My oldest grandchild has just celebrated his twentieth birthday.  He solemnly told me that he is going to write a letter to his thirty year old self describing the things he hopes to achieve in the next decade of his life.  He plans to seal the letter, put it away for ten years,  and, assuming he can remember where he put it, open and read it on his thirtieth birthday.  The comparison between where he is by then and where he hoped to be should be fascinating.

I wish I’d thought of doing this.  At the age of twenty I was in the army doing my National Service without a clue about what I wanted to do next.  Ten years later I was married with two kids, had a mortgage, had a job as an occupational psychologist and had just had the first of many articles published.   I doubt that, had I written a letter to myself,  I would have predicted any of this.

The trouble is, try as I might, I can’t remember what I was like when I was twenty.  When I see photographs of my younger self, it’s as if I’m looking at black and white photos of someone else.   I know it’s me and yet the passage of years has turned my younger self into a stranger.  I’ve no real memory of how I behaved, the opinions I held, my ambitions beyond day to day survival, nothing!  When I ask the few people I still know who knew me when I was twenty what I was like, they can’t really remember either because, quite understandably, they have got used to the way I am now.

Recently I’ve written the story of my life hoping, perhaps arrogantly, that future members of my family might, just might, be interested but, since I can’t really remember what I was like,  it tends to be a catalogue of events and anecdotes rather than anything more insightful about the real me.   

Only yesterday I found, tucked away in a book I was given as a prize at school, a yellow-round-the-edges leaflet listing the people who were awarded certificates and prizes in 1956.  I’d forgotten (of course!) but the leaflet reminds me that the prizes that year were distributed by The Right Honourable, Earl Alexander of Tunis.  My name appears in the leaflet twice, once for my three A levels and again for the prize I won for art. But, even though it all must have happened, I’ve no memory of the event – the good Earl’s pearls of wisdom have vanished without trace –  and as for the ‘Honey P J’, well, I’ve no idea who he was!

So, I applaud my grandson’s idea of writing a letter to himself but, in addition to listing hopes and aspirations, I’d urge him include a detailed description of his twenty year old self.  It might help him to remember what he was like – assuming he’ll be interested in getting in touch with his younger self  in years to come.

Of course, I could write a letter to myself to be opened in ten years time but I have a sneaking feeling that someone else would have to open it!

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