Memories are funny things, aren’t they? The way certain things suddenly pop into your head, and you think – hey, I know about that, and you remember.
I wonder what makes some memories surface and not others? You could say it’s down to something you have just heard or seen, but I know that’s not always the case.
Just lately, I have been remembering a specific time in my youth, and never realised before how that time must have influenced me. Was it that threshold of childhood, the time you really start to think and question things? To imagine a future for yourself, that you won’t always be just idling along, not really caring if it snowed, depending on others to organise your life.
This particular time was when I lived in Kent, in a small village called Birchington, a few miles from Margate. I was about 8 or 9 years old, and up to that point, I didn’t really think about anything much. So much had happened to me that I had got into the habit of not questioning anything. Not much point really, as I knew I couldn’t change anything.
I was with foster parents by then with several other children, all from broken families; and surprisingly it was the first time I felt relaxed enough to appreciate the peace and quiet of the countryside, not to mention the freedom from all my mother’s problems.
Every Sunday we all went to church, and right outside the church door was an impressive gravestone. It was made of a beautiful piece of marble, and I thought the writing on it was very ornate and posh. I looked at it every Sunday for ages, when it suddenly struck me that this had to be someone quite famous. But why was he buried here in this tiny village?
The name on the stone was Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828- 1882), and I remember being very impressed by the sound of him, resolving to find out more about him. I was about the right age for romantic flights of fancy, and the more I discovered about this tortured man and the life he lived, the more intrigued I became. He was a poet and a painter, and some would say that he wasn’t very successful, but history will always remember him as a founder member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood with William Holman Hunt and John Everett Millais.
I learnt about Rossetti and how he ended up a recluse in Cheyne Walk, Chelsea after a nervous breakdown, finally retreating to Birchington for rehabilitation only to die less than a year later. Perhaps he should have spent more time in Kent, for it was making me feel better! I secretly sympathised with the mess he had made of his life, determined that my life would be better than it had started out to be. I just needed to be old enough to set the wheels in motion.
So you see, I think Dante was my friend back then, right when I really needed one, guiding me to where I am today…