The Memory Balls

I’m not a hoarder in the traditional sense. My wardrobe does not bulge with unworn clothes. My shelves are not cluttered with dust-friendly ornaments. And I’m not drowning in newspapers. My hoarding is of a more intangible nature – I hoard memories.

I see myself as a bag lady tramping the roads, weighed down by bags filled with memories, memories that are long past their sell-by date. Phone numbers I’ll never dial again. The names and ages of celebrity children. Addresses of places I’ll never visit. And more pernicious memories too. Rows that were never resolved. Words that should never have been said. I can feel the weight of those memories pressing down on my skull.

Balls of Memory

The animated film Inside Out takes you on a fascinating tour of a little girl’s brain. In the film, her memories are depicted as black balls sitting on shelves. The balls are about the size of bowling balls, and when her memories are considered redundant, the balls are simply rolled off the shelves.

memory ball
Pushing away my memory balls

Now I’ve decided to push some of my own memory balls off the shelf. But I’m going a step further. I’m taking them out of the bag and letting them smash onto the ground. The experience is oddly cleansing. The German word for table. Smash. My friend’s landline number, which I haven’t dialled in 20 years. Smash. The dinner that was three hours late. Smash. The row over disability rights campaigners falling out of windows. Smash.

My bags are starting to feel a great deal lighter as I shed my load. And the memories I want to keep have become more visible. Dancing with my nephew and singing the word “Cream.”  Swishing down a ski slope in one long, glorious movement. The sunlight slanting through the church windows as we said our wedding vows. I will polish these memory balls to a bright sheen, and curate them with care.



The Promise of Companionship

The man was sitting alone in the bar, at a big table, with several empty seats surrounding him. He shifted his papers and moved glasses away to make room for us, though it wasn’t necessary – the table was big enough for us all. He sat at one end, and we sat at the other. While our conversation flowed, he drank a pint and read his paper.

As he neared the end of his pint, a woman approached him. A scarf was knotted around her neck. As she enveloped him in a warm embrace, a curtain of brown hair brushed against the man’s shoulders.

‘It’s great to see you,’ she said in an American accented voice.

And then she was gone.

empty beer glass
The promise of companionship withdrawn


The man brought a second pint to the table and then settled down with his paper. He appeared content. Yet from across the table, we felt the rush of cold air her absence left, the promise of companionship dangled before the man, then snatched away.

The Memo

I don’t wear dresses much. Not because I don’t like them, but because they require maintenance. It isn’t just about the dress. Everything must match: the clothes, the shoes, the bag. Creating such an outfit fills many women with delight. But the prospect of it makes my skin itch.


Recently, I attended a business lunch, an occasion which would usually require a dress. But it was a buffet lunch in a converted church. I felt I had been let off the hook. Besides, I had to meet a client before I went to it. A dress and high heels is an easy look to maintain when all you have to do is glide out of a car. But I didn’t fancy schlepping into town on a bus in what I deemed to be party clothes.


Still, I felt quite respectable in my best shirt and my best pair of black trousers, with what I called my networking shoes, a shiny patent pair of flats. I tamed my unruly hair, which was in need of a haircut. I dusted off my much-neglected make-up potions and smathered them on. I told myself I’d do.


The Memo


And then I opened the door of the venue and was greeted by a riot of blues, yellows, greens, floral patterns, geometric shapes. All coming from the dresses the other women were wearing. They had all received the memo. That mysterious signal that is passed throughout the sisterhood of women, telling them what to wear. I could hear the small number of dresses in my wardrobe reproach me. Why didn’t you give us an outing,’ they cried.  ‘Why didn’t you read the memo?’


I ploughed on through the crowd, consoling myself with the thought of cocktail sausages in honey dressing. When in doubt, eat. As I made my way to the buffet table, I caught a glimpse of a pink headscarf. Its owner was not wearing a dress. Instead, she wore a tunic, the same delicate pink as her headscarf. Underneath the tunic, she wore leggings. The headscarf framed a face that was free of makeup.

Woman in Headscarf

Smiling Young Indonesian Woman
Wearing a headscarf can set you free.


A Different Memo

I always thought of the headscarf as a garment that bound you, that cloistered you, that implied a shrinking of the self. That wearing it was a form of apology for your existence. But there was no air of apology in this woman’s demeanour. She moved through the crowd with ease, smiling and joking, asking questions, offering opinions.

This is me, her clothes were saying. Take me as I am. Next to her, the other women’s dresses looked like armour. If this woman had received the memo, she would have torn it up. She followed her own memo. Watching her shored me up. I realised I didn’t need to read the memo. This woman’s memo was a lot less binding.

Life’s Little Things

We define our lives by the core-shaking events. Weddings. Funerals. The birth of babies. Moving house. Divorce. Graduations. Job promotions. But these are rare events, and that’s what makes them noteworthy. Most of our lives are made up of little things. Meals. Conversations. Outings. Journeys. Housework. Phone calls. It’s these little things that shape our lives, and that’s why it’s worth paying attention to them..

It may sound a little twee, but I genuinely believe that once you tune into life’s little things, you’ll find inspiration everywhere. Stories don’t need to be big to be worth telling. You’ll find small, illuminating stories everywhere. Our days are full of stories. Interesting encounters. Amusing anecdotes. Acts of kindness. Hilarious scrapes. And everywhere, we’re surrounded by small wonders: fresh, tasty food, beautiful vistas, banter that makes your heart sing.

Grumbles Into Gold

For fear I’m starting to sound like a human Hallmark card, I also think it’s worth paying attention to the little annoying things that happen. I know relentless positivity is in fashion these days, but I see little point in denying the fact that annoying things happen, and that they are bothersome. But I strive to turn my grumbles into gold. You can derive great amusement from annoying incidents – after they happen. And I prefer to describe myself as an eloquent ranter than a whinger.

People can be dismissive of little things. How often are we told not to sweat the small stuff? But in a world that can feel overwhelming, at least we can control the little things. And if we pay attention to them, it’s possible that bigger changes may occur. Little things can be microcosms of bigger things. It can be much easier to understand big concepts or to feel the impact of world events by anchoring them in small stories.

Rhythm of Everyday Life 

No matter what happens our lives, good or bad, we still need to attend to the little things. They remind us that life goes on. The pendulum may swing back and forth, but it always returns to the centre, beating a steady rhythm. Some people fight against this rhythm. They worry that if they get too caught up in everyday life, this will trivialise the bigger events that happen, in their lives and in the wider world.


But this rhythm helps to balance us. Even if we’ve experienced the worst possible grief, we still have to get up and dress ourselves, buy milk, scrub potatoes and pay bills. And there is a certain comfort in knowing that at least some aspects of our lives stay the same. This rhythm also dilutes our euphoria after a joyful event, but these events can bring their own stress. There’s only so much excitement the human heart can handle. Even if we’ve loved every minute of a wedding or a holiday, it can be a relief to return to that rhythm.

Celebrating Little Things

Little things make our lives richer. That’s why, even if they’re annoying or boring, they’re worth celebrating. I feel an increasing sense of their preciousness, and I feel an increasing need to capture them before they’re lost. I want to find the extraordinary in the ordinary. This is what will help me live my life fully.

What are the little things that you pay attention to, that you feel are precious?