You know how sometimes you have a memory of something distant, but you realise when you think about it that you can’t possibly actually remember this, because you weren’t born yet when it happened?

I have a few of these memories. Assimilated stories that my parents or grandparents must have told me.

One is of my oldest brother, about one year old, wandering in a field full of bulls. He was very small, but all the bulls were very gentle and shuffled aside to let him walk between them.

Another is of my second oldest brother as a toddler, on holiday in Ireland (Larne), fallen down between the bed and the wall, soundly sleeping wedged in there. My two parents standing there laughing, trying not to make a noise and wake him up.

Both of these must be stories my Mum or Dad told me once, that I imagined so vividly that I have kept them in the same place as my own memories. They’ve become super-visual, but like screen memories, if I think about them, the viewpoint of the memory is strangely dislocated, hovering above the scene, as if in a dream.

Bachelard says: ‘I know, for instance, that my grandfather got lost in a certain wood. I was told this, and I have not forgotten it. It happened in the past before I was born. My oldest memories, therefore, are a hundred years old, or perhaps a bit more.’1

My oldest memories must be even more than 100 years old. I know that my great great (great?) grandfather was a veterinarian, and went to India to try to find a cure for a bacterial disease in sheep. He caught a rare infection and lost one leg, after which he went home reluctantly. This would be in the early 1900s. His name was Sydney Herbert Gaiger.
1. Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space, trans. By Maria Jolas, (Boston: Beacon Press, 1969) p189