Interaction and LDP’s Website: Childhood Memories


Faraway is near at hand with images of elsewhere 

In the 1980s this gnomic graffiti used to greet travellers coming in to Paddington station from the west. As a message about the vividness of visual modelling in our lives it needed a bit more unpacking! However, it is apt so far as Ken Baynes’ invitation to Try this at Home is concerned. As part of research into the forms of modelling used by human memory he invited us to recall a memory from childhood – either a place we liked or a place we disliked or even feared. As well as the memory itself, he asked ‘how did the memory manifest itself?  Was it visual, tactile, aural or a mixture of all the senses?’ It turns out that faraway is remarkably near at hand with long-stored sensations and models of elsewhere.

 Here are some of the things our contributors remembered:

  •  Childhood memory (Nora, who grew up in Hong Kong)

When I was about four years old, just started kindergarden I was given homework to do, a full page of the word “is” (shown opposite).  I spent nearly the whole evening to write this English word and was very pleased with the result. I was expecting to receive a gold star (excellent work) and a rabbit (for cleanliness) from my teacher.

Unfortunately I was given a pig (dirty and bad) and a harsh punishment. The teacher hit me on my left palm hard with her wooden ruler many times, it hurt badly but I  didn’t cry and still believed my is’s were good.

  •  Childhood memory (Dorothy)

A place I liked very much as a child was a swing attached to an old cherry tree in our garden. I spent a lot of time there in the summer months, it was a place I could be alone and sing (Tulips from Amsterdam among others)  as I swung up towards the beautiful fragrant blossom and later delicious fruit .It is a vivid visual memory, the pink/red blossom, green leaves, shiny red fruit and brown bark.

  •  Childhood memory (Frank)

In the garden of my childhood home in Ramsgate, under the row of laburnum trees behind a privet hedge which divided the lawn from the vegetable garden. As a little boy, age uncertain but under nine. Hidden from grown ups, alone, safe and hidden, everything is very real, I sense myself as alive in my close environment, the soil, shiny leaves and dark branches against the light behind, in this secret world where I can play in imagination with my model metal figures.

  • Unpleasant memory (Heather)

My offering of an unpleasant experience in very early childhood is a vivid memory of the smell and the bright red of the geraniums at my grandmother’s home.  I loved my grandmother – but I suppose I was unhappy to be there on my own as my parents and brothers and sister must have been ill or away.

 The smell remains as a constant reminder.  I have no idea why the geraniums in my memory are  all red rather than some pink!

  • Childhood memory (Marian)

I used to think my absent parents didn’t care very much. But as I grew older it began to dawn on me that, in fact, they gave me that most prized thing of all – FREEDOM! So I wandered!

Nothing better than sitting on a railway bridge with legs dangling trackside, waiting for an ‘express’ to thunder through the tunnel below, billowing choking white smoke. The best bit was the screaming’ imagine half a dozen excited children sitting in a line with no idea of ‘death’.

The track was a constant thrill, especially if we had a few pennies to place on the rails, sharp as knives they would be, once they were flattened to twice the size.

The train ran alongside a peatbog and would often set it alight. Fire raged for days – ‘the bog’s on fire’ went up the cry and away we’d go. ‘Keep back’ yelled the firemen, not on your life we decided.

The trains ran between the bog and the canal and if there wasn’t a fire on the bog or an express  due the towpath was heaven! The best bit was when the horses were unhitched from the barges and led over the bridge – no towpath through the tunnel. I’ll swear these beautiful creatures were ten feet tall and with men shouting and chains rattling and leather bits swinging, they were eventually coaxed over. Hooray, run to the other side!

Ken asked Marion about the form of these memories. Not surprisingly vision and smell played an important part. But Ken was impressed by another aspect: ‘Most vivid in Marion’s memory was how she felt at the time – excited, joyful, carefree.  It seems that emotional states can be vividly remembered as well as sensory experiences.

  • Private road (William)

The road ran between the domestic houses of the school and the teaching buildings.  It was always clean and fringed by a high rather pink random granite wall.  Over the wall hung the dark shiny leaves of huge laurels and from beyond them came the sound of a blackbird singing.  All the textures of the place were repellently hard, the randomness of the stone false, the natural beauty of the blackbird distant.


A remarkable collection of memories and many thanks to our contributors. Ken would like more to add to these and the ones he first collected thirty years ago. The range of places is resonant and probably many of us would remember similar environments. Notice too the different sensory experiences involved and that emotions – a feeling of happiness, for example – are invoked as well as the senses. Clearly this memory of environments plays a role in our ability to design and to respond to design.

View the Book Page for Design:Models of Change




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