St Jerome in his study; second-hand memory, and the lure of the recent past;

Busy nights here this week. Maisie the dog is making sure I keep at it. Zak took this photo. He’s a fan of Vermeer.


Too busy this week to write the next blog yet, but soon; something about a box of wartime lives I found in the street the other week. So strange a place the recent past, the time just over the horizon. The life we can imagine living because we’ve got second-hand memories of it. Almost.

And then not by a mile. Does every generation think the ones above them, the past versions of themselves, were awesomely tougher? The same way we think of people living through appalling things elsewhere in the world right now. This week the most optimistic person in Britain was Captain Sir Tom Moore,  knighted for raising over thirty-three million pounds for the NHS. ‘Tomorrow will be a great day,’ he said. This was his mantra throughout the Virus and perhaps throughout the war when he served in Burma in the famous ‘forgotten army’.

It’s a humbling experience leafing through these papers, listening to his generation speak. This is their public voice, of course. But the relentless optimism of that public voice reminds me of a remark I heard once: ‘Someone who can smile all the time has a self-control that is almost terrifying.’ Their example, personified in a trinity of the Queen, the late Dame Vera Lynn and Captain Tom, helped us through this Crisis, where each new development was extraordinary, but only for a few minutes, before people absorbed it and it became the new normal.

The act of keeping these newspapers tells us something about their owners, curating a moment of time, and experiencing it twice, right then and again as if seeing their own past viewed from the future. They kept memories of good news. Light at the end of the tunnel. D-Day, June 6th 1944. Pushing into Germany, February 25th 1945. VE Day, May 8th 1945. They lived the bad news too, but they didn’t hang on to it.

There’s only one edition from the early years of the war. Japan declares war on Britain and America December 7th 1941. That seems a surprising one to keep. Japan rolling out across a whole new theatre of the War. Then you remember that this particular bad news would’ve been a massive relief in Britain at the time. At least it brought America in at last. Tough place, the Past. Tough people.


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