Sunday, 8 April 2018

The poignancy of memory

I keep on working through my old photos, a process constantly slowed down by the reawakening of memories of moments long past, of people long missed and of events long gone.

There was a morning in 1982 when Danielle announced to me that she really ought to have a pregnancy test. By the time the afternoon was nearing its end, I’d forgotten all about it and when I rang her I began talking about all sort of indifferent matters. Eventually she interrupted me:

‘Don’t you want to hear about the test?’

I managed to bite off the words ‘what test?’ and simply answered, ‘Oh, yes, of course,’ although her tone of voice made it fairly clear what the result had been.

‘Positive,’ she told me.

It wasn’t a shock but it certainly was an overwhelming piece of news. The kind that you know at once is going to leave absolutely nothing the same. And, from this first intimation of his arrival, I have to say that Michael has affected the nature of my life pretty fundamentally ever since (aided and, I like to think, abetted by the arrival of his brother Nicky just eighteen months after him).

One of the first things we had to do was get married. I appreciate that these days it’s far from unusual to have a child outside marriage, but this was 1982 and the dear, sainted Maggie was Prime Minister and making it ever more difficult to acquire British citizenship. We didn’t know the sex of the child at that time. The problem would arise if it was a boy, as indeed turned out to be the case: the French still imposed on young men that ghastly waste of time known as military service and if the child was born, even in England, he wouldn’t inherit British nationality from me – and therefore the escape card from the French military – unless I was married to Danielle first.

As it happens, by the time he turned eighteen French military service had been reduced to a day and he did it anyway. Though it turned out to be as complex as getting married had proved nearly nineteen years earlier. Which is another memory that brings me great pleasure...

So we didn’t actually need to get married, although I’m not at all sorry we did, 36 years on…

The problem with getting married was that Danielle needed a divorce first. You know the Oscar Wilde saying about a second marriage proving the triumph of hope over experience? Danielle was about to demonstrate it.

Her first husband made no problem about the divorce but he spoke no English and all the documents were in that language. It proved difficult to get him to sign in the right place, but eventually he did. We were married on 11 January 1983 and Michael was born on the 29th, so it was a close-run thing.

Incidentally, thereafter I became the specialist in remembering our anniversary, Danielle in forgetting it. That lasted until 2005 when our first grandchild – Aya – was born to my stepson David and his wife Senada also on 11 January. Danielle’s never forgotten Aya’s birthday so she now remembers our anniversary too.

It was a small wedding organised in a hurry. We had some close friends and family there and naturally took photos of them.

Leonard, my father, to the left in his trademark black tie
Alasdhair to the right, in a far-from-trademark beard
The smiles reflect their personalities...
The one I came across the other day was of my father and my old friend Alasdhair. My father was a man of extraordinary gentleness as well as courage and he was an inspiring presence in my life. Alasdhair I had met when we were both 13 and we had remained close through our school days and university. Later, he moved to the US but we kept in contact all the same, seeing each other from time to time but, above all, each remaining a constant known presence in the life of the other.

The photo therefore represents some precious memories to me.

But they are poignant too. My father lived only just over four more months after that picture was taken. Alasdhair did better but succumbed, to cancer, just over two years ago.

The joy is tinged with sadness. I suppose that’s what the passage of 36 years is bound to bring. But the pleasure of finding the photo was undiminished for all that.


Awoogamuffin said...

“And, from this first intimation of his arrival, I have to say that Michael has affected the nature of my life pretty fundamentally ever since”

Only for the better, I assume

David Beeson said...

What else?