Heart's ease - an infusion was said to help mend a broken heart

Sunday, 26 November 2017

Forsan et haec olim...

Forsan et haec olim meminisse juvabit... Perhaps one day it will be a joy to remember these things...

This line, one of the best-known from Virgil's Aeneid, can be hard to translate elegantly, but is not hard to understand. Perhaps one day remembrance will be a joy; perhaps, though, it will not, or maybe, as so often, it will be bittersweet, an interweaving of what is lost with what remains and has grown strong or dear. Sometimes even the happiest of memories are tinged with sadness or regret, or laced with wistfulness, especially as the people in them die, or places and institutions close or change beyond recognition.

For me, this has certainly been a week of remembrance. It began on Saturday when a friend attended the 80th anniversary celebrations of the Young Christian Workers in this country, and posted photos on Facebook of herself with others she'd met who were also members in the early 1980s, eliciting a flurry of comments. These vaguely familiar faces, though frozen in our memories in their early twenties, plus - for me - the sight of my friend's YCW badge, brought on a wave of nostalgia, as memories of people and events, jokes, songs and romances tumbled out. Those were the glorious days of our youth, and a pleasure to recall.

The week ended on Friday, when work took me to Hackney, to a place very close to where I worked for two years, so that my journey back to the station meant a slight detour into the churchyard of St John at Hackney church. Here, from 2000-2002 I was responsible for the day centre and advice service in a small, often struggling and overwhelmed project for the homeless and the general waifs and strays and marginalised of the area - an area which has certainly been smartened and cleaned up in the intervening years. Where once beggars and street drinkers - each one known to me - had punctuated the grubby streets and pathways, now there were coffee kiosks and council workers clearing leaves, and shiny gates. The homeless were elsewhere, presumably at whichever local centre is open on a Friday (my former project having closed some years ago): but even in that cleaned-up churchyard the raucous, vulnerable, lovable spirits of those I had known were abundantly present, with all the idiosyncrasies and chaos which made them simultaneously endearing and frustrating. Those two years were draining and difficult at so many levels, but I learnt a lot, and whilst the recalling isn't always joyful and the nostalgia is infused with dark realism, there is some pleasure, and a lot of affection in the remembrance.

The day before, under a blazingly blue sky in which sunlight turned autumn leaves to gold, I had driven to Sussex for the funeral of a former colleague from my time in local government in the 1980s. Several other colleagues were there, instantly recognisable despite the many years since I had last seen them, and instantly easy to reconnect with. Together we remembered a time when social housing was managed by locally-based housing officers, who visited tenants alone and without the backup of mobile phones; a time when things somehow seemed simpler and easier to achieve, and the odd rule could be bent to aid someone's need. We recalled Gilbert strips and paper records, and even more, some of the characters who peopled the office, commenting wistfully that eccentrics seem in short supply these days. And, of course, we recalled - among ourselves and to his family - the person we were there for, a boss who managed our office with a light touch, creating a friendly and lively atmosphere to balance the seriousness of our work. An unashamedly working-class boss, who sometimes seemed surprised by his status, which he wore as lightly as possible; a funny, idiosyncratic, hard-working, self-deprecating man who kept his office door open and was invariably at the heart of the most memorable pranks and jokes from that time. And a man who would never have known what forsan et haec olim... means, but unenviously delighted in knowing someone "clever" who did...

So, a week filled with memories, sweetly bittersweet and nostalgic; and with loss, not only of times and places, but of people who, each in their own way, have been dear to me, who have taught me so much and are part of the story of who and what I am today.

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