Wednesday, 9 September 2009

The mists of memory

I can't claim to have a great memory, so it always amazes me when I witness a feat of memory from someone else. Not those trick abilities to memorize phone books or trivia, but rather when someone dredges up a clear memory from a time when everything is a hazy blur for me.

A few weeks ago I had a great example of this in an email I received out of the blue. It was from someone a similar age to me, whose family bought our old house when I was 11. We're talking 1966 here. I really don't need to say that was a long time ago. Here's part of the email:

I seem to remember you had a real shock of red hair!! Your dad had a train set in the front little bedroom. Didnt he run the model trains in Springfield Park?

... and, of course, he remembered my name.

By contrast, I can remember nothing of him and his family. Or the people we bought our new house off at the time. It's not just hazy - there is no memory at all. Nothing. (For that matter, I don't even recall my father having a train set in the front little bedroom, though I can verify the rest of his information.)

We know the brain is perfectly capable of retaining a lot more than it often does - but why can't I remember? It's not as if there was anything traumatic associated with the move to burn away my recall. I can only think it was lack of reinforcement. It was a time of new starts, moving to secondary school as well as moving house. I didn't live close enough after the move to go back. I wasn't revisiting what happened in my mind. Like the baker in Lewis Carroll's Hunting of the Snark, the memories 'softly and suddenly vanished away.' Never, sadly to return.
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