In the farthest and dustiest corner of the attic, hidden behind the water tank and covered in cobwebs and bits of decayed birds’ nests, you might be lucky enough to find a battered old trunk.
Prise it open and, just maybe, it will be filled with yellowing papers – letters, receipts, old certificates…
Piece them together and there is your grandfather’s life story.
Most exciting of all, it might be an untold life story – or at least a long-forgotten one – suddenly brought to life as if the years have fallen away and it is yesterday all over again.
In rather the same way, I have stumbled upon an online copy of of the 1988 edition of the Rival Owners’ Association newsletter – and there on page 11 is a collection of my newspaper despatches from that year’s singlehanded transatlantic race.
It might as well be another lifetime but I can remember exactly how it felt to sit at Largo’s chart table, laboriously dictating over the single-sideband radio to the Evening Standard. In those days – when newspapers were still written on ancient OIympia typewriters, journalists out of the office would file their stories over the telephone to “copy-takers”. These men (they were always men in those unionised days) who would sit with bakelite headsets clamped over their ears saying: “Yes… yes…yes…” and, occasionally: “Is there much more of this?”
No matter how good you thought your story might be, the copy-taker had always heard a better one.
In my case, dictating on hi-frequency and having to bounce every syllable off the ionosphere, it was even more tiresome – which is why “spume-filled decks” became “fume-filled” and the readers were treated to the concept of “carpet skippers”.
All of this is particularly timely since, in just a week’s time, we will be pulling out our smartphones to download live video feed from Alex Thompson and the other competitors in this year’s Vendee Globe Race.
Still, if you want to see what it was like in the old days, you can find those ancient despatches here. (For authenticity, I have not edited-out the carpet skippers.)