Sight and Sound
Dame Louella recently wrote about memory, and how specific reminiscences can be triggered by certain smells. I share in this Proustian activity – for me, sights, smells and tastes all can spark a series of mental associations that are at times overwhelming.
I love halva, as did my mother, so we often shared some as a treat. Once we were stuck on the North Circular Road in a hideous traffic jam. Our lives were saved by the pack of halva we had just bought. By the time the road cleared the packet was empty – and just the sight of some on a shop shelf takes me right back to that moment. And if you just mention ‘condensed milk’ to me, I am immediately once again exhaustedly wandering around Barcelona with Dame Verity, trying to while away a few hours before the next ferry to Palma, hungry but with just enough pesetas to buy a tube of La Lechera, Spain’s very own brand of sticky, sweetened condensed milk.
My son is similarly affected. He only has to sniff a jar of the wonderful Amora French mayonnaise and he is instantly transported back to summers in France, lunch on a wooden table in a garden, damp towels from the last swim and the prospect of an imminent game of bat and ball.
Certain sounds have an equally powerful effect on me. I spent many happy childhood hours playing hopscotch on the pavement with my friends. The numbers were chalked out on the paving slabs, and then you carefully selected your stone, aimed it at a particular slab, and had to hop towards it to pick it up, never putting the other foot down. It was always important to have a smooth stone that was as round as possible. The sound of it skimming along the pavement has never left me, and I only have to hear a pebble being kicked along the street to imagine myself once more balanced on one leg as I lean over to pick up my stone and throw it forward.
I recently had a wonderful trip down memory lane with Dame V at a gig with Osibisa in a small club in south London. Younger readers (I’ve always wanted to write this) may like to know that Osibisa are a British Afro-pop band, founded in London in 1969 by four expat African and three Caribbean musicians. Most of the original members are no longer with us, but the band was reformed in 1996 by Teddy Osei, who was there at the very beginning. I never actually saw them live, but their records pounded out at every one of my teenage parties, and they could easily be described as the founders of World Music. I had totally forgotten their existence, let alone specific songs, but was very happy to be reconnected. The band always said that their name meant ‘criss cross rhythms that explode with happiness’. Who could possibly not be attracted to this?
As the gig started, memories came flooding back. I was at a party, hanging around in a corner and as usual wishing I was invisible, so nobody would even notice that I hadn’t been asked to dance or snog anyone. The next moment the first few chords rang out of Sunshine Day, one of Osibisa’s signature tunes. The effect was as if I’d received an electric shock; I was on my feet, dancing for all I was worth, the intervening years vanished, exploding with happiness.