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Just remember this …

As I was saying before …

Before what? Before when?

Why did I come into the kitchen? What am I doing here?

Well, as I was saying …

What was I saying? Something about … er …

Hell, let’s start again.

There’s this problem I’m having with memory. I hear mention of such terms as

short-term memory and long-term memory.

And presumably there is also a mid-term memory or is that something only the kids have when back at school and day-dreaming about the recent hols … or the next ones?

Whatever. Which is also a phrase peculiar to the young. I remember that. Probably because I hear it almost every day, so how could I forget?

Now, as I was saying …

… if someone could remind me what I was rabbiting on about.

Ah yes, memory. I remember now. Or rather I don’t and had to rely on you to prompt me.

But that’s not unusual. My good old mate John sits there chuckling away while he reminisces for hours on end with precise recall of places, happenings, dates, quotes and all the other minutiae of days long gone. Did we really do that, say those things, go to those bars, get into those scrapes?

Who knows? I certainly don’t but I’ll take John’s word for it, and revel in those moments he recalls for me to enjoy.

Not everything is forgotten. There is also what I call a broad-brush memory. The big picture. It is like a painter has filled the canvas with the base layer but neglected to add any further detail.

Over more than eight decades I have created a considerable storehouse of memories.

Nine schools, innumerable abodes, countless employers, career changes, twenty-five years roaming the world as a travel writer and, of course, those three marriages that cause much eyebrow raising. It all adds up.

Yet when I try to trawl back through tbe years, there are merely dot points and no detail. Imagine putting all your belongings into storage and, when you return, find someone has thrown away the key.

I can give the addresses of all the houses lived in, list those schools, name every boss, reel off the places visited and people met … and that’s where it mostly ends. No details, no anecdotes, none of the conversations that John and others can recite verbatim.

They’ve gone.

The recent past is as much a blank as years gone by. Books are read and the title and plot almost immediately forgotten. Too often I have walked out of Waterstones having bought a novel I read but a couple of months ago.

I listen in awe to sport enthusiasts recapturing classic moments way back in the past, when so-and-so scored a goal or rolled in a winning putt at the eighteenth hole.

The many races I have run are a matter of record, but not of memory. The times and placings are there but there will be no detailed race report for, apart from a couple of stand-out events, I know not now what happened on the day.

So many nights have been spent enthalled by musical, theatrical and operatic performances by some of the world’s greatest artists yet mostly I can provide only a roll call of their names and not the detail of what was so sublime and magical at the time.

Money wasted? I think not, for somewhere deep within there rests a spirit greatly enriched by those moments.

Thank goodness for TV dramas. At least they provide an extensive recap of the previous week’s episode to ensure I don’t remain clueless as to what has gone before.

And as I watch these dramas unfold, I find myself cheering on yet another surly suspect telling a sceptical cop that he has no memory of where he was between 10 and 11 on a Thursday night three weeks ago. Better believe it, Sarge, memory isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

We’re all unreliable witnesses, as the saying goes. It’s just that for some of us the dimmer switch has been turned full on.

Occasionally a trigger fires a spark that throws a light into the darkness. That’s the moment when I hammer away at the keyboard and document the gems that have been revealed.

Something for posterity, maybe, but mostly for my own enjoyment an satisfaction. After all, as L P Hartley assures us in his immortal opening to The Go-Between “the past is a foreign country” – although there’s precious few of those I relish visiting nowadays.

All the above is not written as a whinge; it is simply a setting down for my own clarification of how things are and how I feel about them.

Not bad really, all things considered – that is if I can remember what they were.

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