01 Jun Beeps – past and future
Not much in the diary these days, so the phone’s been quiet at least on the beeping front. It prompts me a day ahead of an event, a week in the case of birthdays, with a particular sound. I must have set it up to do this way back when I first got a smartphone. I’ve forgotten which sound it is for diary prompts though it may be lodged in my mind’s ear and as soon as I hear it I will instantly recognise it as a ‘date’.
Occasionally the phone beeps with a ‘new memory’. I assume this is how it earns the ‘smart’ prefix to its generic name. This kind of beep is a little disarming as it’s not something I have asked the phone to do nor, I’m sure, something I set up during that initial ‘set-up’ phase. Consequently, I always find it unsettling when the message comes up telling me: “You have a new memory”, as if I had mislaid the old one and had had to send for a replacement. I often don’t immediately recognise the tiny picture that this new memory plonks in the corner of the already small screen and hence I worry that my memory may indeed already be at risk and that I am soon to be utterly reliant on this gadget to remind me of what I did last week. Uff!
These particular beeps arrive randomly. The most recent was early last month when I was presented with a new memory of a trip to Ardnamurchan that I made last year with my daughter. There we were, smiling on the quayside at Tobermory where we’d gone for a day trip and overnight stay so that she could tour the whisky distillery and, provided we were sober enough the following day, we could take a boat trip to two uninhabited inner Hebridean islands. The weather was glorious, the bluebells were blooming generously, on Staffa Fingal’s cave was yawning its cavernous mouth wide open showing all its teeth, and we were literally tripping over puffins on the tiny island of Lunga. Those places were far away then. They’re even further away now.
Then, yesterday, I had a diary prompt from the future: ‘To Kirkby Stephen’ said the diary entry for 1st June. I put it in several months ago along with all the places we would stay in the next fortnight as we walked from Coast to Coast across the north of England. I should be writing this from Kirkby Stephen, getting ready to start the walk tomorrow morning with the friends we met at the top of a hill on the first day of the same walk four years ago. We make a habit of picking up friends on long distance walks and then hanging onto them! Oh, to be there now. Maybe next year? As a consolation we’ll meet those hilltop friends for a socially-distanced walk in bluebell woods near East Grinstead in a couple of days, marking the day we would have been walking the 14 tough miles from Ennerdale to Borrowdale, trudging over those Lakeland fells, recalling the last time we did it together when it rained most of the day. It was early June and bitterly cold. I remember the hot chocolate I gulped down in the slate mine café at Honister. There’s no photo of that but the imprint is firm in my mind’s eye – the memory seems to be working alright after all. Another consolation.
The intersection of my past and my future resides in this slim, silvery-white object I can hold in my hand. Which is creepy at the same time as being reassuring and a tiny bit tender. Does it know when I’m feeling downcast so that it rummages around in the photo archive for something to cheer me up? Has it got to know my weaknesses, trawling though messages I’ve sent in rage, doubt, panic or joy? Does it understand the things I really want to be able to do again in the future, whenever that future comes? Are these the things it marks with an asterisk in its little-finger-nail-sized SIM?
The past is fixed though I constantly see it through different filters, especially now. The future is opaque like unfiltered olive oil. What to put in the diary these days – apart from the birthdays that are on repeat anyway? No need to put in zoom dates because zoom prompts you anyway – no sound, just a kind of wave from screen right. I could wait to see if things go back to something akin to what we used to call ‘normal’. But I reckon that’s a goner, that ‘normal’. In fact, I decided to no longer use the word ‘normal’ except in quotation marks. Maybe it was always a suspect word, come to think of it. Too sure of itself. And I often found I was out of kilter with its parameters and preconditions. Now it’s particularly dodgy even with its latest adjectival finesse: ‘new’. The word (even re-‘new’ed), suggests something much more stable and reliable than what we’re facing now. Whose ‘normal’ is it anyway? Easier to forget the whole ‘normal’ business altogether.
There are more consolations, of course. That we’re not marginalised so that the pandemic is just the latest in a string of burdens and injustices we have to carry through life. That, though our future is uncertain, it’s likely we have a future. I don’t want to be the kind of person who harps on: “Just remember how lucky you are”, the way my mother used to. But it’s a fair point.
On a musical and positive note, here’s a link to a song a friend has written, performed and put together with wonderful soothing sounds and consoling images.