The Stirrer

news that matters, campaigns that count

for Birmingham, the Black Country and beyond

FORGETTORY

04-10-2007

Can Laurence Inman really have forgotten who invited him to be best man at a wedding? Oh yes, and plenty more besides.

I was at university with a bloke who later became quite a famous philosopher. (Well, as famous as any philosopher might become, which usually means only among other philosophers.) He wrote an autobiography.

I am not mentioned in it by name, but he does recount incidents and events at which I was present, with him, as a friend. We were fairly good friends. I'm reasonably sure that I introduced him to his first wife, who was a friend of the woman who later became my first wife. We were all friends.

So I used the lovely internet to hunt this bloke down. He was then working at an American university. We swapped a number of e-mails. He clearly remembered the occasions he'd written about and many others of which I reminded him, and at which my presence was an integral part, but he couldn't remember me! Not me, as such. Not me, the person who I regard as being very memorable.

I felt a little hurt by this.

But I shouldn't have done, because over the years I have begun to realise that my own 'memory' is in fact about 80% forgettory.

I know this because I have kept a daily journal since 1st January 1961. That's very nearly 47 years, longer than some people have been alive. Every single day. All because my mom bought me a five-year-diary for Christmas.

I hardly ever look at the volumes of narrow-feint A4 (which I use now) but whenever I do it is an unnerving experience.

First, there's the terrible feeling that life was just more interesting when I was younger. How can the same 24 hours which in 1971 produced three closely-scrawled pages of notes, letters, hilarious accounts of events and thoughts now be dismissed with Got up. Had a crap. Nothing much happened?

Then I am faced with the curious warping that the memory seems to impose on itself over a period of time. Things which I was sure happened months, or years, apart, I am shocked to find happened on the same day. And events I was certain happened on one day were in fact spread out over a whole decade.

Worst of all is discovering that I have completely forgotten complete groups of people, people who were obviously close friends.

For instance, I have been bothered for years by references in the 1970 volume to someone called 'C'. Went round to C's. M her usual jolly self. She did us all a huge stew. Jeff and Sue also popped round. Thence to The Talbot. C asked me to be his best man, but I will be at KF's wedding that day.

Now nothing could be more evident that C, M, Jeff, Sue and KF were all chums I had known for a time, that we were all friendly and familiar with each other and thought we would continue to be so. C, whoever he is, actually asked me to be his best man!

And yet none of these initials or names now mean a thing to me. I cannot even get close to visualising who they might be. And they aren't the only ones. Not by a long way. There are literally dozens of such characters in these volumes, enough to fill a big church hall.

Have they also forgotten me so completely ? When exactly did they silently slip out of my mind ? It's not even as if I find myself thinking: Who was that bloke who asked to be his best man ? The whole time might just as well not have happened.

It makes you wonder whether or not the ordinary, banal, fleeting, ephemeral, second-by-second experience which makes up most of our lives is worth having in the first place, if so few traces of it survive more than a few days.

I've just read The Leopard by Guiseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa. It is a great novel. At the end, as the main character lies dying, he tries 'to make up a general balance sheet of his whole life, sorting out of the immense ash-heap of liabilities the golden flacks of happy moments.'

It takes him less than a paragraph to list them.

Leave a comment or raise new issues on The Stirrer message board.

The Stirrer home

©2007 The Stirrer