Over the summer I watched Michael Kalik’s film, ‘Do svidaniya, malchiki’ (‘Goodbye, boys’), at the Barbican. The film was broadly focused on juxtaposing the boys’ innocence and the horrors that they would soon encounter in the impending Second World War. But, as I watched it, I found the way that Kalik captured the very memory, the minutiae of their lives, incredibly moving. The camera would linger on the boys as they swam out to sea, half submerged, with the sun on the waves glinting on the audience as spirals of bubbles clustered and sprinkled out around the boys’ bodies. They would walk as silhouettes, framed against a listless evening sea, from one end of the screen to the other. And as they turned their heads and their faces flooded with the setting sun, I would hold their gaze for a split second, sitting in a future, in a city that they would never know, intruding on their last days of childhood. Then they would look above me, into the sky, and shout something to one another, the shot would pan out and they would wave their hands and run out across the sand. It seemed to me that I was watching them through the eyes of an adult, one who was desperately trying to bottle up the feeling of one’s feet running over a pier’s uneven concrete, the feeling of the sea wind blowing fabric against one’s body- to encapsulate moments of childhood.
It made me think a lot about memory, and the summer that had just passed. I have always had a frustratingly awful memory, and there was a period in my life during which I religiously noted down every event that had occurred in my day in order to never, ever allow it to leave me. I pasted flowers, posters, flyers from concerts into scrapbooks, imagining that one day I would be able to relive a particular emotion or sensation, or that a melody I had heard being played would come into my mind, through the material I had safely secured on the page. Letters were important to me too – I found in them an ability to stop time, and they allowed a moment of joy or love to extend beyond itself, into the present moment within which I was re-reading the text. A couple of weeks before I watched the film, I came across notes from my grandmother to my grandfather. Suddenly my grandmother was not the frail lady I always imagined wearing a yellow sunhat, smiling as she turned to little me under the shadow of the apple and plum trees. Instead, I glimpsed her through the words and letters, a young woman hurrying through the kitchen, grumbling about the stains on her green skirt, listening to trams trundling outside, learning English, scribbling notes in pencil to her new husband.
So what will that long, long summer, that cavernous gap between the last May Ball and moving back in October, which I fell into and wandered around in for a while, be fragmented into in my mind? Imagining that the diaries and scrapbooks that had documented it were lost, how would it appear, unassisted? At the very end of Oscar Wilde’s ‘De Profundis’, an emotionally exhausting letter recalling the long history between Wilde and his ex-lover, he makes a startling comment: he claims that neither of the two men know each other truly, that there is still so much for them to find out about one another. This idea that nothing can be related in its wholeness, meaning that I will only ever be able to access echoes of my grandmother’s character, that I will only ever be able to stand at the platform, watching the train carrying the boys in the movie away, only able to follow them to the brink of the end of one epoch of their lives, was oddly freeing. The anxiety I had felt to pause and encapsulate moments of my summer in the manner of freeze frames in films, two figures perpetually sitting on a beach as notes continued to spill over into one another in the soundtrack, was finally lifting. I still appreciate the sentimentality of those objects and texts, but perhaps my memories of this summer will be most vivid and tangible when they return to me out of the blue, as my life flows on, perhaps at the most mundane moments – the rainy, dark fields spotted in white scattered flowers, which I tried so hard to ingrain in my mind as I left them behind, will flash out to me one day, unprompted. Then I will quite happily remember a little part of the summer passed.
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