Divestment

I find a cassette tape, unlabelled. I’m in the process of divesting myself of accumulated clutter that has started to clog up my life, in preparation for a renovation of my flat, and most of the tapes are being at long last thrown out now. Some – those bought as cassette albums and undamaged – go to the charity shop, practically all the others, with the exception only really of some mixtapes, go in the bin: I hold on to less than half a dozen, which is me being ruthless. I reckon.

The unlabelled tape nearly lands in the bin liner unexamined, but it intrigues me as there are almost no tapes that don’t have anything written on them at all, even if on some of them the writing has long faded and become illegible. I take it out of its case and put it in the machine I still have. I hear a young voice with a not particularly strong but clearly discernible accent, a little measured, a little studied, a little over-enunciated, say: “All right, here we go: Europe Tour 1988, The Spoken Diary.” I’m listening to myself, nearly thirty years ago. And I hear myself say: “This is my first experience of this kind as well, so we just have to try it out.” My language has not yet acquired any idiom, and Germanisms linger, sometimes prevail.

“Nothing of what’s going to be said is going to be edited in any way, I promise myself that, so that when I’ll be listening to it in two or three or five years, ten years, I’ll feel genuinely embarrassed.” Not embarrassed, my friend, so much as astounded. I sound to me like any young man from the past. I recognise myself, but in the way that I would recognise a friend from that time, someone I knew, a little. Not someone I knew well, let alone someone I was.

I don’t remember the process of recording this, but I do recall having made the tape. The memory is curious, brittle, alien.

The ‘Europe Tour’, it transpires, will have taken me from Edinburgh, where the diary starts on Monday 14th August (which I pronounce Oggust, and that does embarrass me now, slightly, though it also endears me to me) at 2:15 in the afternoon, a time by which I declare, with a hint of pride lacing my tone, that I haven’t slept in about twenty-four hours. I’ve had a “very pleasant conversation” with two Americans on the train and upon arrival availed myself of the services of the Tourist Information office, who have booked me into this “guest house”. When I say “guest house” I sound bemused. Having settled into my room, which, apparently, has high ceilings and is also “pleasant”, I’ve been out and bought myself tickets to three shows, starting at 4:15.

“I’ve just eaten this strange, slobbery pizza, which was incredibly cheap though,” I note, and “people here have time and they let you know they do, which can be charming as well.” I describe with awe the light of the city, pulling out of King’s Cross Station at six thirty this morning, and describe Edinburgh as “wonderful” and unlike anything I’d seen before, but I also note that the drawback of this place is the weather: I’d already spotted someone wearing a fur coat at the height of summer, though I make no reference to ‘nae nickers’ so perhaps I’m not yet aware of the expression.

“I seem to be sounding a bit blasé, hearing myself over the headphones, but I’ll have to get used to that, I presume.” And no joking. I sound to me now like a young arrival’s idea of a latter day Noel Coward, and then it hits me: I still own the silver cigarette case I used to use at that time!

I resolve to listen to myself speak to me from the past, as there’s a fair chance now, I sense, that this might get me to know me better…

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