T’is a jaded expression but I do believe that ‘a walk down memory lane’ really does describe both the physical and mental process of reliving emotions and feelings that we call memories.
I am recently returned from an overseas trip where every path led me down a memory lane, a grove of mementos, a remembrance avenue and then finally onto a beach so full of life and all the senses that are tossed by the winds coming off the bay. Are these the same winds I fought against 35 years ago? Do they remember me? Why would they? I remember them though. My bones can never forget how they were chilled and blown asunder, sometimes I had to hang on to my hair lest it be uprooted and strewn across the foreshore.
There was a sewage pipe, I shit you not, pumping out used condoms-flushed nappies-errant turds and gallons of drunken piss into the bay. Straight onto the beach it all went, never quite reaching the deep waters and the currents that might carry it away to Wales. Sometimes the the pipe would burst and great fountains of shitty sewage would cascade over the walkway and run down and over the stoney pebbles before hitting the seaweed bank and pooling up. Nothing was ever done.
At the other end of the beach, lunatics would swim 365 days a year in the icy cold waves under the the shadow of a defunct Martello tower. There used to be a shop in the tower selling ices-sweets-minerals and perhaps a cup of shite tea if you were lucky. In the olden days the tower was manned against a possible attack by Napoleon. I reckon that could have been a great thing. Imagine the culture in Ireland had the Frenchies been our overlords. Imagine the culinary delights his brigade of chefs could whip up with the great Irish raw ingredients of fish-meat-dairy and grain. That’s another story.
I remember harvesting starfish down the beach after humongous storms had washed up a milky way of the creatures. Stranded they were, like alien creatures not normally seen ashore by seven year old eyes. And then there were the jellyfish. I’m sure they weighed more than me. They were bleeding massive things with four blue circles and monstrous tentacles laid out like plastic bags filled with water. They didn’t sting you once they were dead. I know this because we would cut out squares of wobbly see through flesh with our swiss army knives and dare each other to touch the quivering mass. We found ginormous mussels once. The size of a man’s fist if not bigger. We tried to open them with our little frozen fingers but that didn’t work. Then we shouted at them as they sat there in buckets of water on the old wooden kitchen table. They never opened but at least they didn’t stink like the rotting starfish in the wheel barrow out the back.
The storms in those days were legendary, well at least to seven year olds they were. They seemed to blow for days if not weeks. Who knows what they’d do in the middle of the night? What favourite climbing trees would be felled before morning? How many loose slates nearly chopped a man’s head clean off at midnight as the gales battered the old Georgian terraces and teased the blue guillotines to run away with them.
I wrote a poem once about memory. It was rather good if my memory serves me correctly. It had lines about goading memories and smells from the dark recesses of my mind, hewing out whole slabs of past times and throwing them into the light of the present for examination and regret. I don’t know where that poem is anymore. It was in a book of poems and writings I started over twenty years ago, ironically enough I can’t remember where I put it. It could be in Dublin, Athlone or even Cork. Chances are it’s long lost under a pile of debris at the tip.