Monday, 29 October 2007

Remember (Walking in the Sand (You're A Womble))

I've just dug out an old VHS to find a film for someone which is in large part about the unreliability of memory and the fictionalising of your past. It took me some time to find it, largely because my memory of where it was and what the side of the tape might look like were both seriously at fault.
Not at all surprising, of course, a recentish New Scientist article suggested that memory and imagination are essentially the same thing, coming out of the same bit of brain stuff- we confabulate stuff about the past, present and the future and treat one as fact, one as speculation and the one in the middle as opinion.

When I found the tape (in the last place you'd look- obviously, because when you find it you stop looking) as well it not being where my mental image had put it and not looking like I'd imagined it, it was interesting to see what had been on the tape before and then wiped and scribbled over-

Hearts and Minds, the Jimmy McGovern and Christopher Eccleston school drama,
those compilation repeats of Not the Nine O'Clock News which I think they've since put on DVD that don't really give you a sense of what the show was actually like at all but do give you the canonical Good Bits,
and, intriguingly, something listed only as Potato Thing.

I'm not sure but this may have been that "all the McGanns" drama set in Ireland possibly really called The Hanging Gale, and only called Potato Thing on the side of the tape to annoy my other half within agreed safe limits of co-habiting teasery.

My memory was patchy but willing to supply details when given the cues and clues from the scrawl on the tape label.

I then had a quick peep at the tape to check there was nothing dreadful on it. It was leaving our house as an ambassador of our past viewing and intending to view, after all, so it was important to see if it had a fairly good human rights record.

Pleasingly, it came out pretty clean, having the film version of The Plank (unbilled on the tape label), which I had no idea at all I had on VHS, and Orson Welles' film of Othello, which I've watched bits of several times but never sat right down and gone for properly.
I still believe I will watch all of Welles' Othello some day, by the way, despite it having a) spent years in an old monitor box with some hats on top of it in a cupboard we rarely use and b) just been parcelled up to loan out.

One thing that interested me was seeing some of the dreadful old adverts on the tape and remembering them in hideous detail- though crucially only as I viewed them, not beforehand. It was a sort of deja vu experience, where recollection and experience seemed to be happening simultaneously. I was either unravelling every detail of these long forgotten ads from some kind of compressed zip files somewhere in my head as I watched, or else convincing myself I was.
Probably a bit of both, because, as we've established, memory is unreliable and capricious.

You search actively for a name you need to know right now, only for it to pop unbidden to mind a day and a half later when safely irrelevant, past embarrassments crash unbidden into vivid life when you least expect, talking heads on popular TV list shows all remember the same iconic moments no matter how old or young they are, almost as if they'd just been shown the excerpt on a monitor by a researcher a few minutes ago. "The memory cheats" as I think RTD once said.

To illustrate from personal experience, I was knocked down by a car as a child, and most of my recollections of the event actually come from my later retelling of it to others, I've largely erased the actual moment and replaced it with my subsequent explanations of it.
However, for many many years when falling asleep I would sometimes have a sudden sense of my face collapsing and smashing inwards which would cause me to leap upright and then struggle to get any rest for a few hours. It occurred to me, just as suddenly, in one of these spasms in my late twenties that this might be some kind of raw, unprocessed "muscle memory" of the impact with the road where I lost a couple of teeth, breaking through when my guard was down.

That might have been a totally unscientific rationalisation of an unrelated problem of course, but since making that mental connection those imagined face collapses seem to have stopped. Whether it was true or not, I'd found an explanation that made sense for me, and tidied it away.

I think this is also relevant to the ongoing Diana blah going on in court at the mo, and for the rest of time, I imagine. After a while, you don't really remember most things, so much as remember what you remember remembering, and can often replace actual memory with a later rationalisation of what you've experienced, so it's hardly surprising testimony now doesn't match that of ten years ago.
The tapes have been written over with new versions of the programme a few too many times since then, and there's only little flashes and snippets left where the old stuff pokes through.

As Leonard Cohen definitely sang in the song I may have misremembered slightly in an earlier post- "I can't forget, and I can't forget. I can't forget but I don't remember what."
I think.

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