It is said that as a person gets older their memory gets increasingly random in focus and content. We are not talking of any degenerative disease (not just yet anyway!) but an understanding that your memory and recall is not as it once was. I think we’ve all taken part in conversations whereupon nobody can remember the name of the film that was really good on the television last night - nor can a single person remember the name of anyone in it either, even after all that finger clicking! Take for instance my good-self. Earlier in the week I had a beer with a group of blokes when the subject turned to German cities we have visited. Do you think I could remember the name of the city that I worked in for a couple of weeks during the mid-nineties? No, of course not; but as the conversation lurched towards that 1960’s pop music panel game Jukebox Jury (don’t ask!) we all knew that the urbane David Jacobs fronted the programme and then spent all evening trying to remember the name of the Birmingham lass with the thick ‘Brummie’ accent who would inevitably say - “I loik it, I’ll boiy it - and oil give it foive.” If you think about it, she was probably the very first ordinary ‘celebrity’ given that status merely by appearing on the telly and saying something memorably vacuous. Her name if you remember, was Janice Nicholls.
So we are agreed on at least one thing, I think - this being that memory is incredibly selective. I really envy those people who have an ability for almost total recall. These very lucky people are in my experience usually women - or to be more precise the woman in your life. As you grope around trying to remember a dinner you had with friends about 100 years ago - she will identify who was there, what the women in attendance wore - what we ate and the fact that she had to pick up half the tip I’d left for the pretty, flirty, waitress - whose name was apparently Jenny. Apart from that, she hadn’t a clue! As part of our general ‘blokeish’ discussion over drinks the other day - we chaps all agreed that your mind can play tricks on you even when you were younger and full of vim and - er, vigour! Anyway, why would it be that after moving from one city suburb to another in the United Kingdom a full five years before - why then, would you find yourself parking your car in the drive of your original house ten miles away with a mind that’s gone completely blank? Moreover, it is legend in my family that I once was instructed to take the kids to school on my way to work one morning. However, as I pulled up in my employers city centre underground carpark, a look in the rear view mirror confirmed the undoubted fact that my two little darlings (six and eight!) were still sat buckled-up into the back seat of my car, contentedly smiling silently at me.
I suspect we have all confronted the full horror of the determined stranger heading your way with his or her hand outstretched in recognition - and you don’t have a bloody clue who they are? Please God help me! As they gush in recognition of you - your mouth becomes dry and you start to get slight palpitations - what to say? A cheerful “How are you?” is never going to do the trick - so you might try “Is the family well?” hoping that they might say something that might reveal who they are. It is at this stage that you start to believe that they don’t really know you and are just winding you up - so you blurt out - “How long has it been?” Still no hint of who they might be and by now you are considering fainting so as to deflect your embarrassment - but, at no stage will the average person enquire mildly - “Excuse me for being rude - but I haven’t got a clue who you are.” We just don’t, do we? Then all of a sudden the mist lifts from your memory and you realise that you do know him/her - they were your neighbours back in Blighty for about six years - so why didn’t they say that to start off with, and so save you from excruciating and long lasting angst? Some people!
Nevertheless, memory is often tied to what a person is interested in or what piques their passions in life. Football fanatics who will know almost all there is to know about their own clubs and have a sadly encyclopaedic recall of their clubs players and results over the past 30 years - but, can never remember their own wedding anniversary. I belong to a military history book club where extreme nerdishness is a pre-requisite to membership. Unhappily, many of my fellow members, although fluent with the tactics and the relative strengths and weaknesses of the military deployment of the western desert based Eighth Army, during the Second World War - alas, might struggle to remember their children names. As I have mentioned before, women don’t seem to struggle in the same regard as men. It could be that they are clever at hiding their ‘brain fades’ more than their menfolk - but, by-and-large they seem better able to retain useless information. It is also somewhat of a truism that a persons brain will sometimes be kind enough to hide or disguise certain memories. Perhaps this is why I can remember with a smile the little blue-coat my daughter wore as a small child as if it were yesterday - yet can’t quite remember how I felt when my father suddenly died when he was 15 years younger than I am now.