park lane

Looking the other day at this photograph of myself, about 6 years old, among my class at infant school, I had a very strange feeling. It was as if everyone I have ever met since was simply another version of one or another of the people in this picture; as if this was a repertory company of actors who have played every other part in the story of my life. Certainly, I find it surprising now how many of these people I can remember quite vividly – in many cases, their names, and even if not, a strong sense of how I experienced them and how I related to them. With some I remember being mostly at ease (the ones I thought of as ‘my friends’), but many others I experienced as intimidating, or just very alien or strange. In fact it may be more accurate to say that, whether friend or stranger, every one of these individuals now survives in my memory as alarmingly unique, and even uniquely alarming. I suppose this group was the site of my earliest socialisation outside the family, and custom and practice had not yet dulled my sense of the weirdness and unpredictability of others. And the intensity of that experience therefore laid down for me a kind of map or taxonomy of the world of people, so that each one I met afterwards could be conveniently but unconsciously slotted into place as a Gordon, a Robert, or a Susan.

I don’t imagine that is literally true – my map must have continued to evolve over the decades – it’s just that, looking closely at this photograph now, it seems as if the main dimensions of that map were already laid down in that school hall, among the smells of polish, gravy, and sour milk, and that my own peculiar frame for meeting the world was forged for me there in a way that all subsequent groups I have been part of have somehow reinforced, rather than shaken.

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