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What are autobiographical memories?

They're specific and personal and they involve the senses

Put simply, autobiographical memory is your own personal scrapbook, containing information about you and your past experiences. But on a deeper level it involves your emotional history which feeds back into the present and helps to create your internal sense of self, as well as the public identity that you project to others about your social, moral and political beliefs.

Remembering that you had a weekend in Paris last spring is what's called 'autobiographical memory'. An autobiographical memory combines personal factual autobiographical knowledge about one's own life, e.g. "I went to Paris last year" plus very specific mental representations of moments of experience which is called 'episodic memory'. Episodic memories contain other information - sensory, perceptual and emotional memories plus information about context and time.

Lights, Music, Action!

When we recall a specific autobiographical memory, a complex mental construction process takes place. Autobiographical knowledge and episodic memories are brought together to form a fleeting mental representation that we can consciously experience as a specific autobiographical memory. It is this type of memory that is being collected in the memory survey.


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Our memory survey is still open for your autobiographical memories

John Brown
Yesterday I heard on Radio 4 a child's early memory of reaching for cherries amongst broken glass. I have a memory which coincides with that! was of cherries. I was 14 and had just bought a bag of cherries, at a street market walking up the street away from the Tube station, when an explosion happened in front of me, I ducked in a shop doorway, all the street was covered in broken glass, on the opposite side of the road a bus, which an instant before was red. was now covered in dust and tilted down, there were flames, dazed, I stepped forward, two yards in front a man lay face down in the glass, his hair all dusty and blowing in the breeze. Fire engines came behind me, a Fireman came past me and told me to "get out son go home". Carrying my paper bag of cherries I went back to the Tube station, and took the train back to Golders Green. I had to act normally, no one on the train knew anything, I could not say anything until i got home, then it flooded out. I think it was a doodlebug it was cherry time 1944 I was 14, every year at cherry time I remember all this, and now I know I am not alone.

I was in my forties, working at Boeing in Seattle. One day I saw someone whom I thought I immediately recognised. I asked him if he recognised me. No, he said, never seen you before. Where are you from? I asked. Canada he said. What is your name? Alex Unwin, he said. The Alex did it. I remembered, after thirty years and much change of face. I think you're Alex Ongar from Czechoslovakia. His jaw dropped. How on earth can you know that? he asked. We were 11 year-olds at school in Wells in England where both of us had been evacuated. As I told him I also remembered that he had been sent to Canada on an evacuee ship. He had luckily made it. I also remembered how he dressed (in a most non-English jacket), carrying his books in a music bag instead of the standard satchel. Even his voice. On the other hand, at 76 I remember little of what I did yesterday.

I was around 3yrs old, and being sent to convalesce in Wales. Vivid, detailed memories of the bus journey at night, waking up in a pink cot, being given pink porridge by someone I didn't recognise crying and frightened. There are lots more associated memories, all of which are as clear now as they were 55yrs ago. Although it is not obvious to an outsider, the experience has left me with a lifetime of fear of rejection. The stimulus of attending a colleague or friend's leaving party brings back my feelings of abandonment to the extent that I cannot say even a few words of farewell.

Ruth Calway
I certainly remember being in my pram underneath a flowering apple tree, with small dark pink flowers, against a blue, blue sky and feeling joy. The experience, I am sure, influenced and informed my entire life (I was born in 1958). After that, my earliest memory is of being two years old running up and down the garden and looking in on my baby sister in her carry cot. I can even remember, here, how I was dressed. Needless to say, all the scents and feeling, as well as the visual memory and a sort of muted sound, is also evoked.

My father, crouching down on the far side of the room, (hundreds of miles away from me, it seemed!) clapping his hands together and beckoning me. I had a feeling that, because he was beckoning, I HAD to go to him. There was no choice in this - that's just what I had to do when beckoned. But I was scared - this was a long, long way for me to walk. And, off I set. I can't remember whether or not I made it all the way across the room, but this is a clear memory of learning to walk, so it must have been around one year old.

Alan Woodburn
We left the home of my infancy when I was 2 1/2. I had a vague recall of going out of the gate, turning left and walking over a bridge where there was a cage of hens on the left. Revisiting the place when I was 17, I found that by turning RIGHT out of the gate, I passed UNDER a bridge, just BEFORE which was a coop of PIGEONS on the LEFT. Maybe I didn't know the words left, right, under, over, hen or pigeon. I am now 55, so maybe I've remembered even that wrongly.

David Crosbie
I have a few memories of memories which seem to be recalling my very early childhood. They seem to be memories at the age of three of my life a year earlier in very different circunstances. When I was two, we lived in digs in Etham, but when I was three we lived in our own detached house in Nottingham. I remembered very clearly having my hair washed in an Eltham room which was different from our Nottingham kitchen. I remember a much vaguer memory of going to the shops in Eltham, and a brief memory of my father turning up in a car. I also remember recognising these memories as like several others -- which I no longer remember. I also had a much more impressionistic visual memory with light and other sensations which I didn't really understand. There is some evidence that this might have been a birthday party with a cake and candles. Often I fancy that this was my second birthday. Thinking about these scraps of memory, I've begun to wonder whether they were waking dreams. The mundane ones, especially, suggest that I might have been learning in my sleep to adapt to a new way of life. I say this because I woke from a spectacular learning dream some years ago when I was learning the new skills of using Macintosh Operating System and Microsoft Word. In my dream I was arranging all aspects of reality with a mouse and a pull-down menu.

katie millard
My memories are often triggered by smells. I can go right back to being a small child. I was always curious about things, always poking about, opening doors, lids etc. to see what is in them. A cupboard under the stairs at my grand parents had a particular smell of unused articles, and I would later recall how I would love to hide in the cupboard so I could be alone. On opening a piano lid, the smell evoked so mucn of me just clambering about and invetigating. And then touch, I was 10 and with Hazel lying on the grass looking for 4 leaf clovers,we were at school by the side of the playground and the feel of the damp grass on my legs stays with me. Unlike me, Hazel never remembers anything about school or her childhood. this is very sad as we had great times together. I could go on for hours but |I think this little sneak through the door of my life is enough for now.

My father was the Icelandic composer Árni Björnsson. His life's story would make very interesting reading for anybody wanting to study memory and music. He was born on a farm in Iceland, just south of the Arctic Circle. To quote his biography: "He was still a small boy when his unusual musical talents first showed themselves.In 1915 his father bought a harmonium, and it quickly became apparent that the boy was much more interested in this instrument in the parlour than the sheep which he was supposed to be tending. The organ was, therefore, kept locked so that he should not be diverted from his duties. Soon after, the whole family attended the local church, where the congregation heard the music of a harmonium and four-part choir. On their return home, Árni was unusually quiet and preoccupied, and his mother (who had on occasion broken the embargo and allowed him to try the instrument) remarked his abstraction and said that he was probably pining for the harmonium and he might as well be allowed to play it for a while.It was pointed out (with some justification) that since he couldn’t read music they shouldn’t expect much of an outcome from his efforts. The boy took his seat at the instrument, he struck a few chords with both hands, humming along, then another, and another. He played a phrase, in four parts. He played the upper parts of a complete melody, then with his left hand the lower voices. Finally he played the whole melody in four parts. It was one of the hymns which had been sung in the church earlier that day – and, so far as they could tell, completely correct[...] He played on and on until he had mastered all that he had heard and learnt during the church service." He went on to become a well known composer in Iceland. At the age of 47 he was the victim of a vicious and gratuitous assault, he suffered a haemorrhage to the left hemisphere of his brain, resulting in serious disability. He had, for example, to re-learn how to read; he suffered pronounced loss of memory, being unable to recognise friends and colleagues and even his daughter. He was still, however, able to play the piano and write music, though his compositions were much changed, their vivacity and variety giving way to slower works and simpler arrangements. He seemed to have lost the sense of musical form, and turned almost exclusively to vocal music, the texts providing the structural framework which his music otherwise now lacked. His voluminous post-injury manuscripts are now held at the Icelandic National Library in Reykjavik. I was five years old when the disaster struck. Although I have memories of events and people before that age, I have no memory of my father as he was before he suffered his injury. I was presented with a completely different father, and probably wiped the memory of the one that was no more, out. My way of surviving the trauma.

I grew up in a small country town in Australia but some of my early vivid memories relate to things on television (I was born in 1958 - we got a television in late 1962). Watching girls scream as the Beatles recorded something (remember the screaming but not which song), watching a boy be operated on who had a hole in his heart - no, my parents didn't police my viewing. Also, the feeling of helplessness and fear when Russian tanks went into Prague. Was that 1968? We were so far from the rest of the world. Personal memories relate to my brothers - they were all older and so I remember overhearing from my bed that one had a black eye (not sure where or how he got it) so I got up early to check and was disappointed to see it was just red. My cot was surrounded by fly-wire and I can remember being able to stick my feet up and touch the top. Hard to imagine if you haven't seen one of these but I think it was shortly after this I got a new bed! I have married an English man and our different memories of similar periods in our lives are striking - especially when he can't remember the dates our children were born!

Dr Valerie Stewart
Some listeners to the Today programme will recall that Professor Charles Handy occasionally gives the Thought for Today, and he also appears from time to time when a wise voice with experience in business is needed. I'm an industrial psychologist, so my trade is quite close to Charles's, and had been a frequent visitor to South Africa in the apartheid years; I was running secret programmes to identify and develop black people with management potential. I also was often invited to speak at some of their management conferences. The year that Nelson Mandela was released, Charles accepted their invitation to be keynote speaker at one such conference - for 1500 people - and I was also a speaker. To be near Charles (we already knew each other) during these few days was a privilege, but there's one particular memory I'd like to share. One the last evening, they had a concert; the main singers were Des and Dawn Lindbergh, who'd been active in the anti-apartheid movement. For the first time ever, we had a splendid variety of faces in the audience and many of us could, for the first time, stop telling fibs about what we'd been doing. At some point Charles had slipped out and during that time Des and Dawn began to sing 'Love Lift You Up Where You Belong' I'm certain that there was no signal from the stage, but suddenly everyone in the audience rose up and began singing it to one another and embracing. I saw Charles re-emerge into this wonderful moment and the tears began to pour from his eyes; I gave him a big hug and said 'What you're feeling now is relief,' and he said 'I know ...' I want to re-live that moment when I'm dying, if it's allowed.

Steven Moulder
I have a memory from the pram and to move on from there I can recall some of the smallest details from my life it really is a pain. On of the main triggers is smell if I smell something it's almost like being transported back in time with great detail. Has anyone else had this.

I remember almost nothing until I was 12 or 13, before that my autobiographical memory is a blank, however I can remember where I was when I heard songs or read books.

This is my grandmother Velma's first memory, from age two, just before the birth of her younger sister - two very pregnant ladies, her mother and her eldest sister, cutting the head off a chicken in the back yard. The headless chicken ran around the yard with the two women chasing after it, and little Velma sitting on the step, watching. This occurred in 1910, in Pennsylvania USA.

Rami (website team)
Thanks for your interesting comments. May I just remind people that the best place to post memories - especially early autobiopgrahical ones, is in our survey pages. If you haven't yet taken part in the largest memory survey ever conducted, please do so by using the 'share' link above.

Rebecca Nock
People find it hard to believe me when I say how I remember a few seconds from when I was born. Impossible some peope might say but I have a clear memory as I was born facing up, seeing a doctor looking down at me, he was slim and tall with dark hair. The memory only lasts for about 10 seconds and then I can't remember anything else until I was about 1 1/2 sitting in my crib looking at the large packet of purple pampers in the corner of what seemed at the time, a gigantic room! I've always had a really good memory of my childhood, I can remember small details really well, sometimes I surprise even myself. Now I can walk into a room at the age of 18 and forget what I even went in there for!

I too have a memory from inside a pram, when I must have been less than 2 years old. My brother is 18 months older than me and was sitting on a seat in front of me wearing a knitted woollen hat with a long point with a bobble on it. I can see my hands reaching out to pull the hat off and can still get a feel for the day itself, grey and cold. I just see the one scene, I wonder if it was one of the first times I was told off and so it has stuck in my memory - altho I can't remember that at all!

I find it hard to get early memories into a chronological sequence, so the notion of "the earliest" doesn't mean a great deal. One that does stand out must be from when I was just 4 and the family was moving house in early 1947. I can recall the removal men going to and fro in the hall, while the snow fell outside. I must have gone out onto the small front lawn at one point, because as one of tyhe men passed by he said, "Hello, snowman." Why sould that have stuck in my mind? I can recall nothing of the inside of the house, as if the fact of moving to somewhere different wiped that earlier record. Perhaps this is because of the drama of the first few days at the new house. The snow had difted under its eaves and brought down one of the bedroom ceilings, so I remember those early days there largely as the smell of damp plaster and the flicker of nightlights, as the electricity was off, the melting water having got into the system.

Steve C
I am often disappointed that my memories seem very superficial and incomplete. My wife remembers more about my life than I do! In particular I can't remember the words people use, although I can report the general thrust of an argument or statement. I am better at remembering ideas and principles than 'things'. However, I do sometimes have problems identifying faces, which can be a problem.

Betty Coster
Earliest memories - Mainly pictures and events - sitting in my highchair and digging my fingers into the butter dish, licking them and then my mother comes in and smacks my hands; lying in the big double bed next to my mother with my father trying to take my mind off my terrible earache by singing and acting the fool at the foot of the bed; visiting Nan and Grandad (he died in March 1932)- sitting on his lap and the smell of his beery whiskers, then sitting on the chamber pot by an open window; cuddling my father's Alsation dog, Bobby, under the kitchen table, his damp nose tickling my ear; wearing a pale green silky dress and being given chocolate which somehow my fingers tranferred on to it; going to Great Ormond Street hospital and my mother taking off my shoes and socks so that I was standing on the lavatory's cold, marbly floor trying to get a "specimen" for the doctor; the lovely red coat, bonnet and leggings that my mother made for me when I left hospital,I can remember trotting beside her anxious to keep up and not trip up; when my brother was born in 1933 I was given my first "real" celuloid baby doll and I tripped over the kerb in my eagerness to see the new baby and landed on my beautiful doll,smashing it and I was scragged up and told off for being careless and I asked if he could be taken back. There is more but this is all for now. (I was born in 1929.)

Naomi Geffen
I, like John Wigham, remember the view from inside a pram (year old?). I'd been given a ball and I have a vivid memory of thinking "I'm going to throw it out of the pram and see what happens". The cleaning lady, Mrs. Ricketts picked it up and gave it back to me and I (with cheeky thoughts) threw it out again. This is such a distinct memory. Yet sometimes my husband recalls things that we've done together (more recent past) and I haven't got a clue what he's talking about. The other thing is that when I see pictures or films of the blocks at concentration camps, I feel like it's deja vu from a previous life.

sue smith
Tonight picking some tomatoes from my plants in terracotta pots in my southern French courtyard, I was suddenly back in my grandmother's greenhouse and the, for me, heady and addictive smell of the tomatoes there. I think that most of my early memories are related to my maternal grandmother in whose Shropshire pub my mother and I lived to escape from London after my birth in 1942. I have of course learnt subsequently that she had a very serious drink problem and life for my mother must have been very difficult, but at my young age, my recollection of my grandmother was and still is the one person in my life who gave me (possibly drunken but nonetheless) absolute unconditional love.

As a child I once read a book called "The Island Castle", a children's adventure, and I never forgot one particular image from it, which at the time captivated me; it involved some soft, luxurious silk clothes, similar to a track suit but much posher, and some rather wonderful white shoes, a bit like modern trainers, which a character in the story was given to wear. Years later I bought a copy of this book from an internet out-of-print bookseller, just for a laugh, and re-read it. There was no mention of the shoes, and the clothes I'd remembered were just not the same at all. What was my memory doing? I'd obviously invented the whole image! I remembered the cover, in detail - the illustration, layout, colours; it was really strange seeing it again after nearly half a century. Like looking back into a vanished world, reconnecting with someone I once was, time folding in on itself.

This is all such interesting stuff. I'm a writer - so memory is essential, providing the material it does. Only problem is that when I twist, turn, reinvent those memories for fictional purposes, I end up not knowing which is the true memory and which the reinvented one. The point I want to make is that if you look back into memory and go into it, each memory hauls up another one, so on ad infinitum. It used to amaze me that autobiographers could remember so much still I started doing this, and finding out how one memory leads to another. The Polynesians have an image of a fishing-hook going down into the sea/memory/subconscious and hauling up 'fish' - this strikes me as good an image for this process as any. My partner is a scientist and claims to remember very little of past events. What he has instead is an extraordinary memory for the abstract - exposition - idea - for scientific processes and theories. But when he does remember a past event his memory seems to operate the same way mine does. Lately he's been recounting a memory from when he was nine or ten, sitting up a tree and being trapped by the arrival of a couple who start making love underneath him. Every now and then he says' `i remember something else about it...' and up comes another detail of the story. So maybe we are not so different after all. It's just that his professional needs are different from mine.

Peter Warburton
On 12 December 1988 I was travelling to work in a train and was just outside Wimbledon when the train came to a stop. It was stationary for 8 hours before it eventually reached Wimbledon. It was only then that we realised what had happened at Clapham Junction and how fortunate we were. The memory I cannot forget is that, in those days before mobile phones, we had been stationary for over 7 hours before I heard anyone speak to comment on how strange this was. It says something about the character of commuters in those days. It would be very different now.

katie millard
One of my early memories was going to meet my grandfather from work. He worked at one of the local factories in Gainsborough, and I can remember being fascinated by all the men coming out of the gates, an awful lot on bikes, and all seemed to be wearing flat hats and camel coloured macs, and all the bikes were black. So, hunting for my grandfather in all this was a problem. However, I eventually picked him out from the mass. He looked very tired and care worn, but when he saw me (I was leaning on a wall made of concrete with gravel in it), his face lit up and he immediately came over, picked me up and gave me a big hug. I remember his coat smelling oily and metally. God, now I am sniffing and tears are rolling down my cheekes, and I can hardly see. We then walked hand in hand to the fish shop, where we got loads of fish and chips and mushy peas. The smell was wonderful and all wrapped in newspaper. I loved and adored my grandfather, and loved holding his very rough and comforting hands. i must have been about 5, so that was 1957. Another memory of him was being about two, when after Sunday lunch, Mum would hand me over to Grandad and he woud lay me on his left shoulder. He smoked a pipe with a particular tobacco in it, Old Holborn I think. It came in a round tin, with corrugated paper at the sides, and he would roll the tobacco in his hands and then stuff it in his pipe. When I smell that today, I am back there, safe and warm and loved.. God, I'm crying again. The rest of the family would go into the front room, leaving grandad and me alone. Grandad eventually would put his pipe down and have an afternoon nap, with me on his chest. God, I miss him. Katie

Mathew Benson
Im useless at remembering names so I tried copying the way a computer stores its information in a logical fashion, in titled folders. On meeting a new person, I try and put them in a folder in my head, of people who share the same name. laer, when getting to know the person better, more info can be added. Ian, might have studied in Kent, and Kent is also where Dave lives. I can remember where Ian when to university by looking into Dave's 'file'. It might not seem logical at first, but it really does help me.

John Wigham
Seeing my grand-daughter in a pram recently suddenly reminded me of how it felt to be in a pram myself - with the view of the hood from the inside - and I also suddenly recalled the taste and texture of the padding I pulled out of the lining of mine - and I can remember my mother's slight annoyance at that! To have fitted in the pram means I must have been no more than a year old? Yet I'm sure this is my own memory - I don't think the event was ever mentioned again.

I find that my memories can be coloured by information gathered later in life, so that the memory morphs into something different. Most interestingly I can distinctly remember doing things on my own that I now know I did not do alone. The ability of the memory to absolutely bury information is amazing and worrying.

My memories tend to be mostly evoked by associations, which are more often than not connected with the senses, and in particular with music or smells. I can rarely recall memories 'on demand', for example if someone asks me to talk about my happiest holiday, my favourite toy, these are harder for me to recall under such conditions. In general I have an exceptionally poor memory for autobiographical details. But introduce music or smell and my head starts swimming with flashbacks and often a lot of emotion. For me this has increased significantly since living and working abroad for the last 8 years. No matter where I am, a certain smell can bring a multitude of images rushing back, including the exact details - people and places, the weather, time of day; if I close my eyes I can almost feel I'm back there. Music tends to be more nostalgic, I recall feelings associated with specific event first, followed by the details of the event itself, which tend to come back in waves. I suspect if you played any random selection of music to me, from classical to current rap trends, I might easily be able to catalogue a whole series of events in my life, perhaps even autobiographically which could be rearranged in chronological order - I can do it to a certain extent by just playing random tracks from my own cd collection or by listening to radio stations that play seemingly random selections of old and new tracks, particularly local commercial radio stations. It would make an interesting project, to write down everything associated with all those songs and pieces, I am only sorry that over the years I have had to purge my collection on several occasions, it feels like having left behind or thrown away 'chunks' of your life.

Andrea King
I seem mainly to remember happy things, such as climbing into bed with my parents when I was aged about two years and telling my father that his shirt was tickling my face! I can still see that very clearly. Also the garden near Bristol where I was born. One sadish occasion was when I was picking clover in a lovely field near a stream and I fell down a little slope and bit through my lip. I can remember the coppery taste of blood and feel being carried to our nearby home. My mother used to make heavenly little individual cakes with orange icing on them but not very often as this was in about 1948 and oranges where not always available. I can still remember the smell of the cupboard she kept them in and the guilty feeling on being discovered removing the icing with my two (fairly new) front teeth!

Christine Everard
I can recall significant memories as full video clips. I can look round the room/place of the memory and see even more detail than just the central action, as if panning a camera. This isn't just with childhood memories but it tends to be with the more significant occasions. I guess all the senses were more open and the memory then happens on several levels, tying it together?

I find it very hard to remember events and holidays or places I've visited. I put this down to having a very anxious state of mind. I am so busy fretting about everything I don't fully connect with my surroundings and consequently don't register them for future recall. The only way I remember things is to imagine the photographs I have taken of a particular place or event and that helps me to remember the situation. It is like a trigger that brings the memory back to the surface. Another strange thing happens if I am walking along a familiar road, oddly at night or dusk, deeply engrossed in thoughts in my head, I suddenly realise I don't recognise where I am. I know how to get where I'm going but can't connect with my surroundings. I have to imagine myself walking along the same road in the daytime and see myself doing my normal routine and almost try to get back to real life from my day dreaming. It's as if my subconscious mind, which tells me how to get from A to B and conscious mind which is deep in thought, have become disconnected. Strangely I am extremely good at remembering numbers even being able to recall all my old car registration numbers and old telephone numbers! Again I just have to think of the sequence as a whole picture in my minds eye and can remember the numbers easily. This was how I used to revise. I would write all the information out as bullet points and study the page, then close my eyes and see the pattern of information in my head and know for instance that I had to remember 6 points and could gradually bring each point to mind. Is this photographic memory?

Tony Atterbury
I used to have photographic memory but as I get older, I am now 56, I have dificulty remembering names and faces of people whom i've recently but I stil remember details of people I met 20 years ago. I guess you can say I have a good long term memory(I still remember being breast fed by my mother) but a very bad short term one.

Will you deal with Prosopagnosia? I have recently realised this is the cause of much embarrassment in my life, I can't remmber faces.

John - producer - Yes! Me and My Memory Programme One

Ray Coker
I have two vivid memories from the Blitz in 1940. The first was when there was a tremendous noise right overhead. It was at breakfast time. I was the first to get to and open the back door, I then tried to get back in whilst others behind me were trying to get out to see what was going on. What I saw was a German fighter plane flying over our back garden at about 50 feet above us. It was being chased by a Spitfire. The second memory was the result of a bomb blast which which blew our front windows in. Our piano, situated opposite the windows, was covered in splinters of glass about 4 inches long protruding from the wooden surface of the piano as if hurled by a fiendish knife thrower. Luckily no one was sleeping in that room at the time; had there been the results would be too horrifying to imagine.

Annella Birkett
I find the idea of a stimulus for recall very interesting, because a stimulus is usually a sudden event, a change. In my recent experience quite the opposite has happened. For six months, due to a bug then an accident I hardly went out or met up with anyone. But during this time, as if lacking stimulus, I began to recall childhood events which I had not knowingly recalled since their occurrence. For instance I recalled holding onto my mother's finger while watching pretty floating umbrellas in a blue sky, but when I looked up her mouth was very stiff and tears were running down her cheeks - it was the Battle of Britain of course, but I was only just three. Does boredom force us to create stimulation by trawling through memory? The process was certainly not a conscious one, but I was in a good deal of pain and the memories were mostly related to the war and stressful events.

David Edwards
I remember smells, especially the lovely scent of newly cut grass. The warm spicy smell of a hot summer day in a field of hay. The rich heavy scent of cow manure and the smell of sunday roast cooking, and the smell of fresh mint when collecting some for the mint-sauce. Much of my earliest childhood was spent in Northolt, Middlesex in the war years. As it was only about a mile from Northolt Airfield, home to an RAF Fighter Command Base, for Spitfires and Hurricanes. So myany of my earliest memories are of wartime events.Probably one of my earliest memories is of being frightened by a local ARP Warden panicking at the outbreak of war and shouting: "Take Cover, Take Cover!" as he ran up and down the road. I was only just over four years old. Memories of running to the back door to go to the outdoor air raid shelter, with my brother-in -law Tom (a soldier home on leave. As he opened the back door I saw a German plane skim the treetops in the field, close enough to see the pilot in the cockpit. I remember the dark night skies filled with bright stars - far more than one can see today in our light poluted skies!Also the flashes of ack-ack fire and tracer bullets and slowly falling flares among the criss-cross beams of searchlights.The huge shadow of a hurricain fighter racing across the back garden. It was badly damaged and coming in very low, just skimming the tree tops at the end of the field I remember being in Great Ormond Street Hospital in the Blitz. The staff had pulled our beds into the outside hall with its strong pillars offering some protection. As the bombs got nearer, a young nurse, with red hair, threw her arms around me, partly to comfort me but also perhaps from her own terror.I can still visualise the smoking ruins in the distance seen from the ward windows the next day. I remember playing in the field at the bottom of our garden. The church bells started to ring (something not heard throughout the war) I ran into the house, my mother was crying and laughing. Mr Churchill is making a speech!" she said. "the war is ended!" It was the day of my tenth birthday. These are a few of my earlier memories.

In my memories of my early childhood - to the extent that I have any - my great-grandmother features much more prominently than my mother or grandmother, even though I lived with them and not with her. Perhaps going to her house was a bit of an adventure. What's the signifance of whether we 'see' ourselves in our memories? I don't 'see' myself. Has this got anything to do with my being a detached sort of bloke?

A lot of my very early memories seem to involve an intense sense of visual beauty, with a memory of intense colours and a fascination with them. I don't remember sound or smell with the same intensity, though smells are very evocative.

Penny Wiles
A great revelation when I saw memory broken down in to component parts. I always said that I didn't have a 'good' memory, in other words I don't remember dates and facts well in say, the way my sister can. What I do remember very vividly are events and moments relating to people that I find easy to piece together to give me a fuller picture. It is only as I get older that I realise that not everyone has the same experience.

Rami (website team)
Thanks for these fantastic comments. I hope you'll share some of these memories by taking part in the survey. Click on the Share link at the top left-hand side of this page.

Edgar Lloyd
About ten years ago, having reached the age of 72, I decided to put on record memories of my early childhood of the Great Depression years in South Wales. As events and episodes came to mind I added to my first drafts and became bitten by the bug. The need to record becomes more intense as I move into my 83rd year and I have now gathered a fairly large body of memories and I well understand Rousseau's comment in his Confessions that as we descend into old age we feel some memories being re-born while others are gradually effaced as if, with life ebbing away, we attempt to seize again its beginning. Last year, as a volunteer researcher on a BBC project, I had the privilege of recording the wartime memories of some remarkable men and women. These interviews are now in the Corporation's archives. Should my personal memories interest you I would be happy to share them. They range from my childhood recall, through my memories of the Second World War seen through adolescent and civilian eyes, and records of my foreign service in an oil company. All these memories are set against national and international events. For example I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when the Spanish Civil War and WW2 broke out, the impact that a visit to Paris in 1938 had on an a schoolboy from the mining valleys of South Wales and ten years later the escape from post-war austerity offered by a flight to Australia in a converted Sunderland flying-boat. All through my life such events have provided a framework on which to hang my memories.

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