Saturday, February 25, 2006

Selective Memory

Shortly before my maternal Grandmother died, I went to see her and managed to get across to her that I told jokes for a living. As her hearing and eyesight were going, this involved a little shouting. Once this fact had been established, my Gran proceeded to tell me a little story about my Grandfather, whom I had never met. It went something like this;

“Ooh, your Granddad. He used to have loads of friends round. And he’d tell a long story. And then everyone would laugh at the end.”

My Grandfather, a raconteur? How come I’d never heard this before? Well, perhaps because I’d never mentioned that I did comedy before. Perhaps if I’d mentioned to my Gran that I’d built up a success pogo stick business, she would have scoured her memory before regaling me with some anecdote about my Grandfather’s love of jumping up and down.

read moreWe all do a lot of things in our lives. We are funny and we are cruel and we are stupid and we are brave and we are desperate. I have anecdotes from my past that I could dredge up as evidence pointing to any future career you care to name, from criminal mastermind to taxidermist.

For a year or so I was a postman. I worked in customer services for five years and for the past five years I’ve been doing stand up comedy for a living. Now I’m a writer. And I’m still moving.

We like to think there is a pattern to things. That’s the truth of it. It’s comforting to think that there are signs that point to conclusions. And we like to think that we spotted the signs, early on; the spark of genius or the sullen glower of the future serial killer. Because the alternative is to say: you never can tell. We don’t know where any of us will end up or what we will become. And that thought is kind of scary, painting us as kind of rudderless with no neat story to frame our lives.

So family friends smile wisely and nod and say “You always were very funny as a child. Do you remember when…” To which I want to shout: “I’m stopping stand up. My next script’s a thriller and it’s the best thing I’ve ever written! It’s got no jokes in it. Tell me about the time I enthralled the children in the playground with a story with twists in. Go on! Tell me!”

And then, unbidden, a memory surfaces from when I did exactly that.

Fast forward hopefully many, many years; me, dead, lying in an open casket, mourners looking down at me, smiling sadly and commenting “This really doesn’t surprise me – do you remember when he was a teenager?

He really used to love to sleep.”…

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