Interestingly, our most vivid and frequently recollected memories tend to focus on two decades of our life around the age of twenty. For me, it is the period between 1975 and 1985 when I was aged fifteen to twenty-five. This phenomenon is known as the reminiscence bump. When I first heard of this on radio four, many years ago, I was fascinated. I didn’t realise there was a science to this. I just attributed it to more excitement in my life at that time. To some extent I was right.
Our brain imprints unusual experiences more than the mundane. In our late teens and early twenties, we experience many things for the first time. I was lucky enough to have a brother who was two years older than me and a musician. From the age of fifteen, I went to see bands, travelling in an old transit van with my brother and his friends. We lived in a suburb of London and I was lucky enough to see most of the big names in rock at that time, although I don’t think I really appreciated it. My brother, Trevor Steel, went on to become a success in The Escape Club in the 1980s, and most of the boys who I hung out with then became successful songwriters and musicians. It was a magical time, and I have learned since from school friends that they envied my access to these glamorous boys, who looked after me like a sister.
When I was nineteen, I flew for the first time ever. My college friend asked me to travel with her on a Freddie Laker Skytrain to LA to visit her sister. It was only on the plane that she explained that her sister was actually being held in a jail in Vegas for picking up a hitchhiker who had forged credit cards. And so, my American adventures began. When my friends were released from jail we had to buy a car as their vehicle was impounded and we spent the summer driving along the coast, sleeping on roadsides or the beach. My college friend and I returned to the states several times. On one occasion, my college friend, her sister, and I hitchhiked from Wyoming to Arizona. Thank goodness, my daughter was much more sensible than me.
I met my husband in 1981 in London and we married in 1984. Life has been exciting since then, but memories of my late teens and early twenties are like a film – full of vibrant images.
Memories help us to make sense of who we are
Another explanation as to why we experience this reminiscence bump around the age of twenty is attributed to a narrative perspective. The theory being, that we organise memories of events to make sense of who we are. Our teens and early twenties are formative years when we are testing our beliefs and embedding our values. I find it fascinating that my 88-year-old father who has Alzheimer’s focuses on the two years in his life when he was in the army pay corps. He would have been around the age of nineteen. Although he can recall many happy memories of his married life, and raising a family of four, it is his time in the army that he enjoys talking about most.
I wanted to talk about the reminiscence bump, and the 1970s, as this is the era that Angie Winkle, in my debut The Borrowed Boy, recalls. I loved writing about the fashion and music of that time as it took me back to when I was a teenager.
The 1970s was a great time for music: David Bowie, Marc Bolan, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Bob Dylan, Pink Floyd, Fleetwood Mac. The list is endless. I loved and still do – Al Stewart. His lyrics are poetic.
The 1970s might be of interest to you because you lived through them, or because it is a bygone era. If I have stirred memories or curiosity you might want to try one of these novels set in the 1970s.
- Everything I never told you, Celeste Ng’s debut novel set in a small Ohio town in the 1970s.
- Channelling Mark Twain, Carol Muske-Dukes. Set in the mid-1970s a blonde poet, Holly teaches a poetry class in the women’s prison on Rikers Island.
- Joyland, Stephen King, set in 1973 in a North Carolina amusement park
- Paradise, Toni Morrison, a gripping novel about life in a small all-black Oklahoma town during the 1970s.