Sorry, I seem to have forgotten

“Memories, may be beautiful and yet
What’s too painful to remember
We simply choose to forget
So it’s the laughter
We will remember…”

You probably recognise this as part of the lyric from The Way We Were, as sung by Barbra Streisand in the movie of the same name. Or you might remember the Gladys Knight version. The song (by Alan Bergman and Marilyn Bergman) contains a reassuring, sentimental idea with some element of truth.

Yes, we recall laughter and fun times, though often by looking back through rose-tinted glasses. And, while I don’t believe we can choose to forget what is painful, our minds have a way of allowing it to fade into the background with time.

I find that much of what I remember is in the form of snippets, very definitely not a recollection of a whole day or even a whole event.

Kate Bush’s song Moments Of Pleasure is closer to the mark for me.

“Some moments that I’ve had
Some moments of pleasure…”

The song features a selection of brief memories, some happy, some poignant, some reflecting the passage of time, some comforting, apparently remembered in a random way – random in the old sense of the word, that is, without pattern or conscious choice…

“Just being alive
It can really hurt
And these moments given
Are a gift from time…”

Of course, to craft such a beautiful song Kate Bush has picked the most attractive memories and given them structure.

But I find that much of what I remember is neither particularly happy nor sad, and not even remarkable. Some of these brief memories can be awkward, embarrassing, but others are just everyday and, frankly, tedious. And they pop into the mind, apparently out of nowhere, on a regular basis, the same few memories, the same few glimpses of the past, over and over.

Here are some real examples: as a child, using the word “blimey” – how quaint does this sound? – and my friend’s mother telling me off because it was short for “God blind me”; as a teenager, the friend we shut in a cupboard at school, and how stupid I felt when a teacher quizzed us as to why; and, as an adult, while sitting in traffic in London on a hot evening with car windows open, long before I lived there, a woman driver heading the opposite way asking me if that loud noise was coming from her car.

But, like Kate Bush – how many times will I be able to write that in a sentence? – I do have more precious memories. Once again, though, it does seem to be the same selection which regularly revolves around in my mind.

Here are just a few of them…

First of all, from childhood: jumping on earwigs that were attracted to my grandad’s chrysanthemums; my friend and I in front of the TV, playing at commentating on a football match; later, the same friend moving to Australia and sending me a boomerang; and coming home to find a temporary gate and a puppy in our garden.

As a teenager: our first colour TV arriving, and how much better it looked later that day after my uncle called by and turned the colour up; writing at my desk – nothing much has changed then – on a hot summer’s day listening to Radio Caroline play Wings (Let ‘Em In, I think); and on an insufferable night in the heatwave summer of 1976, deciding to sleep in the open air in the garden in a sleeping bag – the specific memory is the dog’s wet nose waking me in the morning; and, on a family outing to a city park, seeing my father and his brother ride by on the miniature train intended for children.

Then, beyond these memories, are flashes of little more than a brief second, a barely-recalled moment in the back of my mind like a fading dream, just out of reach, the kind of memory that can sometimes be sparked in a deja vu moment.

But there are a very few days from which I can recall more than snippets – my wedding day to Kathie would be one happy example, even though we do not have a video recording to refresh our minds (that is another story).

If a publisher ever asks me to write my life story – admittedly, unlikely – I will have to try much harder than this.

I enjoy reading autobiographies, I am currently reading Lee Evans’, but I often think – “how do this author remember all this stuff?” Does the publishing company bring in a hypnotist so the subject can regress and prize out gems of memory from the depths of his or her brain?

Kate Bush hit on another truth in Moments Of Pleasure – mother’s sayings. She quotes her mother as saying: “Every old sock meets a new shoe.”

My late mother also had some great expressions. If you were trying to work out a route she might say: “Of course, you don’t really want to start from here at all.”

And to describe a warm stuffy room – I believe this came from her mother, my nanny – she would say: “It’s hot as hen-muck in there.”

What is your experience of memory? Do I have a particularly bad memory or is everyone’s mind organised in this way?

To find out more

Kate Bush –

Use of the word random –

My earlier blog, Who Am I?, may also cast some light on this issue –

Author: Graham Brown

I am Graham Brown, author of this blog, an Englishman living in Orkney since St Magnus Day 2010. I love music + radio. I’m married to musician, singer and songwriter Kathie Touin. I am a member of Harray & Sandwick Community Council and Secretary of Quoyloo Old School (community centre). I volunteer with the RSPB. I was on the committee which restored Orkney’s Kitchener Memorial and created the HMS Hampshire wall. I belong to the Radio Caroline Support Group, Orkney Field Club and Orkney Heritage Society. I spent nearly 24 years at the BBC in London. Remember: One planet, don’t trash it.

4 thoughts on “Sorry, I seem to have forgotten”

  1. Masterful as ever Graham. I am always curious how an overheard song or smell can whisk you years through time and space to people and places that may not exist anymore but are still indelibly linked to the present through you and the association just made.

    For example, a hoary old 70s rock track like More Than a Feeling will take me back to Cleveland Park, ex home of the Middlesbrough Tigers/Bears where I watched Speedway every Thursday evening. Nik Kershaw takes me back to 4th year club in junior school and a certain combination of smells, wet dog, donner kebab meat, jasmine and woidbines has me at Shepherds Bush market on Goldhawk Road. Apparently Dame Maggie Smith is the same…

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