Sunday, 7 December 2014

Malvern Avenue Junior School 1975

Digital footprints in the playground of my mind

I had a birthday breakfast yesterday with Mum and a few friends. I met my friends in various places here in Western Australia. High School, University, during my poor years as an Australian Filmmaker. I love my Mum - and my friends. Most of my mates are mostly 45+ males and we have a lot in common. I live with my best friend - also my fiancee. But my 47th birthday breakfast made me think back - to the much more exciting, early birthdays.

Neurons Outlive Our Bodies

I was pretty sure we fake most of our childhood memories by looking at family photo-albums rather than the actual re-firing of old neurons, but this article begs to differ. And to me makes sense.

Accoring to the article, both neurons and olfactory smelling cells are the only cells in our bodies that live as long as we do. In fact, if we were to migrate our neurons into longer-living bodies, they would easily outlive us (all this science suggests to me that we have a greater purpose, but enough of that in another post).

Without the assistance of childhood photos, and the distinct recollection of being constantly bullied (because I looked like a girl) I'd probably remember nothing about Liverpool. Some friends lived in the city centre where there were still huge bombed-out rubble pits from WW2. I remember playing with them - in the bricks, balancing on walls. Who knows what unexploded we were toying with.

But I lived just outside the CBD and had a middle-class sort of bringing up. My mechanic father and secretary mother were keen to "jump class." So, our neighbours were teachers and policemen.

Neuroscience aside, our memories are very fallible. Reality can be so much more tragic.

Liverpool 1975

I was born in Liverpool, but not by the docks. I grew up in Huyton with Roby.

Childhood friends are like shadows to this 47 year old. In my case, all relationships were severed when I moved to Australia at the age of 10. My memories of other children belong to the mind of a child that is no longer me.

I'm talking about life in 1975.

Thanks to the internet, I could pretty easily seek out and find children who I used to play with and what they are up to now. If you can't remember names, check out the back of your school photographs and Google their names.

I've met a few Liverpool friends over the last 10 years, brushed digital shoulders with others and more weirdly, found still others in articles of archived newspapers - often in terrible circumstances. Reading some stories make me wonder if tragedy is the natural order of things. My own life has been simple and for the most part, blessed. I've pretty much been able to do exactly what I've wanted and I'm now making a good living in Perth with my fiancee as a website developer.

My Childhood Friends

Gillian

Before my sister was born, we lived next to Gillian and Joanne. I remember going over there to play with the two sisters. Joanne was a few years older. They had huge poplar trees down the back of their (much longer) garden. We played hide and seek in those trees. There was something about a witch back there. Weirdly, I think about Kate Bush when I think of those poplars - swaying in the breeze. They were so huge and as a kid you have a much closer relationship with nature.

Gillian's parents were Lucy and Joe. I was three. We never played with her sister as she was 5 (I think) and much more mature.

One day I had a falling out with Gillian. I accidentally spat on her hand. I'd taken to spitting as I felt it made me look tough. The adult males around me often did it. It was thing in the 70s. I could very rarely muster any spittle so it was purely a modified affectation designed to make me seem older. But from the time I accidentally spat on Gillian's hand, relationship with the sisters were strained. I wasn't allowed to play with the girls next door because their Mum said I "was dirty." Okay.

Soon after this incident, the family moved to New Zealand and I was never to see Gillian again. But Mum was having a baby, so at least I'd get a little sister.

The other day I read that Gillian had become an English language teacher in the North Island. Sadly, Gillian was killed in the New Zealand earthquake of 2011. Her sister Joanne works as a GP and is the only surviving family member.

Lee Evans

The comedian.

Well, weirdly I saw Lee Evans in Something About Mary, so I'm happy to reveal his name as he's a big Hollywood comic. I didn't know that while I was watching him at the cinema, though. His Mum used to catch the bus home from work with my Mum and I remember going 'round to his house to play before the mums got home.

I have a faint memory of Lee being a bit out of control and jumping all over the couches. I can even remember a picture on the wall in his dining room. A sort of balck felt with maybe a cheaply embroidered picture of a tiger on it. 

In an interview on TV when Lee recalled his life as a child I remembered our connection. In the interview, Lee said that his father was an entertainer and worked away from home a lot. When he mentioned living in Liverpool with his mother for a spell, it was clear that this was the same guy. He even looks the same now as he did as a child. I have a class photo of him somewhere.

This isn't a name drop. A few people from my past have found public success and in some cases, infamy. Neither is necessarily related to personal happiness - a quest I've been pursuing since reading Alain de Botton's Consolations of Philosophy about 10 years ago.

Paul

One person I met less than 10 years ago at a backyard BBQ here in Perth was Paul.

Paul was one of my play friends - even though he was about 4 when I was 8. He'd knock on the door and ask "Can Edwin come out to play?" I think he looked up to me because I was older, but I probably didn't understand that at the time. We used to listen to a lot of 45 singles records on Dad's record player. Dad's younger brother (Freddie) was a teenager and bore a huge influence on my musical taste. Unlike Dad, Fred listened to contemporary music such as Queen, Slade, Thin Lizzy and Smokey. These also became my adopted faves.

At the BBQ, Paul told me how he recalled us listening to Elvis Costello's "Oliver's Army." He still knew all the words. While I do remember that song, I currently have "Watching the Detectives" on my phone's random play (alongside Baker Street) both of which make me smile.

I remember Paul standing on the dining room coffee table during an excited birthday party exclaiming "I'm big, I'm big". I'm not sure if it was his birthday or mine.

Paul is now quite tall. More than six feet. He's also a private ship's Captain who cruises the oceans. I don't really know him now but I got on with him. Strangely enough I recognised Paul immediately. His face was the same. 

I wrote a song about Paul's new life. That wasn't the intention, this just reminded me of his work.

Damian

Damian was my best friend at Malvern and he was also top of the class in Maths so I suspect he was a lot of boys' best friend.

Malvern Avenue Juniors school, 1975. I used to hang out with Damian and Kirk and I'd often fight with Kirk for a chance to sit next to Damian at school lunch. That might be a false memory, but I do remember Kirk being the type of friend who'd give you a good punch in the arm. Our fight might have more to do with the newspaper articles I just read than any kind of remembered reality. More about him later.

I suspect Damian's popularity had something to do with my own desire to be good at Maths. I've since learned, during my moonlighting as a lecturer / Tutor at Curtin Universtity, that it's not so much the subject or the child's perceived ability, but the teaching style. If the teacher is good and the child engages, learning will happen. That's my POV anyway.

Damian has only recently taken to LinkedIn and kept a pretty low profile on the net - which is quite admirable considering the high-powered banking positions he has held. Damian trained as an accountant and is now a banker. He deals with mergers and acquisitions and sits on the boards of about 6 companies with a number of personal share portfolios. Damian contacted me around 2004, but we lost touch and let's just say "we swimin different circles" these days.

Kirk

Well, life deals out unusual blows and this one is perhaps the worst I could imagine. I'm not even going to talk about Kirk. This horrific links says enough.

This horrific article says it all and looks to be the top of yet another very unhealthy British iceberg. This really shocked me and was actually the sad inspiration for this piece of writing. 

It's hard enough to get a hold on one's own personality, to find peace and happiness within without resorting to comparing yourself with people from your childhood that you haven't seen in 37 years.

Luckily Kirk's horrible infamy has nothing to do with this final story . . .

Cousin Stevie

On my final day in Liverpool (actually the last day I was ever there as it happens) my Mum's 2nd cousin Ronni was about to burst with a new baby. This isn't really my memory but Mum's. Apparently I asked if I could listen to the baby. I leaned in and heard - well, whatever my 10 year old ears heard. 

And then we flew to Australia.

In 2010 I heard, from Mum, that my 3rd cousin (the baby is listened in to) was living here in Perth somewhere. When I was told the address, I was gobsmacked. He was literally living on the same road, about 30 doors down. I invited him round and we went for a run on the river.

Steve is now married to the lovely Hayley and they are having their first baby together.

I wonder if their baby daughter will have the same curiosity about her childhood and, more importantly I guess, I wonder just what digital footprints she will find when it comes to researching her own history?

Time will tell. But by digging into my past, I realise just how lucky I am and what a good decision my parents made moving from Liverpool to Perth back in 1978.

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