The older you get, the more important it is to mark big occasions. Then, as your memories fall away, the markers you have laid down become life rafts on which to float moments back into your mind.
We often remember firsts, don’t we? The first time I swam unaided was with my brothers in the freezing waters of Little Loch Broom in 1968 – the peaks of Beinn Ghobhlach and Cnoc a Bhaidrallaich made us snigger because they looked like pointy breasts. First boyfriend and first motorbike ride go hand in hand (1977). First real job – junior secretary at BBC TV – I thought I’d conquer the world from that post: ah well… Holding my babies for the first time. I nearly threw up on baby number two. Anaesthetics (first, aged nine, tonsils and adenoids) have always had that effect on me. First time abroad? France: camping with family – I was six, got mumps and had pessaries. The shame of it. I’ve hated camping ever since.
Yes, not all firsts conjure up a rosy warm feeling. Most of us are prone to those wake-you-up-in-the-night moments that scrape loudly and insistently across your mind and refuse to be stuck on the let-me-forget shelf.
I wonder how Miley Cyrus (actress/singer formerly of Disney stable) will look back on her first public nude appearance in the ‘Wrecking Ball’ video. And if Irish singer/songwriter, Sinead O’Connor, will consider a private little note to Miley might have shown the spirit of ‘motherliness’ and ‘love’ more effectively. Her ‘open letter’, suggesting that middle-aged music industry geezers zealously fill their sticky coffers by exploiting the gorgeous bodies of young women, provoked a response from Miley which was, well, like that of a teenager telling her parents where they can stick their advice.
I didn’t listen to my mum’s advice on choosing a degree. No doubt that’s why I dropped out, aged 18, and am having a second go now with the Open University. I’ve met all sorts of people who are trying to tick off the marker of higher education in later life because they either didn’t have the opportunity when they were younger or, like me, didn’t see it through first time round. Even now I toy with the idea of stopping. Maybe a degree is my holy grail – constantly present as an idea but out of reach?
Last month I took childish delight in meeting one of my Radio 4 heroes. I entered a competition to find a new voice for the Pause for Thought slot on Vanessa Feltz’s Radio 2 show – the final was to be at Cheltenham Literature Festival. The first 550 entries were whittled down to 30. Imagine my delight to be one of the 30! Thirty were pared down to six. I didn’t make it and was pathetically disappointed. I spent a small fortune getting to Cheltenham to take up my free ticket for the final. To make the most of the adventure I booked myself into a couple of talks. One involved novelist Alexander McCall Smith, historian Alistair Moffatt, and Radio 4’s James Naughtie discussing McCall Smith’s brainchild – The Great Tapestry of Scotland. An extraordinary woven record of Scotland’s heritage and history – 165 panels designed by artist Andrew Crummy, and realised by 1000 stitchers across Scotland and the Isles.
Afterwards, I interviewed Jim Naughtie for my little show on Alnwick’s Lionheart Radio. I was toe-curlingly starstruck. Still, it will be a lasting memory – as will the system crash that cut off my first broadcast of Jim’s interview mid flow.
The good news is that the ‘Search for a New Voice’ had a truly worthy winner – Paul Oxley. Also positive – 5.45am live broadcasts won’t need to feature in my list of memories. Plus, I’ve escaped the lure and shame of broadcast industry exploitation and mores – after all, just look at poor Vanessa on Strictly Come Dancing!
If you have firsts that have made a lasting impression, why not tell me about them by leaving a message below? I may well put together a radio show on just that subject.
(A version of this article was first published in the Berwick Advertiser, November 2013)