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Friday, 6 January 2012

Memories are Made of er, Something

Contender for most depressing news of the day is that apparently our brains start to deteriorate from as young as 45 - 15 years earlier than previously thought. According to a study in the on-line version of the BMJ, memory, reasoning and comprehension skills all tend to get worse as we enter middle age.

Well, tell me something I don't know. No, please. Tell me. Especially given that the list of things I don't know grows by the day; passwords, the name of my Primary 3 teacher, what happened at the end of "Moonlighting".

I have known for some time that fings ain't wot they used to be in the brain department. I'm not quite at the stage of wafting down the street in my nightgown, trilling "We'll Gather Lilacs", but there are days when I've got one foot out the door.

I've never had a particularly good memory. Not for events at least. My memory seems to resist a linear narrative in favour of a jumble of split second recollections, lightning flashes of past moments, untouched by troublesome context. My brother will say "Oh, that was the day Gran had the fight with the butcher. I got a comic and you were sick on Mum's shoes." To which, despite entirely useless and annoying promptings, I will reply, "I don't remember." I really don't. I have no memory for like, what actually happened or stuff. I just remember my Mum had nice shoes.

My memories are of picking the hot tarmac out of the pavement, or the rustling wrapping of the sweets I stole from the secret drawer in the dressing table. Basically my memory is all "Don't trouble me with the facts, dude."

I also have no memory for lyrics or quotations. All I remember from four years of English Lit is that old perv John Donne going on about a "hairy diadem". I did however have startling powers of recall where conversations or jokes were concerned. Like a choir master with perfect pitch auditioning a tone deaf school boy, I would wince as some poor soul mangled the punchline to a juicy story. No longer.

Sadly, it is my facility with the spoken word that seems to be showing the most wear and tear. I used to roam the sunlit uplands of language at will, merrily vaulting symbolic stiles and fording rivers of simile. Now I need a good mental run up to the minor incline of a longish sentence, before collapsing in the heather of an over-extended metaphor like this one.

That terrible feeling of the wheels grinding slowly, click, click, click, till the brain at last shudders to a halt at the right word and the tongue falls weeping on the required phrase, "Yes! I would like a BANANA!" Banana! It is a BANANA! Joy to the world! We are saved!

No wonder I seek out the company of fellow peri-menopausal women: women who point dumbly at the sky like a UFO obsessive because they have forgotten the word for cloud; or who are reduced to miming "scorching case of thrush" to the practice nurse while they make a phone call on their purse.

All of which makes me realise that I don't think I hear men talk about their "senior moments". Certainly not as often as women do. Is it because they don't have to contend with that spot of hormonal bother? Or do they simply like to keep their linguistic and other mental deficiencies to themselves? Perhaps their brains get more regular exercise from rehearsing the scores of decades of international football matches?

Perhaps we women are too hard on ourselves. As I keep telling my daughter as she rolls her eyes at yet another instance of my mental infirmity, "Everybody remembers what I forget, but you forget what I remember." Great swathes of dull domestic family life still fall on women's shoulders and it's not the kind of stuff that anyone wants to hear about. I could drag you to the pub to chew the fat about what went in this week's lunch boxes, but why bother when we could pour bleach in our eyes? (Plus, I can't remember.)

I do miss the mental athleticism of my youth, just like I miss a 24 inch waist or my real hair colour. But where does that get me? The solution is big pants, a bottle of hair dye and er, something else.


  1. You at least remembered to post about this. I heard it this morning and was suitably depressed. Another excuse for (middle) ageism.

    It's the words I miss, the ones that were there where I left them when I started the sentence but have vanished without trace by the moment I need them. Most annoying.

    My theory is that by 45 our heads are so full that it's strictly one-in one-out but we have no control over what goes.

    However, I'm fairly sure Maddy and Bruce Willis finally got it on at the end of Moonlighting thereby ending the whole point of the thing.

  2. Ellen, I concur entirely with your theory. My head is too full of dull information like the car needing serviced or library duty to remember marvelous things like, like, oh you know the kind of thing I mean.

    I really do miss that ability to talk effortlessly though. I realise now that I took it for granted. Now that I have days where I have to rummage for words in the undergrowth of my untidy brain. I suppose though, I used to be able to do a forward walkover without even warming up and now I'm pleased to be able to touch my toes. Tis the mental equivalent and shouldn't be so surprising. But it is.

  3. Memory is obviously where people differ. In life, it is a strategy to befriend a few people who are good at your weaknesses. Fortunately, marriage turned out that for me. My wife is good at details, which leaves me to fake it through all the generalized stuff. Also, she's fifteen years younger, need I say more? So, hook up with someone with different interests and a generation-younger.

  4. Oh, how right you are. But more eloquent than you pretend methinks. Thanks for making me smile in my peri-world

  5. Thanks Jane. What you don't know is how long it took me to write it. A loooong time. :)


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