Marcel Proust’s unnamed narrator found that a piece of madeleine cake dipped in a spoonful of tea was enough to transport him back to the days of his youth, inspiring him to write the second longest novel ever written, clocking in at over a million words. (If only, one wonders, he’d been offered a chocolate digestive instead…)
In my case it’s the sound of dice rattling on a backgammon board that takes me back – not to my childhood, but to my student days, staying up in a succession of seedy kitchens and untidy, used-sock-bestrewn bedrooms till long after midnight, playing for money, playing for notepaper, playing for the sheer fun of the thing, gambling away my youth. There’s something rather wonderful about a game when you can lose everything on the throw of a double six (odds of 35:1 against); and many’s the time I have.
I’ve been slaloming down memory lane this week because my old friend Dave, who lives in south Wales, came to visit. Dave and I were students together at Manchester University, and whereas he still looks pretty much the same, give or take the odd follicle or two, when I look in the mirror these days I seem to see one of those melting Nazis at the end of the first Indiana Jones film looking back at me.
We shared digs for a year at the home of Mrs Betesh in Didsbury, a short-sighted little old lady who used to scare the hell out of us every time she lit the stove. She didn’t have any eyebrows because after turning on the gas she had to search for the matchbox, fumble for a match, and after several minutes had elapsed would finally scrape it alight on the box; by this time she was usually enveloped in a shimmering haze of gas, for all the world like someone beaming down in a Star Trek episode. You could always tell when it was dinnertime because the cat came and hid under our bed, wearing a crash helmet.
Anyway, what with old friends coming to visit and all, I’ve taken a short break from the knitting. Coming back to it now after a two-week break I’m finding it hard to remember what I was doing. My fingers have forgotten how to hold the needles, and I have an urge to scoop up egg fu yung and fried rice with them rather than form stitches. Still, it’s all slowly coming back (after a piece of shortbread dipped in tea – thanks, Marcel!), and I’ve made a start on re-knitting sleeve two.
And now Dave is gone (sad face), the funfair is gone (smiley face), Margaret is back (smiley face) and the backgammon board has been put away for another few years (shruggy face); and all I have left from my misspent youth is a clear recollection of the probabilities of various dice combinations. Useless to me now, of course: unless anyone is rash enough to challenge me to a game of Monopoly, when it’s sometimes helpful, say if you are deciding where to place a hotel, to know that seven is the most likely number you can throw with two dice…