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Sunday 30 June 2013

Mem Fox and memory


I have been reading Pieces of light: the new science of memory by Charles Fernyhough.  It is one of the oddities of life that I happened to be reading a book about something that subsequently became important.  My father is 96 and his short term memory is not what it was. When discussing something that occurred a year ago, he can remember it quite well; however, any explanation about the current status of that matter has to be repeated so many times we end up with sore throats.
If put on the spot and not given the chance to reflect, many people would describe memory as a sort of video recording. On reflection, this is nowhere near the truth.  I, probably like most people, can remember my first day at school. However, who can remember anything about the 7th or 15th or any of the hundreds of nondescript days of our schooling. To tell the truth, I do not remember the first day at school. I only really remember going home at lunchtime and the fuss I caused because I was supposed to have lunch at school.
One of my recent duties for my father has been to construct a time line. It is surprisingly difficult. Mostly it depended on events coinciding with other events with known dates e.g. niece’s weddings, did it happen in the old car or the new etc.
However, true remembering is best explained by Mem Fox in Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge (Scholastic). Memories are as Miss Mitchell explains “something that make you laugh, my darling” or Mr Tippet says “something that makes you cry, my boy” and to Mr Drysdale “are precious as gold”. 
Emotions are the handle by which you catch those memories time and time again. Photos and other memorabilia enable the memories to be reinforced (and sometimes invented).  When Dad looked at the photo of himself and me taken at least 60 years ago (my dad is the one on the right) he could tell me how important the hat was to me yet I have no recall at all. The sad thing to me is that though I read Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge to my children many times I did not really understand its message until now.

Richard Pickup

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