The Air That I Breathe

Juliet Gardiner former editor of History Today, describes the first steps on her path to becoming a historian.

What’s your first memory?’ someone would ask Martha Cochrane, the main character in Julian Barnes’ novel England, England (1998), but because for Martha a memory was not ‘a solid, seizable thing, which time, in its plodding, humorous way, might decorate down the years with fanciful detail ... but could never expunge’, she would lie. She would say that her first memory was of sitting on the kitchen floor while her mother sang old songs like ‘Night and Day’ or ‘Love is the Strangest Thing’ as she cooked, or of doing her ‘Counties of England’ jigsaw puzzle and trying to squash the piece for Lancashire into the hole left for Cornwall because she was only little and did not realise that there was a prescribed pattern which meant that that would never work, no matter how appropriate the match might at first appear. It’s like that for me with history.

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