it coming over the top of me and pulling me inside… I can’t have been there long… then the label that was attached to me was that I’ve got Korsakov’s Syndrome… I always think it’s the composer… people told me that something has happened to a little bit of my brain… and that it effects your short-term memory… I don’t know much about it… but I think I am displaying the symptoms as far as I know them... poor short-term memory… bad dreams… if it’s of any use for anyone to know it, I had a dream recently that I can’t shake… do you know that my adopted mother died when I was in here and I couldn’t go to the funeral? That’s been on my mind ever since… I was told that if there was a carer able to take me then I could go but there wasn’t one… that’s a bit of a gripe. In the dream there’d been a plane crash on the way back from Jersey and the plane landed in the sea near Guernsey… and the powers-that-be said that it was okay for me to fly over to find out what’s happening… I get to Guernsey and everybody is in the dark about what’s happened and somebody… a person not in any authority says, “Yeah, yeah the plane crashed down there near the beach.” I’m allowed to go and wander down from the uplands down to the beach… I get to the beach and my son is walking towards me along the beach and I say, “David, what are you doing there?” “We’ve lost mummy,” he says… then I wake up.
I know I’ve got a problem with short-term memory… funnily enough I was told that often enough to remember it… but I’ve not had it explained what happens now. Being brought into a place like this isn’t doing anything at all apart from keeping me off the streets… I don’t think any of it was explained… and what is the outcome? That’s the point… you get pneumonia and it takes quite a long time but you recover… maybe you’re in hospital for six weeks and you’re pumped full of antibiotics and then maybe go into a convalescent home but there’s a finite period… that’s what I can’t grasp… maybe being here has done me some good and maybe it hasn’t… I can’t sit here today and say that in two weeks time I’m going to be that much better… I think the danger is that I’m going to get that much more angry and that much more frustrated… it’s just frustration all the time… I think some part of this relies on learning to be helpless. I’m 58. Somebody said to me that there’s a charge here and we have to pay it… my wife told me that it’s not covered by our insurance because of the nature of the condition… she told me that we’re going to have to sell our house to keep me in here and being here is doing me no good at all. It’s worrying her and therefore it’s coming back on me… to tell you the truth I haven’t got to the bottom of it at all… none of it seems to make the slightest sense.