Skip to content

Reflections of a working writer and reader



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.’

‘That’s true.’

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.

‘Don’t forget.’

‘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.

I wrote:
‘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.

3 Responses to “What Is Forgetting?”

  1. Jim Murdoch says:

    As I get older, although it’s a matter of perspective whether or not I can get to call myself old (I’m not actually that sure anymore what the definition of ‘old’ is with reference to a man’s age), as I step into that first snow of autumn, to allude to Haines’ poem, I have to say I’ve never been as aware of the nature of forgetting; it is something I do with consummate ease and, like the narrator in the story, I need to record things at once because even as I’m experiencing something I’m acutely aware that it’s already beginning to slip from my grasp.

    I had to read your story a few times to get to appreciate it – it’s not as immediately accessible as some of your other café pieces – and I particularly like the little history lesson the bald man provides although it’s not remembering per se since he was never there to see the pigsty or the market. I actually found myself casting the actor Ken Campbell in the part (remembering him from an episode of ‘Fawlty Towers’) which I suppose makes the narrator as John Cleese. I’m not sure I’m in agreement with Carlos Fuentes though; for me writing is something that aspires towards a kind of silence, it is something that rises from the babble in my head and becomes separate; a book is a quiet thing.

    Now, that’s why this was a good story, it made me think, it make me ramble.

    jb says: I suppose it’s a rambling story, Jim. Something thrown up by the illusionary age of precision in which we live.

  2. Dick says:

    I enjoyed the ramble.

    Re. the Fuentes, Beckett talks of “a literature of the ‘unword'”. Where Fuentes struggles against silence, Beckett aspires to it.

    Fine poem.

    jb says: Nice counterpoint, that, Dick . . .Fuentes and Beckett. Thanks for the comment.

  3. Edna says:

    Just about all of whatever you claim happens to be astonishingly precise and that makes me wonder the
    reason why I hadn’t looked at this in this light previously. This piece truly did turn the light on for me personally as far as this subject matter goes. However at this time there is 1 factor I am not really too cozy with so whilst I make an effort to reconcile that with the core theme of your point, permit me observe exactly what all the rest of the visitors have to say.Nicely done.