08 March 2009


It is striking to me what a great deal of difference there appears to be amongst people regarding what they remember of their very early childhood.

I think some of my friends tell me of what they played with when they were two or three years old. John Henry Newman, in his "Apologia Pro Vita Sua", tells of memories he says he had - at age 64 - of the house his family lived in when he was not yet two years old.

I have a few memories - if they are indeed memories and not some sort of imagination - that must, if they are real, date from before I was five.

I recall lying in what I think was a cot (what Americans call a 'crib') rocking rhythmically back and forth on my hands and knees, banging my head into the pillow, humming the tune to the children's song "Go Tell Aunt Rhoda (the Old Grey Goose is Dead" - only for some reason I thought of it as "Go Tell Aunt Chloe." (Actually almost everyone's aunt appears to have got into the act according to this

But some of my children - was it Edna and my daughter Kathleen? Susan and my daughter Helen? - used to do the same, though not, as I recall, with humming. So am I projecting a memory into my own past? Or did I do it and they also because it is common behaviour for children?

I remember - or think I do - one Christmas when, as I recall, both Peter and I were given toy revolvers - 'cap guns' - paired ones, with right and left hip holsters. And I recall tears connected with this gift - no idea why.

Nor, of course, whether the memories themselves are even accurate.

But perhaps there is a more sinister - or more negative - cause for my memory blackout.

At some time - and it was certainly after the age of five, but perhaps not older than eight - I was sent for therapy to a psychiatrist. And the reason was, as my mother told me years later when I was a teenager or perhaps a young adult, that she and I used to fight all the time.

I have no recollection of any of that.

Thus it is, I suppose, that psychologists whose speciality is helping you recover repressed memories make their living.

I do remember the psychiatrist very well indeed. His name was Doctor Prosser. I liked him immensely. He taught me two things:

  • the basic rules of chess
  • how to spell 'psychiatrist'

For some days I went around demonstrating to others my ability to spell that word, and announced my intention to become a psychiatrist one day. I knew that that word was quite beyond my normal ability, but still I understood spelling, so I suppose I was about eight years old at the time. American children start school at age six, rather than the five which is standard in New Zealand. Still I must have been at least seven.

Nothing much else came of those sessions and I don't think I went for long. Years later my mother told me that Dr Prosser said to her something along the lines of "there is nothing wrong with your son. However, I would definitely like to spend some time with you..."

But it is odd that I remember no real strife with my mother. Maybe the memories are too painful. Or maybe I demonstrate once more how little external matters affect me.

I certainly remember one thing very vividly - but I was almost ten at the time. I remember both the big earthquake in July 1952 and its major aftershock in August.

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