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Scarlet Lady

This week I’ve been thinking a lot about memory.

Who am I trying to kid? I always think a lot about memory. It fascinates me; mainly, I suspect, because mine is so bad.

In particular, I have very little visual memory. Even if I’m describing something that I’ve seen, I very rarely have an image of it in the forefront of my mind. It just seems to well up in words, and if I let myself think about that I’m a little mystified, sometimes, as to where those words come from.

I do have a few strong visual memories, but I’m not sure how far I can trust them. Here’s why. It relates to my memory of the day that Granny died.

I had fairly flexible hours, back then, and I can’t remember for sure if I’d come back for lunch when Mum rang or if I hadn’t been out at all. I was already dressed, though, because I remember standing in my bedroom, meaning to get changed and not knowing what to put on. I’d been pretty lucky up till then, and I hadn’t really got any suitable mourning clothes. In the end I decided that it was the change, and knowing why I’d changed, that mattered, and I put on my favourite red dress in a spirit of defiance at fate, hoping that she would approve.

And then I went to work. Well, there was this job I’d been putting off for various more or less sound reasons for a fortnight. Phoning in to say I can’t do the job you gave me yesterday is one thing, but it seemed a bit weak when I’d already missed a couple of opportunities.

The job that needed doing was the calibration of the GPS. You may have to swallow your disbelief here. We’d recently acquired two GPS kits, worth about £16k (I forget whether that was each or for the pair). This was a good while ago, but personal GPS for cars was already starting to appear, and in comparison to the kit we had, I’m amazed it could put you in the right town – because our gear, quite apart for the price, consisted of a unit the size of an old-fashioned car radio, a receiver the size of a Christmas pudding, on a long pole, and a pair of those forearm length camcorder batteries. Using both units, after processing, it was supposed to be accurate to 2 cm in the horizontal or 20 cm vertically. Raw data from a single unit used independently was rubbish, and that was when it worked. Half the time it couldn’t see enough satellites to tell you anything, and I remember one excruciatingly embarrassing day being watched patiently by a nice man from one of our partner organisations as I backed further and further away from a warehouse so that I could get enough signal for a position. I think I ended up about a hundred yards away. How the mass market stuff functions in narrow streets I have no idea.

But that was all ahead of us. That day it needed calibrating, which essentially involved taking both kits out to the middle of a cricket pitch (that being the nearest convenient site where I could get away from buildings) on a good day for satellites, switching them on and waiting for them to do their stuff.

So there’s the memory, sitting in the middle of the cricket pitch in my red dress in the blazing sun, waiting for the GPS to do whatever mysterious calculations it needed to do to satisfy itself that it existed.

And here’s what’s odd.

What I remember is a clear image of a girl in a red dress, intent on the machine at her side, sitting a good hundred yards away and somewhat below me, as if I were at a first floor window, watching.

And I just think that’s very odd, don’t you?


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