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Back in the Day

I recently spent a happy afternoon helping my mother clear out a couple of cupboards, one of which contained many old family photographs, including this one. It’s a school photograph and I think I’m around 5 years old.

When I look at it, all at once I am swamped with memories.

I can remember the sensation of the wide headband around my head, and how it would slide off backwards over my hair if it had just been washed, and my play was especially boisterous. I recall the ritual of pulling the band down around my neck and then flicking my head forward and scraping the band back over my head at the same time as righting myself as I flicked it back. I remember the smell of it.

My fingers have a memory of the texture of my hand knitted cardigan, thicker than the shop-bought versions worn by many of my classmates. Without stopping to think too carefully, I can remember many of their names, how I felt about them and various specific incidents in the classroom and playground.

The cord across my body belongs to my school purse, about the size of a mobile phone, black felt, with the school coat of arms embroidered in white upon it, a zip that stuck. I feel it knocking against my hip as I run, my dinner money jingling as I skip. The exact spot on my collarbone has a physical memory of that knot, the pressure of it and the way it slid back and forth as I moved. A sensation that would be gone as I grew taller and the knot became unnecessary.

We all vary in our ability to call to mind what it was like to be a child, but most of us have a few powerful memories from our childhood. It’s worth giving yourself some time to sit with those memories, to really work at remembering what it was like to be a small child, and photographs can help with this. The more we are able to recall our own childhood experiences, thoughts and feelings, the more easily we may be able to empathise with what our children are going through in the present day, and that can only be a good thing.