Keeping memories alive

I had an excellent day yesterday when I was shown a short film of the two men whose biographies I have written and published. Both men with their wives had arrived at a third man's house - he was instrumental in the film having been shot at all. The year was 1941, Britain was at war, and here were these three couples having a good, carefree time in a big garden not a great distance from London. They knew each other, were good friends in fact, it was summer, it was warm, they were happy and enjoying each other's company. One of them fondly patted the family dog and the dog was pleased. There is no sound to the film but I could see how easy the smiles were. They must have said pleasant things to each other; they must have amused each other.

In this day and age of sophisticated technology it is perhaps hard to comprehend how important it is to see such film. Those times are long gone, the couples filmed are long dead, our generation has all kinds of gadgets to record whatever we want. We have learnt to take it for granted that we have the right equipment. Nothing is difficult and some people may have tons of film recorded. And yet, from what I understand, we have not yet invented a foolproof system that allows the film to keep forever. And it's not only film that should be preserved. People have photographs, old letters, even old bills. Are they worth preserving? And what is worth preserving?

Yesterday made me realise once again that it is not only important to preserve but also to sort and label. I absolutely must set aside time to deal with my own old things. I'm no longer in the first flush of youth, so in my case there is also the question of what will happen to my papers and photographs when I'm gone. Will anybody know who these people are, say, in a photograph, whom I held dear? I have no film - at least that makes it easier. The sorting will no doubt be pleasurable, remind me of things I've experienced and people I've known. It is the deciding, however, that is difficult: where should the things go, how am I to label them, what should be thrown away?

I simply must remember how much pleasure the film gave me yesterday. It will give me strength to carry my plan through. It is one thing to research a person, to get to know him and enjoy his company, so to speak, but it is quite another to see him move, turn and smile. And I have just now seen the faces of the diplomat (August Torma) and the intelligence officer (Brian Giffey) break into a smile right in front of my very own eyes. Priceless.