There’s nothing like meeting up with old friends to put things in perspective. I wrote recently that since we retired we seemed to have less time for socialising than when we were working. Given that this particular couple live in China and are still working, the opportunity to meet up is rare but here they were sitting on our sofa resurrecting old memories, except there’s the problem right there – memory. OK, in the words of the song (The Way We Were) : Memories light the corners of my mind. Misty water-coloured memories of the way we were. In our case it’s more a case of memories lost somewhere in the corners of my mind where the light ranges from dim to non-existent and the water is definitely murky as opposed to misty. Hey ho.
But then chatting to old friends is comforting – in a way. It’s a chance to be reminded (they may not agree of course) that, even though they’re younger than us and still working and with plans to continue working for some time yet, that we all seem to have similar restrictions in the remembering department. Quite a few dark corners and not enough light. During the few hours of their visit there seemed to be a disproportionate number of conversations that went something like – do you see much of what’s her name? Who are you talking about? You know, the woman with the red car. You’ll have to give me a bit more to go on than that. Oh, you know, thingy, what’s her name, the one with the blonde hair, she went to work in Cumbria. Never mind. Or at a broader level – did you see that film, can’t remember the name of it, ooh, that’s annoying, that’s going to bother me until I remember. Well, who was in it? You know that bloke that was in that thing with the dogs. Which bloke? The one who married the woman that starred in that soap opera. Can’t remember her name. And so, for worryingly long periods, it went.
Was this, I wondered, peculiar to us folks working our way resolutely through our sixties into complete memory oblivion (otherwise known as senility) or has there always been a part of me that had trouble with certain aspects of my memory? So set against this baseline, things aren’t really so bad. For example, when working, it’s probably true to say I met quite a lot of new people – teachers, parents, other professionals, even children. I had a hell of a time remembering their names. I read somewhere that when you first met somebody whose name you needed to remember you should repeat the name as often as possible in that first meeting. So, nice to meet you, Mary and how are things, Mary and did you get here alright, Mary? I never, for obvious reasons, felt comfortable with this tactic and as a result I used to spend a great deal of time using generic terms – your head-teacher / the special needs assistant / colleague / father / mother / this school and so on. I like to think I pulled it off most of the time although I’d be lying if I didn’t admit there were times when I ended up saying, excuse me, but I haven’t a bleedin’ clue what your name is or something similar. So this memory thing hasn’t just made an appearance in retirement. Thank God, or whoever makes all this up.
True it may be that my memory losses have moved up a notch or two in that now it’s not just people’s names I can’t remember, but sometimes the names of even familiar objects like window or frying pan. I seem to remember it’s called aphasia or word blindness or some such but that’s assuming I’ve remembered correctly. Mrs Summerhouse and I don’t even bother commenting on those traditional memory problems of going into a room and forgetting why we went there or the all too common – ooh, I was going to say something but it’s gone now.
I know retired friends who do memory exercises to guard against, or at least delay, this kind of deterioration. The ‘use it or lose it’ school of thought. I can’t say I do this but I did recently resort to a pneumonic to remember the names of the modes we play in my jazz piano evening class (more of which later). I’ve never been a big fan of pneumonics although, like so many other people, I’ve used a few in the past – ROYGBIV for colours of the rainbow; All Cows Eat Grass for notes in the left hand and so on. The problem I have is I often can’t remember the pneumonic. Take the one to help me remember the modes – Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Myxilodian, Aeolian and Locrian – try making a pneumonic out of that lot (IDPLMAL, not exactly memorable is it?) and then remembering it. I suspect I’m getting off the point of this blog, I suspect but I’m not sure because I can’t remember what the point was or indeed, more likely there probably never was one.
It must be time in this blog to ask if this diminishing of one’s memory powers has any kind of upside for the retired person. For example, wouldn’t it be marvellous if we were able to forget all those embarrassments of our past. Yes, it would be marvellous if this were true but, in fact, the exact opposite is the case for me – I can’t easily remember all the moments of triumph, they fade, but the bad moments crowd into my head in that legendary ‘middle of the night’ period. Lining up to keep me tossing and turning until Mrs Summerhouse tells me to ‘stop fidgeting’ and go to sleep. If only. Distance in the past is no problem, those truly embarrassing moments come back clear as a highland stream and as fresh as a daisy. Wow, that’s literary. So positives in all this? no, not really.
So I guess we retired people just have to accept a reducing memory as yet another feature of being retired and getting older. It’s true that there aspects of getting older and being retired that make the heart sing but, yes, you’ve guessed it, I can’t remember what they are.