I remember the moment I first realised that I couldn’t remember. I was talking to a friend about ‘Guys and Dolls’, a musical I adore. I think I might actually have said ‘I know every note of that score’.
Then I suddenly remembered, to my surprise, that I didn’t just know it, I’d performed it. In 1994 I played Benny Southstreet in a student production. Just so you know, Benny is the part to play if you enjoy fun and laziness. He has about twelve lines, every one of which is a belter. He sings solo, prominently, in three of the show’s best numbers- ‘Fugue for Tinhorns’, ‘The Oldest Established’ and the title song. There’s a bit of dancing- never my strong point- but hell, if you’re the klutz with twelve lines, nobody’s going to care if you look ungainly. If you’re rubbish, nobody will notice. If you’re good, they’ll notice.
I really, really enjoyed playing that part, all those years ago. But when- probably about three years later- I was quacking on about how much I loved the show, I was pulled up short. I had literally no recollection of having been in it. Not the rehearsals, not the performances, nothing. Something which had- presumably- filled my brain for- presumably- a few weeks, had slipped out of my mind and memory, never to return.
Tonight, watching a TV programme about Jamie Oliver taking his wonderful Fifteen franchise to Melbourne, the same weird realisation hit me. There were some shots of Sydney. Now, facebook tells me that I was in Sydney two years ago today. Intellectually I know that to be the case. There’s a stamp in my passport. I can just about picture Circular Quay, and the view of the Harbour Bridge and Opera House. But I have no visceral recollection of what it was like to be on the other side of the world. ‘What’s Australia like?’ you could ask me. ‘I don’t know’, I’d have to reply. I remember that I danced around my hotel room listening to Little Boots. I remember reading the football section of the sports news and thinking that it focused on people like Cahill and Schwarzer, Aussies in the Prem. I remember seeing Cate Blanchett in 'Streetcar', but that's just a 'watching a play' memory, not a 'being in Sydney' one. Those are my memories of having had the privilege of visiting the actual other side of the actual world.
And that’s the thing. I’m not an amnesiac*. Some things in life remain in glorious technicolour. There are countless, unimportant experiences in my life that I could recount to you in tedious detail. But how odd that some of the biggest- running a marathon, sitting by my father’s bedside in his dying days, being in love, going to the other side of the world, most of my undergraduate life- should be things that I only remember as a series of facts, things I remember because I know they happened rather than because I can recall how they felt.
I can tell you -without even having to furrow my brow- who was relegated from League Division Two in 1982 (Cardiff City, Wrexham and Orient, since you ask, and Orient weren’t known as Leyton Orient then, so there). My boundless memory for the little things remains intact. The big things- they’re in 2D. And I suspect I’m not the only one.
*hilariously, I had to google ‘amnesiac’ just to check it meant what I thought it did. Shush.