Smorgasbord Posts from Your Archives – #Potluck #Memoir – Mrs. Quackworth by Tasker Dunham


Welcome to the  Posts from Your Archives, where bloggers put their trust in me. In this series, I dive into a blogger’s archives and select four posts to share here to my audience.

If you would like to know how it works here is the original post: https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/2019/04/28/smorgasbord-posts-from-your-archives-newseries-pot-luck-and-do-you-trust-me/

This is the final post from the archives of Tasker Dunham. The blog is a personal memoir about growing up in Yorkshire in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s and later. It is not always about Yorkshire, nor is it entirely memoir, but most of it is. I have selected a post about an eccentric but forgiving neighbour (when there are three young boys either side of your garden) who became an adopted grandmother.

Mrs. Quackworth by Tasker Dunham

Mrs Ackworth operatic society circa 1920

Until I was ten or eleven I had to share a bedroom with my younger brother. We were sent to bed at the same time, which meant he got to stay up later than I had at his age and I had to go sooner than I thought I should. Not only that, but bedrooms were bedrooms in those days, and bed meant bed: curtains drawn, lights out, no entertainments, no talking or even books. Beds were for sleeping.

It was not even dark in summer. We could hear Timmy from next door-but-one bumping along the pavement on his trolley, made from a long board and some old pram wheels. We were in bed but he was still playing out at ten o’clock at night. That was really unfair. He was two years younger than me.

Downstairs we could hear the next-door neighbour talking with our parents. She sounded like a duck, as did her name.

“Mrs. Quackworth,” I quacked in my best duck voice.

“Mrs. Ackworth,” Martin corrected me.

“Mrs. Quackworth.”

“Mrs. Ackworth,” he said more loudly.

“What’s a quack worth?”

“MRS. ACKWORTH” he yelled, lengthening each syllable as he shouted.

“MIIISSIIIS AAAAAACK WORRRRTH.”

Downstairs, the conversation stopped.

“Why is Martin calling me?”

“Shut up and go to sleep,” mother shouted up the stairs.

“That boy’s spoilt!” Mrs. Ackworth said.

* * *

I don’t know how she put up with us. We would run around, yelling at the tops of our voices:

“WHAT A GOAL!”

“FOUL! SEND HIM OFF!”

“WHOAAAAAAA! YEEEAAAYYY! WHEEEEEE!”

The ball rattled against the fence, thudded into her French windows, bounced across her garden and flattened her plants. We climbed over her rockery and ran across the lawn to retrieve it leaving a trail of dislodged stones and scuff marks.

We had muck-chucking battles with Timmy whose house was the other side of hers, depositing debris and detritus across her path. She rarely complained as she swept it up. One day we used blackberries as ammunition, stolen from the allotments near the railway, too bitter to eat. Most went astray, leaving lasting purple stains on her green shed. Stray brambles grew around her garden for some years afterwards.

I was six when we moved in next door. Mrs. Ackworth seemed ancient, but she would still have been only in her fifties. She had a deep, cultured, musical voice which had for several years gained her leading contralto parts with the local operatic society, although it had since been ruined by smoking – giving a duck sound. In her day, she had sung all around Yorkshire. Newspapers had said she was one of the best contraltos in the county. She listened to classical music on the wireless, talked about opera and the arts, and helped with the local Conservatives. The effect was formidable. She was always “Mrs. Ackworth”, never “Ethel”. People thought her fearsome.

Despite more than a twenty year age difference, she struck up a close friendship with our mother who had the knack of taking people as she found them.

“She only came from a fish and chip shop,” mother told us when we said she frightened us and asked why they were always in and out of each others’ houses, “and it’s lonely in a house on your own.”

Mrs. Ackworth had lived there the thirty years since her marriage, but her husband had died just a few months later leaving her with little means of support. Male admirers quickly gathered to help, admirers of her voice you understand, especially a wealthy property owner, himself married and twenty-eight years her senior, who set her up with a small milliners shop. She had been at school with his eldest daughter. It was said that during the nineteen thirties, when cars were rare, there would be only one in the street, her benefactor’s car, parked late at night outside her house. There were rumours they had toured Europe together. When he died he left her a considerable sum of money but his family somehow managed to deprive her of it.

Mrs. Ackworth used to watch us from the kitchen window as we played in the garden. It felt intrusive, but I know now she was thinking about the children she never had. She was distraught when we moved again after a decade or so, but we kept in touch through the years, through the inevitable succession of marriages, births and deaths. In effect, she became a surrogate grandma.

“You’d better go see Mrs. Ackworth,” my brother and I were told when we were home, and so we did, to sit and be criticised beside her coal fire and look out through her French windows at the rockery, lawn and shed. Later, we took our wives, and then our children. The house still had all the original nineteen-twenties fixtures, with kitchen cupboards and fireplaces with grained paintwork. Her furniture was of the same period too, or older. Her face brightened like the sun on seeing she had visitors.

“Mrs. Quackworth,” the children would say.

“They’re spoilt. You’ll turn that girl into a proper trivet.”

The house smelled of cigarettes and boiled rabbit, and she always had a bottle of sherry on the go on the sideboard. Age made her more and more outspoken. We used to say we went to be insulted.

“What colour is that you’re wearing? Grey? How drab! And what’s the matter with your hair? Are you going bald?”

“Your father says he’s going to give up smoking. I can’t see why. He’s not a smoker. One or two a day doesn’t count.” She considered herself a proper smoker: one or two packets a day.

One day she found him waiting for his pension in the Post Office. “What are you doing in here taking up a space?” she said to the amusement of the long queue. “Surely you don’t have any need for your pension, not you with all your money.”

She complained he had offered her a lift home “in case I had any heavy bottles to carry” she told us. “Anyone would think I was a drinker.”

She stayed active into her nineties, making the coal fire in the mornings, trudging to the supermarket for shopping and carrying home her heavy bottles. We were beginning to think she would outlive us all. When the time eventually came and her will was found there was a surprise in store. Although it was not worth anything like as much as she might have imagined, and a fifth of what it would fetch today, my brother and I were astonished to discover she had left us the house. For just a few weeks, the open fireplaces, grained paintwork, French windows, green shed, rockery and garden belonged to us. I swear if we had looked carefully enough, we could have found stray brambles still growing in the dark corners.

Some months later, my father bumped into Timmy’s parents shopping in town.

“We see Mrs. Ackworth’s house is sold at last,” they said. “The end of an era! Does anyone know what happened to her money?”

My father struggled to hold his tongue.

© Tasker Dunham 2019

Have you memories of a neighbour who you possibly annoyed when you were a child….or who became a close friend?

About Tasker Dunham

I grew up in Yorkshire and worked in Leeds before going to university late, and then lived in various places around the U.K. before moving back to Yorkshire where I now live with my wife and family. I have worked in accountancy, computing and higher education, as well as in temporary jobs in factories. This memoir is based on people, places, things and events I knew, with some names and details altered to avoid difficulties. I tend to post two or three times each month.

Some items recall people and experiences, others try to give things a humorous slant, and some are of the “look how the world has changed” kind.

Connect to Tasker

Blog and post links: https://www.taskerdunham.com/p/blog-page_10.html
WordPress: https://taskerdunham.wordpress.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/people/Tasker-Dunham/100008418042071
Twitter: https://twitter.com/TaskerDunham
Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.co.uk/taskerdunham/

Thank you for dropping by and I hope you will head over and check out the rest of Tasker’s archives … and as always love to get your feedback.. Sally.

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Smorgasbord Posts from Your Archives – #Potluck #Memoir – Research Before The Internet by Tasker Dunham


Welcome to the  Posts from Your Archives, where bloggers put their trust in me. In this series, I dive into a blogger’s archives and select four posts to share here to my audience.

If you would like to know how it works here is the original post: https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/2019/04/28/smorgasbord-posts-from-your-archives-newseries-pot-luck-and-do-you-trust-me/

This is the third post from the archives of Tasker Dunham. The blog is a personal memoir about growing up in Yorkshire in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s and later. It is not always about Yorkshire, nor is it entirely memoir, but most of it is. I have selected this post, because I am sure that if you are around the same vintage (66) you to will have memories of before and after the Internet.

Research Before The Internet by Tasker Dunham as evoked by
A.S. Byatt – Possession: a Romance (5*)

The novel, Possession, evokes for me exactly what it was like to carry out research before the age of the internet, when we had to go to libraries to look things up in books and journals, and even use primary sources. More on this below.

It may also be the cleverest novel I have ever read: in fact I read it twice, partly because I enjoyed it so much and partly because a lot of it went over my head the first time through.

To describe the book first, the plot concerns two nineteen-eighties scholars who discover correspondence between two fictional Victorian poets revealing a previously unknown love affair. It is a discovery of immense historical significance, akin, say, to finding revelatory private correspondence by major literary figures such as Alfred Lord Tennyson or Christina Rossetti. As the two present-day scholars investigate the lives of the poets, they themselves are drawn into a relationship echoing that of the two Victorians. The two stories are revealed in parallel through five hundred pages of narrative, fictional poetry, letters, journals and diaries. So as well as the two love stories, and a cracking mystery story, A. S. Byatt has created substantial bodies of work attributed to the fictional poets and numerous pieces of writing attributed to other characters.

I struggled the first time through because: (i) the Victorian setting is rich in classical, biblical, literary and contemporary references of the kind with which educated Victorians of the time would have been very familiar but most of us today are not; and (ii) the nineteen-eighties setting alludes to numerous arcane and specialist approaches to textual analysis and criticism; e.g. we learn one of the scholars is trained in post-structuralist deconstruction. It found my own education sorely lacking.

Some might say the author is simply showing off, but essentially she is poking fun, and is abundantly able to do so because of her sweeping knowledge of Victorian and modern scholarship, poetry and literature. Some might say this is self-indulgent, but surely that is what all writers are. Her descriptions of beautiful things are dazzling, be they Victorian bathrooms, snowfall, the North York Moors or libraries. The 1990 Booker judges were clearly impressed.

That she put this sumptuous book together before 1990, before the internet, makes the achievement all the more impressive. She has not simply googled a tapestry of ideas and stitched them in, it stems from a lifetime’s study and expertise.

And that is what Possession strongly evokes for me: the pleasure and excitement of academic work before the age of abundant electronic resources and the internet. Anyone whose university days predated the turn of the century, perhaps researching a thesis or dissertation, or a final-year project, will find Possession brings it all back. You feel as if you are researching the Victorian poets yourself.

For me it was the light and quiet in a corner of the  top floor of the Brynmor Jones Library at Hulltop floor of the Brynmor Jones Library at Hull, looking through the raked windows across the city to the distant Humber where bogies high above the river crossed slowly back and forth spinning the Humber Bridge suspension cables. Later it was the darkness and claustrophobia of the open stacks deep in the bowels of the John Rylands Library at Manchester.

The silence; the decades of collected journals; the Dewey Decimal index; the chance discovery of a promising book next to the one you were looking for; deliberately mis-shelving books so that no one else can deny you them the next day (I plead guilty, but I never stole anything, unlike one of the scholars in Possession); pages of handwritten notes from volumes piled six or seven high on your desk; coloured pens and paper clips, sore fingers; treasure-trails through the impenetrable Science and Social Sciences Citation Indexes (the SCI and SSCI); flip-lidded index card boxes; inter-library loans; journal offprint requests; scratchy, smelly, chemical photocopies; microfilm readers; hours following leads and loose ends which led to nowhere; puzzling new words and terminology in need of clarification; flashes of insight on encountering new ideas and making what you hoped, but rarely were, entirely original associations. More than anything else, the Csikszentmihalyian  sense of flow: the buzz of your own thoughts, total immersion in the task at hand, suspended in time so that nothing else seemed to matter.

Through the nineteen-nineties things gradually changed. It became possible to research whole topics instantly and with plausible thoroughness through just a screen in an austere book-free room. Things were never the same again. I was still recommending books for my courses into the new century, but in rapidly changing subject areas such as computing, and even the social sciences, some of the university lecturers I knew stopped using print sources completely.

I hung on to my collection of academic books until retirement when they had to go. I kept a few that no one wanted, and ones that had once been especially useful and dear to me.

Key to book ratings: 5* would read over and over again, 4* enjoyed it a lot and would recommend, 3* enjoyable/interesting, 2* didn’t enjoy, 1* gave up.

What are your memories of pre-Internet research… and do you still hang on to your old reference books?

© Tasker Dunham 2019

About Tasker Dunham

I grew up in Yorkshire and worked in Leeds before going to university late, and then lived in various places around the U.K. before moving back to Yorkshire where I now live with my wife and family. I have worked in accountancy, computing and higher education, as well as in temporary jobs in factories. This memoir is based on people, places, things and events I knew, with some names and details altered to avoid difficulties. I tend to post two or three times each month.

Some items recall people and experiences, others try to give things a humorous slant, and some are of the “look how the world has changed” kind.

Connect to Tasker

Blog and post links: https://www.taskerdunham.com/p/blog-page_10.html
WordPress: https://taskerdunham.wordpress.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/people/Tasker-Dunham/100008418042071
Twitter: https://twitter.com/TaskerDunham
Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.co.uk/taskerdunham/

Thank you for dropping by and I hope you will head over and check out the rest of Tasker’s archives … and as always love to get your feedback.. Sally.

Smorgasbord Posts from Your Archives -#Potluck – #memoir – Grandad Dunham’s Flight Simulator by Tasker Dunham


Welcome to the  Posts from Your Archives, where bloggers put their trust in me. In this series, I dive into a blogger’s archives and select four posts to share here to my audience.

If you would like to know how it works here is the original post: https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/2019/04/28/smorgasbord-posts-from-your-archives-newseries-pot-luck-and-do-you-trust-me/

This is the second post from the archives of Tasker Dunham. The blog is a personal memoir about growing up in Yorkshire in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s and later. It is not always about Yorkshire, nor is it entirely memoir, but most of it is. I have selected this post as I remember my father building a replica biplane for my brother when he was four, along with a headset borrowed from the station we were based on. I use to hijack from time to time and practice my dive bombing…there is also a poignant aspect to this post that touched me.

Grandad Dunham’s Flight Simulator by Tasker Dunham

Like something from the future, it was the most amazing colour graphics workstation I had ever seen. I had got a job in a university where it was being used to understand complex proteins by constructing and manipulating computer-generated images of the kind of ball and stick molecular models photographed with Watson and Crick in the nineteen-fifties. These models give insights into life at the sub-microscopic level: such as how molecules of oxygen displace molecules of carbon dioxide in haemoglobin. The details are so magically implausible you could come to believe in creationism. One researcher was moved to tears on seeing for the first time an image of part of the antibody she had been working on for the past three years.

Flight Simulators: Elite, Aviator and SGI DogfightFlight simulators: Elite and Aviator for the BBC computer,
and SGI Dogfight for the IRIS workstation

It was the nineteen-eighties. The workstation (a Unix-based Silicon Graphics IRIS 2000 if you must know) came with a set of demonstration programs, among them a flight simulator called ‘SGI Dogfight’. Again, it was well in advance of anything any of us had seen before. The best you could have at home at that time, which replicated the dynamics of flight and motion with any reasonable accuracy, were black-and-white wire-frame simulations such as ‘Aviator’ and the space trading game ‘Elite’ published by Acornsoft for the BBC Computer. The IRIS 2000 simulator had coloured graphics and a choice of aircraft including a tiny Cessna, an enormous Boeing-747 Jumbo Jet and a super fast F16 jet fighter. It came nowhere near the lifelike realism of simulators you can buy today, but for the ordinary home user there would be nothing like it for quite a few years. You may now pause for a moment to speculate about the relative amounts of time we spent flying aeroplanes and modelling proteins.

BBC computer game Elite badgeFor the first few weeks, I was the only one who could land the Jumbo Jet without crashing. I had not wasted hundreds of hours flying under the ‘Aviator’ suspension bridge and dodging ‘Elite’ police ships for nothing. I was one of the glorious few to have fought my way through to the secret code for my ‘Elite’ badge. What the others did not seem able to grasp – and some of them are now eminent professors – is that the pilot of a Jumbo-Jet sits the equivalent of three storeys up from the ground, so that when you come in to land, assuming you have managed to line up the aircraft with the runway at the right height, distance and speed, which is no easy feat in itself, you are still thirty feet up in the air as you touch down. If you try to land with your seat at ground-level you will be too low, and smash into the runway with terrific force and die.

It all seemed terrifically futuristic. Yet my brother had a flight simulator twenty years earlier in the early nineteen-sixties. You might call it Grandad Dunham’s flight simulator. How could that be possible? That Grandad Dunham was our dad’s grandfather, our great-grandfather, who had died in 1941. He spent the last two years of his life living with his daughter’s family after he woke up one morning to find his second wife dead in bed beside him. When he moved in, his son-in-law carried his chair through the streets of the town on his back.

Grandad Dunham's Chair - Flight Simulator

Here is that very same chair, at least twice refurbished, and exceptionally comfortable it is too. Turned on its back and covered with an eiderdown it makes a wonderful aeroplane cockpit. My brother played in it happily for hours. Sometimes he would let me be his co-pilot. He chalked some controls and instruments underneath the seat. They are still there after more than fifty years.

What makes it particularly poignant is that my brother died at thirty six. The grandchildren he never saw will very soon be the same age he was when he drew those simple chalk marks. They will be able to have all the latest tablets and smart phones, and flight simulators so immersive and realistic they will not be able to tell whether or not they are in a real aeroplane. Who knows how things will be? But one thing I do know. No matter how advanced the technology, even in a hundred years, it will never be one half as much fun as Grandad Dunham’s eiderdown-covered chair with the chalk marks on its upturned seat.

©Tasker Dunham 2015

I am sure that brought memories back for many of you.. have you a video game that you played or still play?

About Tasker Dunham

I grew up in Yorkshire and worked in Leeds before going to university late, and then lived in various places around the U.K. before moving back to Yorkshire where I now live with my wife and family. I have worked in accountancy, computing and higher education, as well as in temporary jobs in factories. This memoir is based on people, places, things and events I knew, with some names and details altered to avoid difficulties. I tend to post two or three times each month.

Some items recall people and experiences, others try to give things a humorous slant, and some are of the “look how the world has changed” kind.

Connect to Tasker

Blog and post links: https://www.taskerdunham.com/p/blog-page_10.html
WordPress: https://taskerdunham.wordpress.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/people/Tasker-Dunham/100008418042071
Twitter: https://twitter.com/TaskerDunham
Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.co.uk/taskerdunham/

Thank you for dropping by and I hope you will head over and check out the rest of Tasker’s archives … and as always love to get your feedback.. Sally.

Smorgasbord Posts from Your Archives – #Potluck – #Memoir – Gram Motherem How early are our earliest memories? by Tasker Dunham


Welcome to the  Posts from Your Archives, where bloggers put their trust in me. In this series, I dive into a blogger’s archives and select four posts to share here to my audience.

If you would like to know how it works here is the original post: https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/2019/04/28/smorgasbord-posts-from-your-archives-newseries-pot-luck-and-do-you-trust-me/

This is the first post from the archives of Tasker Dunham. The blog is a personal memoir about growing up in Yorkshire in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s and later. It is not always about Yorkshire, nor is it entirely memoir, but most of it is. The first post I have selected is about identifying our earliest memories and I am sure you have some of your own that you can share.

Gram Motherem How early are our earliest memories? by Tasker Dunham

“I’ve made up a new game to play,” I told Peter Abson in the school playground. “It’s called Gram Motherem.”

It was a bit like tig. If you were ‘it’ you had to chase others and catch them. When you caught someone you hugged them tight and rubbed the front of your body firmly up and down against them while repeating the words “Gram Motherem, Gram Motherem” over and over again. I showed him but he didn’t seem too keen on the idea. Wendy Godley wouldn’t let me show her at all. In fact, she hardly ever spoke to me again after I tried.

I tell you this at risk of being branded some kind of rampant six year-old pervert because I believe it tells us something about our earliest memories.

Psychologists claim we all suffer from infantile or childhood amnesia. They tell us we remember little from before the age of five and nothing from before the age of two. They say that our memories depend upon developing a sense of ‘self’, which only begins around the age of two when we start to respond to our own image in a mirror and use words such as I, me and you. According to the theory, we are unlikely to be able to remember anything before our ‘self’ emerges.

Yet there are people who do insist they have memories from before the age of two. In one study, one man remembered playing with his twin brother who died before that age. But psychologists, whose job it is to doubt such anecdotal claims, question whether such early memories are genuine. It is possible, they say, to experience imaginary memories based upon photographs or what we have been told. We can even have false memories of events and objects that never happened or existed. All these things have been shown to be possible.

Well, I favour the anecdotal evidence. My own early memories are so detailed I have no doubt we can go back before the age of five, and probably before the age of two as well.

I can tell you the names of our neighbours, and their neighbours, in our street of terraced houses where we lived until I was six. I can tell you about the men’s hairdresser on the corner of the cross street across the road. He had pieces of broken bottle glass cemented to the top of his side wall to discourage people from climbing over into the back yard. Clear and brown, green and blue, they glinted like multicoloured gemstones in the sunlight. The world was exciting so long as you were careful.

I can remember that our street had gas lamps. A man with a long pole used to come to turn them on at lighting-up time. Before we moved house they were replaced by electric lights. Birds lined the high electricity cable we could see from the back room window when my dad was getting ready for work. “What time is it?” he would ask, and my mother would say “five past eight” or “ten past eight”, which I would notice was different from the day before.

Nettles and dandelions grew amongst the untidy heaps of rubble in the ‘bomb buildings’ at the end of the street where a Methodist Church had fallen in the war. At the other end of the street was a patch of waste ground where we had bonfires on bonfire nights. Unruly older boys used to shout excitedly as they threw penny bangers at each other and set off jumping crackers to frighten the smaller chiildren. The night before bonfire night was ‘mischief night’, a more menacing forerunner of ‘trick or treat’, when the same rowdy lads would run along the street knocking on all the doors. Sometimes they roped the doors together so that as one opened another slammed shut.

We had an attic where my dad nailed hardboard over the broken banisters so I didn’t fall down the stairwell. We kept the artificial Christmas tree up there through the year, and played with model ships and our Hornby ‘O’ gauge clockwork train set. My dad glued a ‘jetty’ firmly to the floorboards for the toy ships, and when we set out the toy trains we always had a ‘Grandad Dunham’s siding’.

Downstairs, my mother kept the ration book in the back room in a built-in cupboard beside the chimney breast. Next to this was the wireless – a valve radio with an illuminated panel of station names on the front. On Sunday afternoons my dad used to run a brown fibre-covered cable through to a loudspeaker in the front room to listen to Hancock’s Half Hour. My mum preferred the Light Programme – the Beverley Sisters, Eve Boswell and Alma Cogan.

I played in the garden in my pedal car. It was red with white ‘V’ shaped stripes on the bonnet. I remember my dad repainting them. It was a struggle to pedal up the slight slope on to the lawn. “I’ve got to keep going in case a policeman comes,” I used to tell myself, fearfully. When I pedalled out into the back lane I was wary of the big family of boys who lived at the far end. They all had the same mean podgy round faces and pug noses.

We had an outside toilet where my dad used to hang a paraffin lamp underneath the high cistern to stop it freezing up in winter. At the end of the garden, next to the back lane, each house had an outhouse which I later learned were originally built as pig sties. The next-door-but-one neighbour extended his into a garage for his motorbike. His son pointed to the stack of grey breeze blocks he was using and proudly boasted “My dad can lift a ton of these.” Our own outhouse was the ‘wash house’. It had a fireplace to heat water to pour into a ‘dolly tub’ to wash the clothes with a ‘peggy stick’. Before we moved we bought a square, cream-yellow Ada washing machine with a wringer on top.

Wash House 1950

On the lawn next to the wash house and back gate

I can hear the sceptical psychologists questioning whether these memories really are genuine, no matter how vivid, and if so whether they are truly from before the age of five. Some I can date precisely. Hancock’s Half Hour started in 1954, but I was five and a half before it was broadcast on Sunday afternoons. I was still four when rationing ended. I don’t know when the gas lights were replaced but it should be possible to find out. My knowledge of the pig sties may betray a reconstructed memory – something I must have discussed more recently. Perhaps some of these memories are from the age of four but there is nothing to date them earlier. The psychologists are not convinced. I need to try harder.

What about the 2nd June, 1953, the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, when I was three and a half? I can remember that too. At the time my mother used to take me each week by bus to my grandma’s. West Riding buses were green, but in the run up to the coronation they repainted at least one double-decker all over in red, white and blue triangles. It was in service like that for several weeks before and afterwards. I was always excited when we were lucky enough to catch it. “It’s the coronation bus,” I would shout as it approached. On coronation day itself there was a procession around the streets of our town, which I watched with my parents from the front bedroom window as it passed our house. ‘Our’ coronation bus was in the procession.

What about April, 1953, when my uncle left school aged fifteen? Until then he had his ‘dinner’ with us every Tuesday. My mother would give him the money to fetch fish and chips for the three of us from the fish shop in the next street. Or March, 1953, when my mother’s other brother died overseas in a tragic air force accident. I remember him at my grandma’s house, brushing his dark hair back from his distinctive wide forehead. That’s the best I can do – age three.

The psychologists still seem right. They would not dispute the memory of a few things from before the age of five. But what about even earlier impressions, not so clear? Could they disprove their theories?

When I was two I had whooping cough. This is a dangerous illness that lasts up to six weeks and involves severe coughing fits. I don’t remember the coughing at all, but I do remember having a coal fire in my bedroom to keep me warm, and the way the light from the flames flickered around the room. I remember lying drowsily in my cot and being half-woken and attacked by a ‘thing’ which undid my pyjama jacket and rubbed something on my chest. It happened regularly, and it was terrifying. The unmistakeable smell of Vicks Vaporub brings it back. One night, I exaggerated my breathing to seem deep asleep. It worked. When the ‘thing’ visited my room, it waited a short time then left without bothering me.

One afternoon I saw something like a white goose’s neck moving outside the bars of my cot. I screamed and my dad hurried to see what wrong. “There’s a chicken under my cot” I wailed.

“We don’t believe you,” say the psychologists. The bedroom fire images could be from a later time. The ‘chicken under the cot’ incident must have been told, retold and laughed about so many times I am remembering the story not the event.

But surely, private impressions of feelings, fears and subterfuges cannot be dismissed so easily. They are internal. They may have been revised and reconstructed through dreams, but they are still genuine. The Vicks Vaporub memory is a case in point. As is the ‘Gram Motherem’ notion I started with.

‘Gram Motherem’ began as an unpleasant, regularly recurring dream from the earliest times I remember, and continued into my twenties. I am in the back lane outside our gate where long, white flexible tubes hang like tendrils from the wall, like elephants’ trunks but more slender, or like chitterlings but bigger. They writhe like snakes. As I pass, the open ends reach out, twist around me and latch on by suction. They pull me inside diaphanous white layers of material and I can’t escape. They hold me tightly and rub the front of my body while repeating the words “Gram Motherem, Gram Motherem” over and over again.

For decades I had not the slightest inkling of what this strange dream could be, until one day it suddenly dawned on me, after which it went away. I feel sure it is a very early, residual, unclear and indistinct memory of breast feeding.

That would be a very early memory indeed. Perhaps we sometimes retain vague impressions from before the age of two, before we develop our sense of ‘self’. Or perhaps our ‘self’ begins to form sooner than psychologists think.

©Tasker Dunham 2015

My thanks to Tasker for allowing me to infiltrate his fascinating archive… and don’t forget to share your earliest memories with us.

Mine are very clear.. we lived in Sri Lanka when I was 18 months old to just over three. I remember having measles at three years old and being in a dark room for days because of the risk of blindness from sunlight.. I also remember incidents and scents and the monkeys and other wildlife as we were on the edge of the jungle. It is very vivid.

About Tasker Dunham

I grew up in Yorkshire and worked in Leeds before going to university late, and then lived in various places around the U.K. before moving back to Yorkshire where I now live with my wife and family. I have worked in accountancy, computing and higher education, as well as in temporary jobs in factories. This memoir is based on people, places, things and events I knew, with some names and details altered to avoid difficulties. I tend to post two or three times each month.

Some items recall people and experiences, others try to give things a humorous slant, and some are of the “look how the world has changed” kind.

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Thank you for dropping by and I hope you will head over and check out the rest of Tasker’s archives … and as always love to get your feedback.. Sally.