A Photograph and a Memory

Cardiff University main building

I was born on the 16th June 1953 in the great industrial city of Birmingham in the West Midlands. I had a very happy childhood.

I went to University in Cardiff in 1971 to study English Literature, having got 2 Bs and a C in my A levels.

The photograph above was taken about two years later. I’m in my early 20s. I’m sitting on the roof of Cardiff University main building overlooking the concourse in the centre of town, within walking distance of the Arts Block building and the Art Gallery & Museum. In order to get to the roof I’ve had to climb through an open window from a corridor on the second floor. It’s strictly out of bounds and I’m very nervous.

I’m wearing a white linen jacket with a red and green felt flower in the lapel. Around my neck is a green scarf on which is embroidered a racing greyhound. I have on monkey boots and brushed cotton loon pants. My hair is quite long and, as yet, without any sign of grey.

I thought I cut quite a dashing character, colourful and flamboyant, though really it was a disguise to cover up my innate shyness.

As you can see, I’m clutching a camera case. The camera belongs to my friend Lois who took the photograph. Later that year Lois and I were married. It was a marriage of convenience. Lois, being from Zimbabwe, needed a British passport in order to stay in the country. I agreed and it is a measure of the time, and of my attitude, that the reason I gave for the marriage was so we could throw a party.

Lois and I are still very good friends.

There’s one curious anomaly in the photograph: that ring on my right hand middle finger. You can see it more clearly when the photograph is enlarged. It looks distinctly out of place since, in my own mind, I’m not the sort of person who ever wears a ring. It has taken looking at the photograph for me to remember it.

It was given to me by my parents to mark my 18th birthday, which means that by this time I‘d been wearing it for at least three years. It’s a gold signet ring. I remember my grandfather wearing a similar ring when I was a child, but, up until this moment, I had no memory of me wearing one.

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Character

That ring marks a change. At some point I must have taken it off. There was a decision involved. Before that I was the sort of person who might wear a ring, like I might wear a scarf with a racing greyhound embroidered upon it, or a white linen jacket with a felt flower in the lapel. After that I became the sort of person who never wears a ring. I was fixing my character, tethering it like a boat to a dock, in order to secure it.

In fact over the years I’ve not just tethered my character, I’ve built the dock around it.

This is how we become who we are. Bit by bit, year by year, we build the structures that define us, in repeated patterns of behaviour. We grind them into our souls. We say, “this is me, this is mine”, referring to our habits of thought, our likes and dislikes. We define our tastes. We weigh ourselves down with opinions and anchor ourselves with beliefs. We start to say we know who we are.

I look at that young man on a roof outside Cardiff University library, and I remember some things about him. I remember how nervous he was that day. I remember his friends and where he lived and how he spent his days. He smoked a lot of dope back then and read a lot of books. He was searching for something, something hazy and ill-defined. For his character, perhaps.

But his character was never a fixed thing. It was more fluid and playful back then, more sinuously alive. Sometimes he was sunny, sometimes he was serious, like the flow of days around him. Sometimes he was in strong pursuit of an ideal. But the character was more like a river than a building, free-flowing, sparkling, rolling easily around the objects in his landscape, always moving, never fixed. More natural, in fact.

And then one day he took his ring off and he thought, “I’m not the sort of person who ever wears a ring.”

And he's been building on that moment ever since.

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Comments 10 comments

The Indexer profile image

The Indexer 7 years ago from UK

CJ,

You and I have quite a lot in common! We are about the same age - although I'm nearly a year older - in that we started at Uni in the same year. I had a gap year of sorts, so started my degree course at age 19, not 18.

When you were signing on at Cardiff, I was doing the same at Bangor!

We both did Eng Lit, although I did joint honours with Philosophy. My A-levels were not quite as good as yours (a B and two Cs), but I did get a Merit at "S" level in Eng Lit.

I have never worn any sort of ring, and my hair used to be a lot longer (but never THAT long!)

However, I have never had a beard, and even today my hair is only slightly grey at the temples!

Thanks for the trip down Memory Lane!


CJStone profile image

CJStone 7 years ago from Whitstable, UK Author

Hi Indexer, well my hair is entirely grey now, a process which started in my late 20s. I was already about as grey as you by the time I was 32, and have been getting greyer by the day ever since.

How did you do in your degree?

Me: I was hippie and I dropped out, but then retook it in 1981 and got a 2-1 at Britol Poly.

Great to hear we have so much in common.


Benson Yeung profile image

Benson Yeung 7 years ago from Hong Kong

I clicked into this hub because of the title. The song "photographs and memories" was one of my favorites when I was in my teens. So here I am, at the nostalgics anonymous.


CJStone profile image

CJStone 7 years ago from Whitstable, UK Author

Nostalgia just isn't what it used to be Benson.


The Indexer profile image

The Indexer 7 years ago from UK

I only managed a 2-2, but it was generally agreed that joint honours students did about two-thirds of two degrees, so that might have equated to a 2-1 had I stuck to a single subject. At least, that's my story and I'm sticking to it!

It didn't stop me from going to Aberystwyth in 1975 to do a diploma course in Librarianship, or from returning in 1987 to do a master's degree.

I know my way round Bristol a bit, too. I had a temporary job in 1988-9 with Hewlett Packard Labs in North Bristol, while living at Weston-super-Mare.


Amanda Severn profile image

Amanda Severn 7 years ago from UK

Strange, isn't it, looking at old photos of ourselves, and finding out how much we have changed, and not just physically. I never went to University, and in a way I regret it because it almost seems to have been a rite of passage for so many of our generation, and of course we had generous grants in those days too. I left school at 16 and took my A levels one at a time at evening classes over a period of several years. It seemed like a good thing to do at the time. Just keeping my options open in case I ever got round to applying for a university place. Perhaps I still might!


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

Hi Chris - I could trot out a few similar photos from the same period. I was at Glasgow Uni 70-74. During exam season they used to lock the door to the main tower, as a precautionary measure.


robie2 profile image

robie2 7 years ago from Central New Jersey

Ahhh CJ, you did indeed " cut quite a dashing character" in that old photo-- and when I look at your profile pic-- I think you still do. The essential you is there in both. We all know what youth is wasted on, don't we LOL. You describe soooo beautifully and personally the process of self-discovery that llife really is day by day, like water dripping on a rock. I wonder what ever happened to the ring:-)


BernieQuimpo profile image

BernieQuimpo 7 years ago from Philippines

You are such a gifted writer, CJ. I love this hub. Captures perfectly what I believe in -- that we are ever 'becoming',,,


Saachi 7 years ago

Hello, This is Saachi. I'm rather new to Hubpages and have just written one page about my visit to England. I did read your comment once (thank you for your suggestion where else I should visit on my next visit) and then I saw the photo of you smiling. I clicked on the links and here I am, having read your pages, I think you're fantastic, as well as a fantastic writer! Just as other people commented that you have a nice writing style that let your thought flow like a river. I really like that! Thank you for letting me visit your page. I certainly enjoyed every minute of it. Saachi :-)

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