Thursday, 15 September 2011

An elderly lady in a blue Sunday dress and hat

I've been thinking a lot recently about memory. It's a fragile concept, and one that's so open to interpretation and can never, however much we might believe otherwise, be relied on. Court cases are full of accounts by witnesses that turn out to be full of inaccuracies, even though they swear blind by them.

Memory, or some topic related to it, is likely to be the theme of my thesis that will never get written, mainly because I will never have the time, resources or motivation to undertake a postgraduate degree. But the theme of memory, and an individual's personal narrative, intrigues me, especially how we shape whole storylines and concepts in our memories from a single image or idea.

My great-grandmother, the mother of my paternal grandmother, died when I was very young, and I have no actual memory of her. What I'm thinking about here goes beyond my non-existent memories of times with her, but rather is to do more with my potentially inaccurate memories of even photographs of her.

In my Nan's dining room, on the lower shelf of the dresser, underneath the portable TV my Grandpa uses for watching cricket in the summer, sits a small, black-and-white photograph of my great-grandmother and great-grandfather. At least, I think it's black-and-white. In reality, there's no reason it really should be. Judging by their ages in the photo (or at least, how I remember the photo, which brings in another variable), it would have been taken well after the invention and widespread use of colour film cameras. But in my mind, I'm sure the picture is black-and-white.

Despite this, however, I'm sure that my great-grandmother is wearing blue in the photograph. Why is this? Because there's another photo, taken years later, where she is holding me as a baby, possibly at my christening, and is wearing a blue Sunday dress and hat. So therefore I've transferred this one image on to her in general, so in my mind, and in these memories, she's always blue.

The thing is, am I convinced, absolutely sure, that she's wearing blue in the photo at my christening? No. Possibly she's wearing green, or purple, or a flowery dress. Possibly I'm confusing Nan Fletcher with the Queen Mother. In truth, I really have no idea. So where have I got this image from? An image I've projected onto an elderly woman I never truly knew, now consigned to be wearing a blue Sunday dress and hat and taking part in a Queen-Mother-lookalike contest for all eternity.

I'm not sure. But that's my image. And, even confronted by proof to the contrary, I doubt that picture in my mind would change.

I'd love to illustrate this entry with one of the photographs in questions. But of course I can't - I don't have them, that's the entire point. But the next time I visit my Nan's house I shall be taking a good long look at the photographs, trying to take in something more than just my shallow, long-held impression. And maybe, one day, I should investigate getting a copy of the photographs for myself.

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