Christine Marshall

Christine comes from a fine art background and studied at Chelsea College of Art. She now works as a part-time teacher in Walthamstow. She lives in Hackney with her daughter and cat Luna Electra Melody. Christine writes poetry and memoir. She has self-published a pamphlet of poems called ‘Seam,’ and a novella ‘The Last Time I Saw Richard.’ She is currently writing ekphrastic poems for another pamphlet collection and a memoir featuring Jeff Buckley. Christine writes about adoption, family, relationships, music, film and art. Contact:

MEAMs (Music-Evoked Autobiographical Memories)


The hub that music activates is located in the medial prefrontal cortex region—right behind the forehead.


‘A piece of familiar music serves as a soundtrack for a mental movie that starts playing in our head. It calls back memories of a particular person or place, and you might all of a sudden see that person’s face (or other autobiographical stimuli) in your mind’s eye.’





(Bergland, C (2013) Why Do The Songs From Your Past Evoke Such Vivid Memories, Psychology Today


The telly is on and a family are watching the 1976 Eurovision Song Contest. The camera zooms in on the lead singer, a man in a white silky blouson. A seven-year-old girl is in the middle of the living room in flannel pyjamas. She has a bowl haircut and is dancing to the British entry, ‘Save All Your Kisses for Me’ by The Brotherhood of Man. 

She is spinning, doing creative dance moves like she does in Motion and Dance class at Gargieston Primary. Motion and Dance is one of the girl’s favourite lessons. In the gym Ms. Scott asks them to be things like leaves falling from autumn trees or rivers flowing over rocks into the sea. In their navy-blue vests and pants the class dance to music played on the piano by Mr. McClusky.

The girl’s best friend Caroline Kewney told her to listen really carefully to the end of ‘Save All Your Kisses for Me.’

‘See,’ Caroline explained, ‘you think that he is singing about his girlfriend but he’s actually singing about his daughter’ – dramatic sigh- ‘he loves her so much and hates being away from her when he goes to work.’

‘Can you watch out!’ the girl’s mum shouts, ‘you’re going to knock the coffee table over.’ 

Her mum is sat on the couch beside Granny Murray and Great Aunt Jenny (just Aunt Jenny, without the great, will do). Tosca the dog is sprawled asleep like a big, hairy, grey rug in front of the gas fire. No one is looking at her dance moves.  

The living room is less posh than the drawing room. There are a few objects on the mantel piece: a gold clock, a frog made out of shells, a wooden deer and a huge lighter made from green stone that Aunt Jenny uses to light her B&H. The carpet is really colourful- oranges, reds, purples in squares, circles and ovals- it looks like the inside of a kaleidoscope.

The girl thinks she is a bit in love with the singer Alyn (spelt with a y not an a) Ainsworth. Alyn Ainsworth has a big moustache, sideburns, a low-cut shirt, smiles a lot and has a red flower in the collar of his black suit jacket. She has thought about what it must be like to have a dad who thinks like the words Alyn sings in the song. Her dad sits apart from the rest of the family on a green armchair reading from the pile of books in front of him. The book covers have pictures of women in lots of bright make-up in swimwear or racing horses. He spends most of his time reading. 

The girl has been told she has other parents because she is adopted. Her mum read her a book called Mr. Fairweather and his Family; the book explains that when people get married, they buy a house, get a car and a pet but might feel sad because these things aren’t enough. 

She is dancing and twirling in the smoke from Aunt Jenny’s cigarette, imagining that it is the smoke you see on Top of the Pops. Aunt Jenny lives in Glasgow which is a city. She doesn’t like children though she has two of her own who live away in England.

Aunt Jenny says to the girl’s mother, ‘Frances, can you turn that racket down, it’s giving me a headache,’ and gives the girl a scary smile through her pink lipsticked mouth with yellow teeth. Tosca the shaggy mongrel is also scowling at the girl as she keeps stamping on her paws.

Granny and Aunt Jenny look at least one hundred years old. They smell of soap and Babycham. The girl collects Babycham bottles and puts them on a shelf in her bedroom. The label on the bottles have a drawing of a happy deer wearing a bright blue bow. Mum worries a lot. When Granny and Aunt Jenny come around this means she has to get out the coffee percolator and the wedding china. This adds to her worries.

The girl is twirling, rising up and down, jumping, kicking and spreading her arms out like a bird about to fly. The song ends. Flushed and breathless she turns to the crowd. 

‘Right then, I think you’ve been up late enough,’ her Mum says, ’time for bed.’


We run to carpet shelter 

behind the corduroy L-shaped couch.

Lying sunk in shag pile, 

we look up to the 

peaked royal iced Artex ceiling

our Snoopy and tropical flowered tee-shirts

move up and down with speck breaths.

Sticking out of Adidas shorts, 

hairy tanned legs 

brush against each other; 

scabby grazed knees like lizard skin 

lie above calf-length socks. 

July sun ignites behind the closed

chocolate brown curtains. 

We crunch Mr. Condie’s tablet. 

The arm drops and the 

needle hits the record.

Broken bottle and ice particle sounds 

then a throbbing heartbeat chorus

fill up the room,

I keep your picture

Upon the wall

It hides a nasty stain just lying there

So, don’t you ask me to give it back

I know you know it doesn’t mean that much to me

I’m not in love.

No. No.

‘Do you think that’s what love is like?’

the girl asks.

Her friend gets up and heads for the door.

‘Who cares. Let’s play football.’


‘I’m not in Love’ Artist: 10cc. Album: The Original Soundtrack 1975


I spend ages working out what to wear to the Boys Brigade Disco. I finally decide on an asymmetrical bat winged grey tee-shirt, three-quarter length skin-tight jeans (that are so tight I have to lie on the floor to pull the zip up) and white court shoes. It takes thirty minutes to sculpt my hair using Boots Own extra hard gel to swoosh it over so that it hangs down one side like Phil Oakey of the Human League. If there was a hurricane in Ayrshire tonight my hair would be in the same position after walking through the storm. I finish the look off with an enormous pair of neon pink hooped earrings, blue eyeshadow, pink lipgloss and a white stonewashed denim jacket. I stand in front of the mirror scrutinising my face and body wondering who I look like. 

Did they look like me? Where am I from? I’m fifteen and I don’t know where I was born. 

I go downstairs and say goodbye to mum and dad from the hall, they are sat watching the TV. 

Heading up Holmes Road towards the town centre I pull the jacket round my chest, there’s a chill in the air. Caroline and Gillian are waiting at the corner of the Coop funeral home on John Finney Street, the disco is at the Central Evangelical Church Hall, a bit further up the road. I’ve filled a Soda Stream bottle with a mixture of spirits from the drinks cabinet. We share the brown syrupy liquid as we walk, trying not to gag as it burns the back of our throats.

‘I really fancy that Davy McIntosh,’ Gillian says, ‘I snogged him at Fiona’s party.’

‘Which one’s Davy McIntosh?’ 

‘Oh, you ken him, the one that looks like Simon Le Bon.’

‘There’s someone that looks like Simon Le Bon?’ I ask, thinking of all the boys I know from school. I picture a crowd of pale faced boys with acne in school uniforms and can’t think of anyone that wears a hot pink suit, mascara, lipstick or has blonde highlights.

‘In her dreams he looks like Simon Le Bon,’ Caroline laughs. 

We enter the church hall and pay our fifty pence to one of the adult volunteers sat at a desk in front of the notice board. He tears off a raffle ticket stub and hands one to each of us. 

‘Hold on to your tickets lassies- there’s a wee prize being given out at the end of the disco. You could be the lucky winner! And lassies- you ken there’s no smoking or drinking allowed?’ 

‘Yes,’ we answer, flashing sarcastic smiles.

The disco is filled with a collection of teenagers. They are mainly from our school, but I recognise a few from the Jimmy and Joes. They stand in groups: the punks, surfers, mods, rockers, new romantics, goths, or normals. I feel I belong to all the groups. It’s part of my identity crisis; I come from everywhere.

The church chairs are arranged in a line against the walls. A smoke machine puffs and splutters over the dance floor as a multicoloured disco light swirls candy coloured dots around the room. Adults stand chatting making sure we aren’t drinking, smoking or rubbing bodies.

‘Don’t You Forget About Me’ by Simple Minds is playing and girls in pairs and small groups sway together in the middle of the dancefloor, shuffling their feet from side to side, as they scan the room. I’ve been to see The Breakfast Club and fell in love with Allison, the quiet, mysterious beatnik. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about her. I replay the scene where she rubs her head, dandruff falling like snow over her drawing of a bridge and trees.

The mods and punks are pogoing to ‘Start’ by The Jam, the room fills with boy sweat smells, mixed with cheap aftershave. I see Liam in the middle of the group. His shaved head wet and sticky. He’s wearing a Never Mind the Bollocks tee-shirt, torn tight red jeans and DMs. At school I hang out with him, Ally, Desky and Paul. I feel comfortable in the company of boys, but I feel differently about Liam. I sit behind him in Ms. Morton’s Latin and Classics class and one day counted the freckles on the back of his neck. I tried to draw his face from memory while lying on my bed listening to Hunky Dory. I drew a large pair of lips.

‘Start’ ends and ‘Bela Lugosi’s Dead’ by Bauhaus comes on. A crowd forms like a murder of crows; black flowing jackets, high back-combed hair and floor length skirts.

The punks come and join us at the back of the hall. I whisper that I have some drink and trying not to look too obvious as we pass the bottle between us. 

Liam takes my hand and leads me behind the stage. 

We sit on a church pew and watch the dancing. I am too scared to turn and look at him. He gently turns my face to his. 

‘Are you alright?’ I ask, feeling him tremble.

‘Aye, I’m alright.’

 ‘Karen, close your eyes.’

Liam kisses me as the music changes. ‘Hello’ by Lionel Ritchie comes on. Liam is finally kissing me and all I can think of is the terrible music video for ‘Hello’- the blind girl in the acting class, the clay head, Lionel’s white jacket with rolled up sleeves and huge shoulder pads. This is not going to be our song.


 I first heard from my birth father in October 1988. I was nineteen and living in Cheltenham during my first year of art college. Richard lived in the north of Scotland with his wife and sons.  

He sent a large bubble pack envelope with a six-page letter, a CV, a photo of himself age eight, and a copy of a school report wrapped in coarse brown wrapping paper from his Secondary School. There was another photo of him sat at a café table in France with his family. It was hard to see their faces; the faces were only 10% of the image. At the bottom of the package was a mix-tape the cover was an Oor Wullie cartoon.

I didn’t go to college that day. I lay on my single bed, smoked and played the tape over and over again.



Mixed Album Tracks Mixed Single Track
  1. Vivaldi: Concerto for Piccolo in C Major, RV 443:11. Largo by Louis Auriacombe and Michel Debost and the Orch de Chambre de Toulouse
  2. Gimme all your Lovin’ by ZZ Top
  3. Hit me with your Rhythm Stick by Ian Dury and the Blockheads
  4. Annie get your Gun by Squeeze
  5. The Caterpillar Girl by The Cure
  6. 2-4-6-8 Motorway by Tom Robinson Band
  7. There’s a Guy works down the Chip Shop Swears he’s Elvis by Kirsty MacColl
  8. Duel by Propaganda
  9. Our Lips are Sealed by Fun Boy Three
  10. Respect by Aretha Franklin
  11. The Celtic Should Brothers by Dexys Midnight Runners and The Emerald Express
  12. Scottish Polka: Balintore by Balintore Fiserman and Ian Pirie and his Scottish Dance Band
  13. Say Hello, Wave Goodbye by Soft Cell
  14. Shipbuilding by Robert Wyatt
  1. Willin’ by Little Feat
  2. In the Neighbourhood by Tom Waits
  3. Dream Operator by Talking Heads
  4. Heart Love by Albert Ayler
  5. My Old Friend the Blues by Steve Earl
  6. The Whole of the Moon by The Waterboys
  7. Watch your Step by Ted Hawkins
  8. Across the Borderline by Ry Cooder
  9. Misty Blue by The Proclaimers
  10.  Big Mamou by Clifton Chenier
  11.  Religious Persuasion by Andy White
  12. Jit Jive by the Bhundu Boys




I perform a forensic analysis of the mixtape from my birth father →

in my Student Bedsit 

at 73 Hewlett Road, Cheltenham      on 23rd October 1988     from 0930 HOURS 

                                                                               (Date)                               (Time)

(A) From the findings listed in the summary below I ascribe the overall feelings of the mixtape to be:

  1. A narrative of love.  Love that has been lost and love that has been imagined. There are humorous and playful elements in the compilation. The songs reveal someone who has a strong national and political identity. He is probably a romantic. I can picture him sat in a room by his stereo, it’s probably his living room, surrounded by LPs and 45s selecting songs to make me this tape. 


(B) From the findings listed in the summary below I ascribe the overall image of the person who made the mixtape to be: 

  1. Like a country star, Kris Kristofferson for example. I have often dreamt that my birth father is a famous singer or actor. Country and Western stars seem like good fathers.  I imagine he might have an alternative look: wearing Doctor Marten shoes, plaid shirts and denim. This could also be deduced because I know he went to art college in the 1960s and is now in his early forties. My tutors at art college are a similar age and tend to wear those clothes.  He might smoke and probably likes a drink.


I. Regret and longing:

A. There are lots of references to loss e.g. ‘Annie Get Your Gun’ is about a girl who accidentally gets pregnant and is abandoned by her hapless boyfriend. Was he the hapless boyfriend?  ‘Dream Operator’ is imagining up a child when the narrator wasn’t able to be there for them.

B. In ‘Willin’ and ‘Across the Borderline’ both songs talk about searching for something that is missing and still waiting to be found.

C. ‘Say Hello, Wave Goodbye’ is a torch song about a hopeless relationship; a secret love affair that is full of bitterness and heartache. Was theirs full of bitterness and heartache?

II. Sense of humour:

A. The opening piece of music is a Vivaldi concerto for recorder which is followed by ‘Give me all your Lovin’ by ZZ Top which makes me laugh out loud.

B. ‘Hit me with your Rhythm Stick’ and ‘There’s a Guy Works Down the Chipshop’ are both comical and whimsical songs, sang in identifiable working-class accents. The songs mix the everyday with images of New York, mohair suits, Elvis, Sudan, Yucatán, Eskimos and Arapaho.

C. ‘Heart Love’ is a crazy, psychedelic jazz funk song and is like nothing I have heard before, maybe the closest is Gospel music, it ends frenzied and possessed.

III. Strong sense of national and political identity:

A. Country music evokes wild expanses of land and I think of him living in the Highlands.

B. ‘Religious Persuasion’ addresses religious unrest and conflict between Protestants and Catholics, the atmosphere I grew up with in Ayrshire. I had a catholic boyfriend called Pete whose father wouldn’t ever let me enter his house because I was a protestant.

C. ‘Respect’ a feminist anthem where R-E-S-P-E-C-T is demanded from the singer’s man, from all men.

D. ‘Shipbuilding’ is a song that sums up the devastation of British industry by Thatcher’s government in the 1980s. It also comments on the Falklands War and the conflict of momentary prosperity brought to the shipbuilding communities. 

IV. Alternative tastes and interests:

A. The artists chosen are mostly not popular or populist. A few- The Waterboys, Fun Boy Three and The Cure for example: you might hear on Radio One, but the eclectic mix of mainly American and British musicians shows someone who probably listens to and watches alternative music shows like John Peel or The Tube. This is a person that enjoys a range of music: indie, punk, country, jazz, alternative and Discafrique.


My birth mother Hilary has no interest in music. How can the person who gave birth to me have no interest in music? There are a few cassettes in her car: Andrew Lloyd Webber, The Beatles, Abba and Enya. There is no stereo in the living room.

It is 1989, this is the second time we have met. The first time was a couple of months ago in Exeter. I travelled down from Cheltenham to meet her halfway. Hilary and her husband Chris and children live in Truro. We have written to each other now for six months. She has wanted to take it slow. She is worried about telling her daughters about me. They are eleven and eight. 

I think: – this isn’t you. I have started to assimilate into Hilary and Richard. My self is scattered into many selves and I don’t know how to reassemble the pieces.

I look at Hilary examining her like a painting. I scan the surface of her skin. Look at the texture of her mahogany curly hair, the hazel green of her eyes, how her eyeballs are flat in their sockets, how she stands with her feet pointed in like mine, her thin long fingers. I am looking for her, but I am also looking for myself. Is there a physical or sensory ghost left behind in her from my murdered baby soul?

On her grey flecked Habitat couch she is showing me a handful of photographs from the late sixties when she and Richard were together. The photos are stored in a ratty red paper folder with ‘68-69’ written in marker pen on the front. There are also a few letters and postcards, the total documentation of their relationship.

I can’t get over how beautiful they are. They seem so glamorous and cool, like a celebrity couple of the time, Mick Jagger and Marianne Faithfull or Terence Stamp and Jean Shrimpton. Hilary’s photos show two young art students, mucking around and laughing at parties, kissing in photo-booths, walking in the countryside outside Perth, painting in their studios at Edinburgh Art College and Hilary pregnant with me. 

I feel I almost have to ask permission to be physically near her. Inside me rages something feral; I want to get up close to her neck and sniff it, lick it, take in her scent like a wolf, hold her tightly, feel her bones, climb between her ribs where I might find me, where I might find us. The adoptee always feels something is missing even when they have found what was missing. A fault line runs through, from the top of my head down to my feet.

Every parents’ relationship is a fiction. You weren’t there. The time before your birth creates part of your identity, a foundation on which to grow. I hadn’t a love story just a blank space. Would it have been easier to know that I was the product of a one-night stand? Something was subtracted as I held the photographs, with Richard’s letters and postcards to Hilary scattered over my legs. I knew what was to come after. Arrangements were made. Degree courses were finished. There was the end of a relationship and a child was given up for adoption.


Home is a complicated word. In Amsterdam, Reykjavik and Stockholm I have been greeted as a native but in Scotland I am often having to prove to people that I did actually grow up there.

Stockholm means (Stock) pole or stake, (Holm) islands: – there are fourteen islands and stakes were used to demarcate important places such as markets or frontiers. 

My daughter Maimie and I walk from Hellstens Malmgård Hotel, weaving our way through the district of Östermalm until we reach the ferry stop at Saltsjön. It’s February and the cold of Stockholm’s black buildings, wide windy grey streets and the icy topped Baltic surround us, but we are gloved and hatted against the architecture and weather. We hold hands as we walk, her head almost reaching my shoulder. We are filled with hotel breakfast: cinnamon pastries, hot chocolate and coffee. At the quay other families, commuters and tourists wait for the ferries to arrive. The crowd huddle together to keep warm.

In the estuary berthed to the right an enormous cruise ship rises up like a snowy mountain. In front the stretch of black water is punctuated with islands and leafless trees. The white ferries shunt from island to island, then out to the folds of land into the archipelagos.

‘Mum, how long does the boat take to get there?’

‘About 10 minutes, I think. The island we are going to is where most of these people will get off.’

We watch the ferries coming in one by one waiting for the correct number to arrive. We board and find a seat facing out to the water. The city positioned behind us. I film Maimie’s long blonde hair flapping in the wind and post it on Instagram. We reach our stop and exit into a deserted fairground and follow the signs to the ABBA museum. 

All the girls at school wanted to be Agnetha Fältskog but I wanted to be the mysterious and distant red-haired Frida Appelgren. Maimie knows their music from the film Mama Mia. I had posters of them covering my bedroom walls.

We enter the museum and walk through the rooms which are laid out in chronological order, starting with family and childhood, the folk circuit where they met, their breakthrough at the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest in Brighton with ‘Waterloo.’ Then the glam, disco, skin-tight Lycra jumpsuits, pink lip-gloss, helicopters, films, Chinese capes, and the haunting final album cover for The Visitors in 1981. 

We queue for the recording booth where we can be Agnetha and Frida and sing along to an ABBA hit of our choice. You choose ‘Take a Chance,’ and I pick my favourite ‘The Name of the Game.’ 

‘The Name of the Game,’ was written as both couples were divorcing. The song is a conversation between a psychiatrist and patient; the psychiatrist is trying to get the patient to open up to love. 

‘Trust you to pick that song,’ Maimie says as we rummage through the dressing up box to get ready for our performance. 

We enter the booth and part the cherry red velvet curtains wearing feather boas and psychedelic headdresses. Holding up our microphones we start to sway to the opening bass line. I hold your hand and spin you under my arm. Lifting the mikes to our lips we close our eyes and start to sing, ‘I’ve seen you twice in a short time, only a week since we started. It seems to me. For every time. I’m getting more open hearted.