Jim’s Diary

“Write it down; write it down,” the GP had said, repeating himself, Jim assumed, for emphasis. “Perfectly understandable at our age… memory’s not what it was… names, that sort of thing.”

“But I’m only fifty-eight,” protested his patient.

“Really?” replied the doctor, peering over the top of his spectacles and then down at his notes. “Er… yes… of course.”

He was about to retire – a member of what he referred to as the old school. Time to pass the baton; give the youngsters a go; hand over the keys to the safe etc.

“Anyway… write it down, Frank. Write it down.”

“Jim,” corrected Jim.

“Quite… yes. Er… hm. Do as I say, eh? Not as I do.”

Sitting in the car, that Friday morning, outside the practise Jim reflected that, although the GP had told him nothing he didn’t already know, it would probably be a good idea to be more systematic about supporting his failing memory with specifically targeted notes.

As a schools’ advisor his diary played a vital role in his working life. Dates for meetings; focuses of meetings, names of headteachers, team meetings, dates for courses, report deadlines, inspection dates and so on. But there were other areas that were proving problematical, not critically at this stage, though it would be very useful, for example, to be able to recall the names of the school secretaries where he visited. To be on first name terms with such key personnel, he knew, smoothed the way to a successful engagement.

Jim resolved to start a new notebook recording such details.

Over the weekend his son and two small grandchildren came to visit. The weather had been exceptionally good for April and the children had enjoyed playing out in the garden with their father while Jim’s wife, Sonya, and their daughter in law had long conversations in the kitchen and he tried to remember the name of the oldest grandchild.

He wanted to write it down.

Frustratingly, he knew that the next day the name would be there, tripping off his tongue with ease while, annoyingly, the name of the youngest child might disappear. It was like trying to keep eels in a bucket.

“Where did that comparison come from?” he thinks.

And then he recalls a time on the towpath of the River Lee. He was fourteen years old and mad about fishing. Another angler had told him that if you fish on the bottom with a dead gudgeon you’ll get eels … and boy do they fight.

It proved to be true.

Within an hour young Jim had fought with three eels. Even out of the water they battled like a boy scout’s knot manual coming to life and inhabiting a bad dream. Jim was patient, though, and when, eventually the slimy battle to get the creatures off the hook had been won and he had dropped them into a bucket of river water ready for weighing, measuring and releasing before the end of the session, they continued to assert their anguilla identity, scaling the wall of the bucket, snaking their way along the gravel tow path in pursuit of watery freedom.

And Jim, leaving his rod in the rest that he’d bought with his birthday money, would chase after them scooping up a handful of sharp grit along with half a yard of slippery, yellow-green muscle that immediately attempted to manacle him or climb in to the flapping sleeve of his shirt.

“Cup of tea, Jim?” It was Sonya.

“Please.” He wanted to ask her… ask her the child’s name. But he stopped short.

It was Jim’s habit, at about six on a Sunday evening to retreat to his study in order to review the week ahead. Settling down, content that the problem of the name had been resolved because his son had shouted at her, Jim reached for his diary. He always left it on a pile of waiting-to-be-read government reports on the left hand side of his computer screen. However, on this particular evening, his hand closed around a copy of Academising Coasting Ethnic Groups and White Working Class Boys in a Multicultural Community. The diary was not there.

“Sonya!?”

After scouring the house, Jim thought that he might have put the document on the roof of his car on leaving the doctors’ and, on the off chance that it would still be there, he raced back, searching the now empty car park, without success.

“Where should you be tomorrow?” asked his wife, on his return, trying to be calm and helpful. “Let’s take it step by step.”

“Saint Augustine’s.”

“Good. What time?”

“I think it was nine-thirty, but I’m not sure.”

“Phone them in the morning at eight-thirty and ask for confirmation.”

“Good idea. Thanks,” said Jim, his heart rate decreasing a little. “I think there was a meeting at County Hall later on. I could get in touch with my admin assistant…”

“Julie?”

“Yes, Julie. She can sort that out.”

“So that’s tomorrow,” said Sonya.

“Yes.”

“Can you remember what you had on during the rest of the week?”

“Let me think… Yes, Stanborough Primary. Pretty sure that was Wednesday”

“What time?”

“I know I’m leading a staff meeting, so I’ll need to be there at three-thirty.”

“Good,” said Sonya. “That’s something else sorted.”

“Not completely,” Jim contradicted. “I’ll need to prepare but that’ll be tricky because I don’t know what the staff meeting was about. It’ll be in my notes, though.”

“Which are..?”

“In my diary.”

Sonya poured her husband a cup of tea in the hope that its comforting colour and warmth would relax him making it easier for him to access his memory.

“Thursday I’m in the office all day. That’s my report writing day. I try and keep Thursday’s free for that.”

“You’ll need your notes for that too, I suppose?”

“Of course, and they’re…”

“… in your diary.”

“What can I do?” asked Jim, rather plaintively for someone of his age and experience.

Professionally, he adhered to an idea of himself that was, by minute degrees, becoming unsustainable. It was vision of Jim in his heyday. Cutting edge Jim. Tireless Jim.

Today, though, but not just today, he felt like a stranded child.

Without warning he is waiting by the weighing scales in Marks and Spencer’s, St Albans. He thinks that he is four years old, but he is not sure about this. He wants to step on to the platform of the towering red machine so that he can see better, perhaps find his mother. Somehow, though, he understands that this is for grown-ups only and you have to have money, which he certainly does not have.

Giants move past him. Most ignore him. Some, though, beam down at him, their faces expanding into Cheshire cat grins before disappearing. Others have children, unlike him, safely tethered to a mother or a father by the leash of an arm, the strap of a bag or the handle of a shopping basket.

He cannot remember when the gravitational pull between them weakened and fell apart. It must have been his fault – always distracted, wandering off! But, then, why was his mother so interested in these clothes hanging on endless rails locking in a smell that he would always recall as shop?

“It smells of shop!” he would say, not yet understanding that this is the absence of smells -the aromas of the home, the people, the cooking, the cleaning or lack of, the windows opened or left shut, the dogs or no dogs, the damp or the damp-proofed. It added smells. Personalised.

Somewhere between the braziers and the corsets he finds himself gazing upwards – always upwards when you are little – into a motherless world. Tentatively he tries a few steps this way and that, peering along the fabric corridors. He is looking for a face. The task would have been easier had he registered that his mother had worn a bright green dress to go shopping. But, though his memory is pin-point accurate, it is also selective. His mother is a face and, yes, she is also a smell.

Strangely, he does not cry.

Instead, he imagines a life without his family. He might be taken to a police station, given cups of tea and cake while he waits for an unknown future. Everything he has known will slowly alter, as clothes alter hanging on the washing line in his back garden where the pole with a funny Y-shaped end keeps everything aloft.

There might be a new mother, one who does not shout at him, or tell him that he’s annoying and naughty and bad; a mother that holds tight his hand even when the forest of clothes tempts her further and further in.

For now, though, he has only the present and his four-year-old reason tells him that he must guard the exit. He must not let her escape. Standing by the double doors below the weighing machine he surveys the constant goings with the concentration of a predatorial bird.

A man in a blue suit drifts unexpectedly towards him.

“Hello, little boy,” he says.

Jim does not reply.

“What are you doing here?” asks the man and Jim looks up noticing a thin black moustache on his upper lip.

Jim is aware of every muscle in his undeveloped body contracting. He is turning himself into a tight knot. He ignores this new person but the man persists.

“Are you lost?”

The boy notices for the first time that the man in the blue suit has a badge. He has always wanted a badge. A badge shows you are important.

There is a long silence. The man does not go away but, instead, a hand like some strange sun-starved creature emerges from the cave of a jacket sleeve. It moves stealthily towards him.

The four-year-old steps back and the little knot of his being tenses.

“It’s all right,” says the man who has contorted his face into an odd kind of smile. “Don’t be afraid. I’m here to help you.” And for some reason he is pointing at his badge. “You come along with me and we’ll sort this muddle out.”

Jim panics. “I can’t,” he says. “I’m waiting for my mum.”

“Ok,” says the other who, out of nowhere, is joined by a woman wearing the type of glasses that point up at the corners. Like the man, she has a badge and, as her face sinks level with Jim’s, he notices that she also has a small moustache.

“What’s your name?” she asks from a bright red lip-sticky mouth that is too close for comfort.

And suddenly it is gone. The name that was there a moment ago has, like his mother, abruptly vanished.

“What’s your name?” repeats the woman.

“I don’t know,” murmurs Jim. “I can’t remember.”

 ~

 “It least it’s not as bad as that!” said Jim out of the blue.

“Sorry?” said Sonya .

“Sorry,” said Jim. “I was thinking about something else.”

“The diary.”

“Yes.”

“We need a plan to get you through the week.”

“I need to try and remember where I last had it.”

“It’s Sunday!” exclaimed Sonya through clenched teeth. “We’re running out of time.”

“Of course,” replied her husband. “You’re quite right. I need to think about next week, and the week after. Oh dear… I seem to be losing touch. You’re quite right – prioritise. That’s what I’m always telling the schools. So… right.

Tomorrow’s sorted, or pretty much. Wednesday I can deal with. I’ll just need to phone.”

“We should start making a list of things to do,” contributed Jim’s wife.

“Good idea,” he agreed and went off to rummage for a pad and pencil in his study.

He searches distractedly, his mind diverted from the task by a niggling need to see into the future. But all he sees, straining to recall what had yet to be, is a dense forest – perhaps at dawn or even dusk – a time of day when light had not properly asserted itself. Trees stand as pillars of certainty, everything he knows for sure – his home, his wife, his favourite tie, his car registration number, the days of the week, the seven times table, the name of the Prime Minister – it is a crowded forest. Astonishing, Jim thinks, what knowledge a person carries with them.

Between the gloomy trunks odd shapes, which he recognises as the manifestation of ideas, materialise without warning, tauntingly revealing, teasing and tempting him to grab and wrestle them back into his memory. There are faces, too – colleagues, acquaintances. The headteacher of Stanborough appears smiling from the scar of a broken branch and the friendly Asian man who serves at the petrol station sits Buddha-like in a nest of roots. Ask them, he thinks. Find out. But the images dissolve before he can remember the questions he must ask and he is left mouthing empty speech bubbles at the rear view of Julie, his admin assistant who is walking briskly into the distance scattering papers as she goes.

“Jim… Jim, wake up.” Sonya, curious at her husband’s unexpectedly long absence had come to find him in his office chair, chin on chest, neck stretched into a slumbering arch. “Wake up,” she repeated. “I’ve had an idea. It’s simple… really simple.”

Slowly rousing himself, the husband clumsily tuned into Sonya’s frequency, the sense of her inspiration becoming increasingly more coherent.

“Simple. Send an email out to all the schools and establishments that you’re working with explaining exactly what has happened. You might even make a joke about it. Ask then to let you have all dates, notes and so forth where you are involved.”

“Hmm,” growled Sonya’s husband.

“Then do the same for all your colleagues and Julie. Gather all the information together and start a new diary. I’ll help you. I could be your home secretary.”

“But it’ll be humiliating. I’ll be a laughing stock.”

“No… they’ll understand. Be honest. Six months from now, they will all have forgotten about it.”

“Perhaps.”

And just as the emotional scales in the room were about to tip into the despairing, the son walked into the room clutching the diary.

“Is this what you’re looking for, Dad?”

“Christ!” exclaimed Jim, instinctively clutching the rope that would drag him out of his hole. “Where did you find it.?”

“It was in the rose buses, next to where you park your car.”

“Bloody hell… of course.”

“You must have dropped it when you came back from the doctors,” said Sonya.

“Yes. Thanks. Problem solved. I’ll be OK,” said Jim while indicating that his wife and son could now leave him to get on with his work.

“Well done,” said Sonya to her son.

“It was just luck,” he replied. “Freya found it while playing hide and seek.”

“Well thank you, Freya.”

 ~

 Jim lifts the cover of his diary. Everything will be all right now. His memory will be restored. What happened, what is and what will be is recorded within its pages. For sure, it has spent a couple of days lying outside. The rain has smudged the entries and some creature has nibbled holes in several pages, most noticeably in the notes about Stanborough.

But it’ll be OK.

“It’ll be all right,” he tells himself.

Jim’s Diary

 

 

 

“Write it down; write it down,” the GP had said, repeating himself, Jim assumed, for emphasis. “Perfectly understandable at our age… memory’s not what it was… names, that sort of thing.”

“But I’m only fifty-eight,” protested his patient.

“Really?” replied the doctor, peering over the top of his spectacles and then down at his notes. “Er… yes… of course.”

He was about to retire – a member of what he referred to as the old school. Time to pass the baton; give the youngsters a go; hand over the keys to the safe etc.

“Anyway… write it down, Frank. Write it down.”

“Jim,” corrected Jim.

“Quite… yes. Er… hm. Do as I say, eh? Not as I do.”

Sitting in the car, that Friday morning, outside the practise Jim reflected that, although the GP had told him nothing he didn’t already know, it would probably be a good idea to be more systematic about supporting his failing memory with specifically targeted notes.

As a schools’ advisor his diary played a vital role in his working life. Dates for meetings; focuses of meetings, names of headteachers, team meetings, dates for courses, report deadlines, inspection dates and so on. But there were other areas that were proving problematical, not critically at this stage, though it would be very useful, for example, to be able to recall the names of the school secretaries where he visited. To be on first name terms with such key personnel, he knew, smoothed the way to a successful engagement.

Jim resolved to start a new notebook recording such details.

Over the weekend his son and two small grandchildren came to visit. The weather had been exceptionally good for April and the children had enjoyed playing out in the garden with their father while Jim’s wife, Sonya, and their daughter in law had long conversations in the kitchen and he tried to remember the name of the oldest grandchild.

He wanted to write it down.

Frustratingly, he knew that the next day the name would be there, tripping off his tongue with ease while, annoyingly, the name of the youngest child might disappear. It was like trying to keep eels in a bucket.

“Where did that comparison come from?” he thinks.

And then he recalls a time on the towpath of the River Lee. He was fourteen years old and mad about fishing. Another angler had told him that if you fish on the bottom with a dead gudgeon you’ll get eels … and boy do they fight.

It proved to be true.

Within an hour young Jim had fought with three eels. Even out of the water they battled like a boy scout’s knot manual coming to life and inhabiting a bad dream. Jim was patient, though, and when, eventually the slimy battle to get the creatures off the hook had been won and he had dropped them into a bucket of river water ready for weighing, measuring and releasing before the end of the session, they continued to assert their anguilla identity, scaling the wall of the bucket, snaking their way along the gravel tow path in pursuit of watery freedom.

And Jim, leaving his rod in the rest that he’d bought with his birthday money, would chase after them scooping up a handful of sharp grit along with half a yard of slippery, yellow-green muscle that immediately attempted to manacle him or climb in to the flapping sleeve of his shirt.

“Cup of tea, Jim?” It was Sonya.

“Please.” He wanted to ask her… ask her the child’s name. But he stopped short.

It was Jim’s habit, at about six on a Sunday evening to retreat to his study in order to review the week ahead. Settling down, content that the problem of the name had been resolved because his son had shouted at her, Jim reached for his diary. He always left it on a pile of waiting-to-be-read government reports on the left hand side of his computer screen. However, on this particular evening, his hand closed around a copy of Academising Coasting Ethnic Groups and White Working Class Boys in a Multicultural Community. The diary was not there.

“Sonya!?”

After scouring the house, Jim thought that he might have put the document on the roof of his car on leaving the doctors’ and, on the off chance that it would still be there, he raced back, searching the now empty car park, without success.

“Where should you be tomorrow?” asked his wife, on his return, trying to be calm and helpful. “Let’s take it step by step.”

“Saint Augustine’s.”

“Good. What time?”

“I think it was nine-thirty, but I’m not sure.”

“Phone them in the morning at eight-thirty and ask for confirmation.”

“Good idea. Thanks,” said Jim, his heart rate decreasing a little. “I think there was a meeting at County Hall later on. I could get in touch with my admin assistant…”

“Julie?”

“Yes, Julie. She can sort that out.”

“So that’s tomorrow,” said Sonya.

“Yes.”

“Can you remember what you had on during the rest of the week?”

“Let me think… Yes, Stanborough Primary. Pretty sure that was Wednesday”

“What time?”

“I know I’m leading a staff meeting, so I’ll need to be there at three-thirty.”

“Good,” said Sonya. “That’s something else sorted.”

“Not completely,” Jim contradicted. “I’ll need to prepare but that’ll be tricky because I don’t know what the staff meeting was about. It’ll be in my notes, though.”

“Which are..?”

“In my diary.”

Sonya poured her husband a cup of tea in the hope that its comforting colour and warmth would relax him making it easier for him to access his memory.

“Thursday I’m in the office all day. That’s my report writing day. I try and keep Thursday’s free for that.”

“You’ll need your notes for that too, I suppose?”

“Of course, and they’re…”

“… in your diary.”

“What can I do?” asked Jim, rather plaintively for someone of his age and experience.

Professionally, he adhered to an idea of himself that was, by minute degrees, becoming unsustainable. It was vision of Jim in his heyday. Cutting edge Jim. Tireless Jim.

Today, though, but not just today, he felt like a stranded child.

Without warning he is waiting by the weighing scales in Marks and Spencer’s, St Albans. He thinks that he is four years old, but he is not sure about this. He wants to step on to the platform of the towering red machine so that he can see better, perhaps find his mother. Somehow, though, he understands that this is for grown-ups only and you have to have money, which he certainly does not have.

Giants move past him. Most ignore him. Some, though, beam down at him, their faces expanding into Cheshire cat grins before disappearing. Others have children, unlike him, safely tethered to a mother or a father by the leash of an arm, the strap of a bag or the handle of a shopping basket.

He cannot remember when the gravitational pull between them weakened and fell apart. It must have been his fault – always distracted, wandering off! But, then, why was his mother so interested in these clothes hanging on endless rails locking in a smell that he would always recall as shop?

“It smells of shop!” he would say, not yet understanding that this is the absence of smells -the aromas of the home, the people, the cooking, the cleaning or lack of, the windows opened or left shut, the dogs or no dogs, the damp or the damp-proofed. It added smells. Personalised.

Somewhere between the braziers and the corsets he finds himself gazing upwards – always upwards when you are little – into a motherless world. Tentatively he tries a few steps this way and that, peering along the fabric corridors. He is looking for a face. The task would have been easier had he registered that his mother had worn a bright green dress to go shopping. But, though his memory is pin-point accurate, it is also selective. His mother is a face and, yes, she is also a smell.

Strangely, he does not cry.

Instead, he imagines a life without his family. He might be taken to a police station, given cups of tea and cake while he waits for an unknown future. Everything he has known will slowly alter, as clothes alter hanging on the washing line in his back garden where the pole with a funny Y-shaped end keeps everything aloft.

There might be a new mother, one who does not shout at him, or tell him that he’s annoying and naughty and bad; a mother that holds tight his hand even when the forest of clothes tempts her further and further in.

For now, though, he has only the present and his four-year-old reason tells him that he must guard the exit. He must not let her escape. Standing by the double doors below the weighing machine he surveys the constant goings with the concentration of a predatorial bird.

A man in a blue suit drifts unexpectedly towards him.

“Hello, little boy,” he says.

Jim does not reply.

“What are you doing here?” asks the man and Jim looks up noticing a thin black moustache on his upper lip.

Jim is aware of every muscle in his undeveloped body contracting. He is turning himself into a tight knot. He ignores this new person but the man persists.

“Are you lost?”

The boy notices for the first time that the man in the blue suit has a badge. He has always wanted a badge. A badge shows you are important.

There is a long silence. The man does not go away but, instead, a hand like some strange sun-starved creature emerges from the cave of a jacket sleeve. It moves stealthily towards him.

The four-year-old steps back and the little knot of his being tenses.

“It’s all right,” says the man who has contorted his face into an odd kind of smile. “Don’t be afraid. I’m here to help you.” And for some reason he is pointing at his badge. “You come along with me and we’ll sort this muddle out.”

Jim panics. “I can’t,” he says. “I’m waiting for my mum.”

“Ok,” says the other who, out of nowhere, is joined by a woman wearing the type of glasses that point up at the corners. Like the man, she has a badge and, as her face sinks level with Jim’s, he notices that she also has a small moustache.

“What’s your name?” she asks from a bright red lip-sticky mouth that is too close for comfort.

And suddenly it is gone. The name that was there a moment ago has, like his mother, abruptly vanished.

“What’s your name?” repeats the woman.

“I don’t know,” murmurs Jim. “I can’t remember.”

~

“It least it’s not as bad as that!” said Jim out of the blue.

“Sorry?” said Sonya .

“Sorry,” said Jim. “I was thinking about something else.”

“The diary.”

“Yes.”

“We need a plan to get you through the week.”

“I need to try and remember where I last had it.”

“It’s Sunday!” exclaimed Sonya through clenched teeth. “We’re running out of time.”

“Of course,” replied her husband. “You’re quite right. I need to think about next week, and the week after. Oh dear… I seem to be losing touch. You’re quite right – prioritise. That’s what I’m always telling the schools. So… right.

Tomorrow’s sorted, or pretty much. Wednesday I can deal with. I’ll just need to phone.”

“We should start making a list of things to do,” contributed Jim’s wife.

“Good idea,” he agreed and went off to rummage for a pad and pencil in his study.

He searches distractedly, his mind diverted from the task by a niggling need to see into the future. But all he sees, straining to recall what had yet to be, is a dense forest – perhaps at dawn or even dusk – a time of day when light had not properly asserted itself. Trees stand as pillars of certainty, everything he knows for sure – his home, his wife, his favourite tie, his car registration number, the days of the week, the seven times table, the name of the Prime Minister – it is a crowded forest. Astonishing, Jim thinks, what knowledge a person carries with them.

Between the gloomy trunks odd shapes, which he recognises as the manifestation of ideas, materialise without warning, tauntingly revealing, teasing and tempting him to grab and wrestle them back into his memory. There are faces, too – colleagues, acquaintances. The headteacher of Stanborough appears smiling from the scar of a broken branch and the friendly Asian man who serves at the petrol station sits Buddha-like in a nest of roots. Ask them, he thinks. Find out. But the images dissolve before he can remember the questions he must ask and he is left mouthing empty speech bubbles at the rear view of Julie, his admin assistant who is walking briskly into the distance scattering papers as she goes.

“Jim… Jim, wake up.” Sonya, curious at her husband’s unexpectedly long absence had come to find him in his office chair, chin on chest, neck stretched into a slumbering arch. “Wake up,” she repeated. “I’ve had an idea. It’s simple… really simple.”

Slowly rousing himself, the husband clumsily tuned into Sonya’s frequency, the sense of her inspiration becoming increasingly more coherent.

“Simple. Send an email out to all the schools and establishments that you’re working with explaining exactly what has happened. You might even make a joke about it. Ask then to let you have all dates, notes and so forth where you are involved.”

“Hmm,” growled Sonya’s husband.

“Then do the same for all your colleagues and Julie. Gather all the information together and start a new diary. I’ll help you. I could be your home secretary.”

“But it’ll be humiliating. I’ll be a laughing stock.”

“No… they’ll understand. Be honest. Six months from now, they will all have forgotten about it.”

“Perhaps.”

And just as the emotional scales in the room were about to tip into the despairing, the son walked into the room clutching the diary.

“Is this what you’re looking for, Dad?”

“Christ!” exclaimed Jim, instinctively clutching the rope that would drag him out of his hole. “Where did you find it.?”

“It was in the rose buses, next to where you park your car.”

“Bloody hell… of course.”

“You must have dropped it when you came back from the doctors,” said Sonya.

“Yes. Thanks. Problem solved. I’ll be OK,” said Jim while indicating that his wife and son could now leave him to get on with his work.

“Well done,” said Sonya to her son.

“It was just luck,” he replied. “Freya found it while playing hide and seek.”

“Well thank you, Freya.”

~

Jim lifts the cover of his diary. Everything will be all right now. His memory will be restored. What happened, what is and what will be is recorded within its pages. For sure, it has spent a couple of days lying outside. The rain has smudged the entries and some creature has nibbled holes in several pages, most noticeably in the notes about Stanborough.

But it’ll be OK.

“It’ll be all right,” he tells himself.

Jim’s Diary

 

 

 

“Write it down; write it down,” the GP had said, repeating himself, Jim assumed, for emphasis. “Perfectly understandable at our age… memory’s not what it was… names, that sort of thing.”

“But I’m only fifty-eight,” protested his patient.

“Really?” replied the doctor, peering over the top of his spectacles and then down at his notes. “Er… yes… of course.”

He was about to retire – a member of what he referred to as the old school. Time to pass the baton; give the youngsters a go; hand over the keys to the safe etc.

“Anyway… write it down, Frank. Write it down.”

“Jim,” corrected Jim.

“Quite… yes. Er… hm. Do as I say, eh? Not as I do.”

Sitting in the car, that Friday morning, outside the practise Jim reflected that, although the GP had told him nothing he didn’t already know, it would probably be a good idea to be more systematic about supporting his failing memory with specifically targeted notes.

As a schools’ advisor his diary played a vital role in his working life. Dates for meetings; focuses of meetings, names of headteachers, team meetings, dates for courses, report deadlines, inspection dates and so on. But there were other areas that were proving problematical, not critically at this stage, though it would be very useful, for example, to be able to recall the names of the school secretaries where he visited. To be on first name terms with such key personnel, he knew, smoothed the way to a successful engagement.

Jim resolved to start a new notebook recording such details.

Over the weekend his son and two small grandchildren came to visit. The weather had been exceptionally good for April and the children had enjoyed playing out in the garden with their father while Jim’s wife, Sonya, and their daughter in law had long conversations in the kitchen and he tried to remember the name of the oldest grandchild.

He wanted to write it down.

Frustratingly, he knew that the next day the name would be there, tripping off his tongue with ease while, annoyingly, the name of the youngest child might disappear. It was like trying to keep eels in a bucket.

“Where did that comparison come from?” he thinks.

And then he recalls a time on the towpath of the River Lee. He was fourteen years old and mad about fishing. Another angler had told him that if you fish on the bottom with a dead gudgeon you’ll get eels … and boy do they fight.

It proved to be true.

Within an hour young Jim had fought with three eels. Even out of the water they battled like a boy scout’s knot manual coming to life and inhabiting a bad dream. Jim was patient, though, and when, eventually the slimy battle to get the creatures off the hook had been won and he had dropped them into a bucket of river water ready for weighing, measuring and releasing before the end of the session, they continued to assert their anguilla identity, scaling the wall of the bucket, snaking their way along the gravel tow path in pursuit of watery freedom.

And Jim, leaving his rod in the rest that he’d bought with his birthday money, would chase after them scooping up a handful of sharp grit along with half a yard of slippery, yellow-green muscle that immediately attempted to manacle him or climb in to the flapping sleeve of his shirt.

“Cup of tea, Jim?” It was Sonya.

“Please.” He wanted to ask her… ask her the child’s name. But he stopped short.

It was Jim’s habit, at about six on a Sunday evening to retreat to his study in order to review the week ahead. Settling down, content that the problem of the name had been resolved because his son had shouted at her, Jim reached for his diary. He always left it on a pile of waiting-to-be-read government reports on the left hand side of his computer screen. However, on this particular evening, his hand closed around a copy of Academising Coasting Ethnic Groups and White Working Class Boys in a Multicultural Community. The diary was not there.

“Sonya!?”

After scouring the house, Jim thought that he might have put the document on the roof of his car on leaving the doctors’ and, on the off chance that it would still be there, he raced back, searching the now empty car park, without success.

“Where should you be tomorrow?” asked his wife, on his return, trying to be calm and helpful. “Let’s take it step by step.”

“Saint Augustine’s.”

“Good. What time?”

“I think it was nine-thirty, but I’m not sure.”

“Phone them in the morning at eight-thirty and ask for confirmation.”

“Good idea. Thanks,” said Jim, his heart rate decreasing a little. “I think there was a meeting at County Hall later on. I could get in touch with my admin assistant…”

“Julie?”

“Yes, Julie. She can sort that out.”

“So that’s tomorrow,” said Sonya.

“Yes.”

“Can you remember what you had on during the rest of the week?”

“Let me think… Yes, Stanborough Primary. Pretty sure that was Wednesday”

“What time?”

“I know I’m leading a staff meeting, so I’ll need to be there at three-thirty.”

“Good,” said Sonya. “That’s something else sorted.”

“Not completely,” Jim contradicted. “I’ll need to prepare but that’ll be tricky because I don’t know what the staff meeting was about. It’ll be in my notes, though.”

“Which are..?”

“In my diary.”

Sonya poured her husband a cup of tea in the hope that its comforting colour and warmth would relax him making it easier for him to access his memory.

“Thursday I’m in the office all day. That’s my report writing day. I try and keep Thursday’s free for that.”

“You’ll need your notes for that too, I suppose?”

“Of course, and they’re…”

“… in your diary.”

“What can I do?” asked Jim, rather plaintively for someone of his age and experience.

Professionally, he adhered to an idea of himself that was, by minute degrees, becoming unsustainable. It was vision of Jim in his heyday. Cutting edge Jim. Tireless Jim.

Today, though, but not just today, he felt like a stranded child.

Without warning he is waiting by the weighing scales in Marks and Spencer’s, St Albans. He thinks that he is four years old, but he is not sure about this. He wants to step on to the platform of the towering red machine so that he can see better, perhaps find his mother. Somehow, though, he understands that this is for grown-ups only and you have to have money, which he certainly does not have.

Giants move past him. Most ignore him. Some, though, beam down at him, their faces expanding into Cheshire cat grins before disappearing. Others have children, unlike him, safely tethered to a mother or a father by the leash of an arm, the strap of a bag or the handle of a shopping basket.

He cannot remember when the gravitational pull between them weakened and fell apart. It must have been his fault – always distracted, wandering off! But, then, why was his mother so interested in these clothes hanging on endless rails locking in a smell that he would always recall as shop?

“It smells of shop!” he would say, not yet understanding that this is the absence of smells -the aromas of the home, the people, the cooking, the cleaning or lack of, the windows opened or left shut, the dogs or no dogs, the damp or the damp-proofed. It added smells. Personalised.

Somewhere between the braziers and the corsets he finds himself gazing upwards – always upwards when you are little – into a motherless world. Tentatively he tries a few steps this way and that, peering along the fabric corridors. He is looking for a face. The task would have been easier had he registered that his mother had worn a bright green dress to go shopping. But, though his memory is pin-point accurate, it is also selective. His mother is a face and, yes, she is also a smell.

Strangely, he does not cry.

Instead, he imagines a life without his family. He might be taken to a police station, given cups of tea and cake while he waits for an unknown future. Everything he has known will slowly alter, as clothes alter hanging on the washing line in his back garden where the pole with a funny Y-shaped end keeps everything aloft.

There might be a new mother, one who does not shout at him, or tell him that he’s annoying and naughty and bad; a mother that holds tight his hand even when the forest of clothes tempts her further and further in.

For now, though, he has only the present and his four-year-old reason tells him that he must guard the exit. He must not let her escape. Standing by the double doors below the weighing machine he surveys the constant goings with the concentration of a predatorial bird.

A man in a blue suit drifts unexpectedly towards him.

“Hello, little boy,” he says.

Jim does not reply.

“What are you doing here?” asks the man and Jim looks up noticing a thin black moustache on his upper lip.

Jim is aware of every muscle in his undeveloped body contracting. He is turning himself into a tight knot. He ignores this new person but the man persists.

“Are you lost?”

The boy notices for the first time that the man in the blue suit has a badge. He has always wanted a badge. A badge shows you are important.

There is a long silence. The man does not go away but, instead, a hand like some strange sun-starved creature emerges from the cave of a jacket sleeve. It moves stealthily towards him.

The four-year-old steps back and the little knot of his being tenses.

“It’s all right,” says the man who has contorted his face into an odd kind of smile. “Don’t be afraid. I’m here to help you.” And for some reason he is pointing at his badge. “You come along with me and we’ll sort this muddle out.”

Jim panics. “I can’t,” he says. “I’m waiting for my mum.”

“Ok,” says the other who, out of nowhere, is joined by a woman wearing the type of glasses that point up at the corners. Like the man, she has a badge and, as her face sinks level with Jim’s, he notices that she also has a small moustache.

“What’s your name?” she asks from a bright red lip-sticky mouth that is too close for comfort.

And suddenly it is gone. The name that was there a moment ago has, like his mother, abruptly vanished.

“What’s your name?” repeats the woman.

“I don’t know,” murmurs Jim. “I can’t remember.”

~

“It least it’s not as bad as that!” said Jim out of the blue.

“Sorry?” said Sonya .

“Sorry,” said Jim. “I was thinking about something else.”

“The diary.”

“Yes.”

“We need a plan to get you through the week.”

“I need to try and remember where I last had it.”

“It’s Sunday!” exclaimed Sonya through clenched teeth. “We’re running out of time.”

“Of course,” replied her husband. “You’re quite right. I need to think about next week, and the week after. Oh dear… I seem to be losing touch. You’re quite right – prioritise. That’s what I’m always telling the schools. So… right.

Tomorrow’s sorted, or pretty much. Wednesday I can deal with. I’ll just need to phone.”

“We should start making a list of things to do,” contributed Jim’s wife.

“Good idea,” he agreed and went off to rummage for a pad and pencil in his study.

He searches distractedly, his mind diverted from the task by a niggling need to see into the future. But all he sees, straining to recall what had yet to be, is a dense forest – perhaps at dawn or even dusk – a time of day when light had not properly asserted itself. Trees stand as pillars of certainty, everything he knows for sure – his home, his wife, his favourite tie, his car registration number, the days of the week, the seven times table, the name of the Prime Minister – it is a crowded forest. Astonishing, Jim thinks, what knowledge a person carries with them.

Between the gloomy trunks odd shapes, which he recognises as the manifestation of ideas, materialise without warning, tauntingly revealing, teasing and tempting him to grab and wrestle them back into his memory. There are faces, too – colleagues, acquaintances. The headteacher of Stanborough appears smiling from the scar of a broken branch and the friendly Asian man who serves at the petrol station sits Buddha-like in a nest of roots. Ask them, he thinks. Find out. But the images dissolve before he can remember the questions he must ask and he is left mouthing empty speech bubbles at the rear view of Julie, his admin assistant who is walking briskly into the distance scattering papers as she goes.

“Jim… Jim, wake up.” Sonya, curious at her husband’s unexpectedly long absence had come to find him in his office chair, chin on chest, neck stretched into a slumbering arch. “Wake up,” she repeated. “I’ve had an idea. It’s simple… really simple.”

Slowly rousing himself, the husband clumsily tuned into Sonya’s frequency, the sense of her inspiration becoming increasingly more coherent.

“Simple. Send an email out to all the schools and establishments that you’re working with explaining exactly what has happened. You might even make a joke about it. Ask then to let you have all dates, notes and so forth where you are involved.”

“Hmm,” growled Sonya’s husband.

“Then do the same for all your colleagues and Julie. Gather all the information together and start a new diary. I’ll help you. I could be your home secretary.”

“But it’ll be humiliating. I’ll be a laughing stock.”

“No… they’ll understand. Be honest. Six months from now, they will all have forgotten about it.”

“Perhaps.”

And just as the emotional scales in the room were about to tip into the despairing, the son walked into the room clutching the diary.

“Is this what you’re looking for, Dad?”

“Christ!” exclaimed Jim, instinctively clutching the rope that would drag him out of his hole. “Where did you find it.?”

“It was in the rose buses, next to where you park your car.”

“Bloody hell… of course.”

“You must have dropped it when you came back from the doctors,” said Sonya.

“Yes. Thanks. Problem solved. I’ll be OK,” said Jim while indicating that his wife and son could now leave him to get on with his work.

“Well done,” said Sonya to her son.

“It was just luck,” he replied. “Freya found it while playing hide and seek.”

“Well thank you, Freya.”

~

Jim lifts the cover of his diary. Everything will be all right now. His memory will be restored. What happened, what is and what will be is recorded within its pages. For sure, it has spent a couple of days lying outside. The rain has smudged the entries and some creature has nibbled holes in several pages, most noticeably in the notes about Stanborough.

But it’ll be OK.

“It’ll be all right,” he tells himself.

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