Some Idle Thoughts On: Memory


Once again idle blogs are idling like a classic Bugatti; ticking over, but not forgotten. And it was forgetting what day it was yesterday, unless it was the day before, that caused me to think about memory and its elusiveness. We struggle to recall so much of our lives, yet every stroke, blow and fall is recorded in the unconscious as easily as wooden tables trace and recall the words of biros and knife cuts.

Memory is what makes us who we are and has been a focus of medical studies throughout history. In the first century, Pliny the Elder described a man who fell off a roof and afterward could not remember his mother, neighbours, and friends. It is unclear if Pliny pushed him or not in the name of science, nor if it was actually Pliny the Younger, whom the Elder had grown tired of introducing at the expense of his own virility.

It’s little wonder that we remember so little of our younger years, I have first-hand knowledge of an 8-year old’s concept of time. ‘Dad, I’ve made a new friend.’ ‘Oh, what’s his name?’. ‘Erm, I think I’ve forgotten.’ With this level of early years recollection perhaps it is little wonder we have forgotten most of it. Our minds play tricks with our memories. You remember your favorite blue jumper when you were 10? It was probably red, and a vest.

As surely as people driving a camper van invariably look baffled, we all potter around with a vague sense of purpose, whilst having little idea of where we are, or what we’re doing. It’s been a long time since our routines were anchored to a cave and we died at thirty choking on the indigestible gristle of mammoth. Now we have to plan for surviving childbirth and how to entertain ourselves after our bodies have given up. And all those memories. I wonder: if you had to keep one memory and lose the rest, which would you choose? I have one but it’s best kept to myself.

These days, of course, we have little need to remember much. Now no one has to admit to forgetting British Leyland paint shades available as an option on a 1985 Austin Maestro, instead they can Google it. (Or even better Ecosia it – as they plant trees when you use it). Actually cars hold a lot of memories, not simply because we spent so much time in them; the average 0-60 statistics in the 1970s was 15 seconds. In fact, my father insisted on driving at the speed of a tractor, and I vividly recall a tractor once overtaking us, which has to be life telling you that things need to speed up. He pretended not to notice.

Of course, things are named so they are not forgotten, and so that when you need something you can ask someone to pass it across. Human beings have been wandering around pointing at shit and naming it since we started. It’s kind of what defines us. The problem is we started running out of names, and started calling car models after magicians, or foxes. Biologists and explorers spend a lot of time doing this, often naming newly-discovered species after their children, of whom in the Victorian era they had plentiful, seemingly to serve this exact purpose. It’s unknown how many family rows were caused by a favoured child being used to name an impressive bird of prey, whilst younger siblings were used to commemorate the discovery of a new moth. Of course some named species after themselves, but I guess waited until the return trip to Portsmouth to decide which was the most dramatic and deserving of the family name. There can be little worse than declaring a freshly discovered water Vole worthy of your name – with a latin ending of ae after it – than it promptly being eaten by an unidentified sleekly manicured panther that catches the sunlight as easily as the imagination.

I’ve often wondered if writers scribble so they don’t forget stuff. We’re often found mumbling lines to ourselves while motioning to someone for pen and paper so we don’t forget it. Invariably we look at the lines too valuable to forget with bewilderment as to why they appeared so crucial, but it won’t prevent it from happening again. And of course to have memories we need to make them, so onwards people, let’s march into our lives and make more of whom we are.

This post was previously published on Lifeassistanceagency.com and is republished here with permission from the author.

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