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.

3 comments:

  1. I do that to people a lot. My good friends are used to me reminding them 'Yes, you were there when we went to Skegness. You wore that red dress you used to love' talking about stuff that happened twenty years ago. I have very exact recall over lots of lots of events from a very young age - I even remember learning to walk before I was nine months old. However, my short term memory is rubbish. I can walk into the kitchen and forget why I went in there. The brain is a strange and beautiful thing...

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  2. I'm flattered you included a picture of Cromer beach, but I can't imagine what it's got to do with the story.

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  3. So right, Niki, we always underestimate and misunderstand the brain.

    Henry - isn't everything about Cromer? I'm sure you know what the painting is called, really. Or can't you remember?

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