What Is Forgetting?
I was sitting in the courtyard of the Old White Swan in Goodramgate shortly after opening time. I’d been the first customer for breakfast, read the newspaper while I ate, and when the two women arrived and brought their drinks from the bar I was already on my second coffee. I’ve trained myself to look for significance in all things and noted that the younger one led the way to a table near the entrance. looked like a cola drink in her hand, and she pulled out chairs for both of them and placed her glass on the table. Her mother, haggard and dishevelled, perhaps with a few drinks inside her already, or a dose of antidepressants, followed behind clutching a pint of lager, foam from the top around her lips and the glass dripping from some internally generated tremor.
‘Are you all right?’ the daughter asked, standing in the entrance to light her cigarette.
‘I’m OK,’ the mother replied, sitting at the table. ‘I’ve been thinking about things, that’s all. I’ll get through.’
‘Thinking’s fine,’ the daughter said. ‘Dwelling’s something else.’
I’ve taken to using my mobile to jot things down in public. I used to use a notebook but in recent years people are more suspicious of notebooks, pens, recording equipment, where the mobile is ever present, always in someone’s hand, the innocent bystander.
Some things are written down and others forgotten. Forgetting is a failure of memory. We make lists (we write) in order to remember. Technology comes to our aid, it allows us to separate out those pieces of experience we want to remember from everything else we are willing to let go.
A single man enters the courtyard, middle-aged, balding, overweight, blotchy. The mother knows him and her countenance brightens. ‘We’re going to see each other later,’ he says. Some kind of get together, most likely. A drinking party? I can’t imagine a lovers’ liaison.
‘We certainly are,’ she says.
‘I wouldn’t do that.’
‘We have to go now,’ the daughter tells him.
‘Just a swift one, this,’ the mother explains, finishing her pint, getting to her feet.
He brings a drink from the bar and sits behind me on the top of three stone steps. ‘The mountings,’ he says.
I half turn to confirm he’s speaking to me.
‘These steps,’ he says. ‘Called the mountings. This was a coaching inn, way back, and the steps were for people to climb into the coach.’
‘I didn’t know.’
‘Before that it was a pigsty,’ he said. ‘And they used it as a market to sell chickens. Fifteen hundred and something, medieval. Think about that.’
He went back to his ale.
I went back to my mobile.
‘Writing is a struggle against silence,’ something I’d read in the work of Carlos Fuentes.
When I got to my feet the man on the step said, ‘Watch how you go.’
Silence is knowing: like in this poem by John Haines:
Poem of the Forgotten
I came to this place,
a young man green and lonely.
Well quit of the world,
I framed a house of moss and timber,
called it a home,
and sat in the warm evenings
singing to myself as a man sings
when he knows there is no one to hear.
I made my bed under the shadow
of leaves, and awoke
in the first snow of autumn,
filled with silence.