A discursive look at Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, plus a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Hooptedoodle #85 - Earliest Memory?

Tonight I saw some of a British TV programme featuring Maureen Lipman, the Yorkshire actress. I found the idea behind the programme interesting - a study of why we remember some things clearly throughout our lives. One fact that emerged is that children do not seem to remember much before age 3 - at least not clearly enough to retain details into later life.

It was well done. Naturally, I checked my own memories, and I guess I found that I conform pretty well to the sort of average profile they described. I can remember a lot of unspecific stuff which must come from early childhood - the sound (and smell) of potato peelings on a coal fire, my teddy bear and a blue and red humming top, and sitting on the kitchen table watching my mother doing the ironing - but relatively much less about specific events - things I could attach a date and a place to.

I can remember being up very late, down by the River Mersey, watching the fireworks which were part of the Festival of Britain celebrations in 1951. I can remember getting a lift home in my Aunt May's black Vauxhall Velox afterwards, but I know some of this is faulty because I was told recently that we were at Birkenhead Docks, and I do not remember the trip through the Mersey Tunnel which this would have involved. It does have a definite date, though.

After due thought, I'm pretty sure the earliest datable event I can remember is my being in hospital. I hurt my leg falling off a swing when my mother was away giving birth to my sister (I would always go to any lengths to steal the limelight), which I can obviously date very accurately - about a week after my 3rd birthday. I remember very clearly playing with a Dinky Toy on a tray on my hospital bed - it was a brand new Bedford Refuse Truck, just like the one in the picture above (though this is a stock picture, and not my truck), and it was bought for me by my dad's eldest brother, who had been the one unlucky enough to allow me to fall off the swing. There were funny blue lights in the hospital ward at night, I remember, and they used to reflect off the shiny new paint on the Dinky.

That's it, really. Anyone else like to have a shot? How far back can you go?

If, like me, you have difficulty with what happened last week, this might be a pleasant therapy.


  1. My own earliest memory , from when I was about three and a couple of months, dates to when my family was living in Barcelona, during the winter of 1969-70. My mother and I were bundled up and walking along a cold Spanish beach, and I clearly recall holding her hand and jumping together off a small retaining wall and down onto the damp sand. There are some other bits and pieces of those few months in Spain from that time, but that particular memory has always remained the clearest in my mind. I was always amazed when schoolmates, later in life, at seven or eight years of age, failed to remember things that had happened the previous week. Strange.

    Best Regards,


  2. June 26 1959.

    so a month before my 4th birthday and yes I cheated and looked up the date. My mom took my older sister and presumably my older brother, to see the Queen when she opened the St Lawrence Seaway. I just have vague memories of a crowd, a big ship and being told to wave. My poor sister was even more lost than me. It was years before they found out she was 1/2 blind rather than stupid.

    I remember the following Christmas better. Toy soldiers as in red plastic guardsmen with black bearskins and pants and round bases and a fire truck. After opening we were off to Aunt Bessie's and I was only allowed to bring 1 present to play with, how do you make a choice like that!

  3. I have a collection of earliest memories though I'm not sure what order exactly they go in -

    My grandmother chasing crows out the farmhouse we lived in when I was two.

    Being carried by my father to the back of the garden to see a badger that had made it's home near the big tree, Dad brought a torch and we looked at the badger and he looked at us. I remember the white flash of his face and shiny eyes before he walked away.

    My cousin falling off a swing while on holiday at the Isle of Man. I recall taking a certain satisfaction in that.

  4. I distinctly remember a number of events from when my Mum and I were living with my Grandma/Granddad - my Dad was Royal Navy in a destroyer on deployment and in those days they didn't use to get travel warrants so he was away for a year or more.... I remember climbing out of my cot to go and "pinch" my granddads pudding... I distinctly remember the smell of bread while in a milk float that the milkman gave me a lift in... I guess I would have been 2 and a half/three....... 1962'ish..!

  5. I have difficulty remembering what I had for breakfast, but I remember that side loader - I had one too! I also had a weird green and yellow taxi from Dinky which was a replacement for a big American police car with a wailing siren that made me cry.

    My mother spent a fair bit of time in hospital when I was very young and I 'lived' alternately with a couple of aunts as Dad was a chauffeur and worked all sorts of odd hours. So, early memories are a bit vague and I never got the chance to try to straighten things out before they all died off. I tend to remember snippets and images like food smells and music and certain rooms and I distinctly remember cot sides in a half lit room (street lamp outside the window).

    Fodder for a psychologist . . .

  6. Gentlemen - thanks ever so much for all of these, which are excellent - entertaining and illuminating at the same time. It is surprising what things stand out, and what aspects of contemporary life they capture.

    I also got a nice email from Rod, who very kindly included some recollections of his own:

    'My earliest memory is circa 1959 / 60. I would be about 3 or 4. Relatives from across the river, Immingham, had given me a wooden train and wagon and I was playing on a bench whilst they queued for fish and chips in Hull market. There was sawdust on the ground. I can still remember the various smells melding together.'

    Great stuff - MSF

  7. When I was a child, we lived in Evans Bay, Wellington (New Zealand). The earliest memory I have (hazily, and perhaps embellished by seeing it on old newsreels) is the Tasman Empire Airlines flying boat service that used to land on the water almost outside our house.

    The only other memory from that house is dropping my entire collection of Matchbox toys down a drain. I often drive past that house now, and sometimes wonder if I should ask the current owner if I could do a 'Time Team' and dig up the drain - those toys would be worth a mint now!!!

    1. Great memories - bummer about the Matchbox toys though!

  8. It would be interesting to know how much repeated mention or discussion over the years about the early memories has helped to shape and firm them. How much is actual memory and how much recreated?

    For example, I know the toy soldier one is real, not a matter for family discussion, no home movie camera to capture it like in later years nor do I still have even one of those toy soldiers (unlike later years....).


    1. Yes - interesting. I find that my own family's traditions and handed-down stories are definitely woolly. There are tales of ancestors which have been polished over the years - my late cousin did some serious research into family geneology sources, and blew a lot of the accepted stories apart.

      There is a whole raft of stories my mother has constantly told about my childhood, and as the years pass and her memory fails more rapidly than my own I can see the details and the dates changing progressively. She tells of how, when I was at school, my friends were always coming around to our house. I don't know if she thinks I was somewhere else, or maybe not paying attention, but I recall very clearly that people were not encouraged to come to our house, and mostly didn't. She obviously remembers someone else's childhood - nearer the mainstream. She can recount the events of Christmases and family occasions from long ago - dates and details all heavy edited with the passing years. For years I believed that I had met a great-uncle who in fact died some years before I was born. Brainwashing - pushing the approved family version. We all do it, I guess.

      My own memory is suspect, like everyone else's, but the things I am clear on seem to have been fixed and in very bright colours all my life.

      What were we talking about, again?