The other day here in Kythnos I was trying to remember the name of a certain type of autism. It wasn’t Tourette’s, but it was a foreign word and that’s as far as the brickwall of struggling memory took me. I could google autism and find out in 3 minutes of course, but I want perversely to remember it all on my own. But consider, if it takes me 3 days plus to remember it, even if I do recall it after all that time, what does that prove either way, given that if it were a matter of urgency I wouldn’t have the leisure of 72 hours to remember a single vital word? Why don’t I just give in and google? Answer, because I am an irrational and obstinate and extremely hidebound eejit.
My brother Bryce aged 70 has three homes. One in Crete, one in Cumbria, and one in Cambs, UK. I wonder then was it deliberate he chose areas in the world all starting with C, and if it had been Z would it have been Zaire, Zennor (Cornwall)and what else in the UK starts with a Z? Fuck it, I can’t remember (just asked someone by email and they mentioned Zeals, Wilts. Fancy that, a UK town with a ‘Z’, not Cornish. Blow me sideways, is all I can say to that). Brother Bryce has a prodigious memory when it comes to his specialist subject of accountancy, and all things financial. But he doesn’t have my bizarre and unusual skill, which is to be able to tell you what I was doing in say January 1969 (working on poxy Physics A level electronics, a curse on its gleeless memory. While we’re at it, one of the many things I hate about a lot of science and this includes Biology where of course reproduction is king, is that it wholly lacks the erotic, the sensuous and the voluptuous, whereas all arts subjects, including even bloody old Geography, have that working possibility), March 1975 (just moved to the remote Rheda area of Cleator Moor, Cumbria from, Cockermouth), December 1977 (very nice too what the two of us did together, though utterly deplorable in retrospect…) December 1986 (I think of the Panurge issue , no 6, that I was editing then. Also I can recall that particular Christmas and what it was like pace exquisite dalliance under the Christmas tree with Annie).
No, Bryce can’t do that month and date trick, nor can many other folk who are baffled by my peculiar associative memory. Some of them say they can’t remember what they did last week, and have to struggle to recall what they did yesterday. A fisherman aged 50 in the Glaros the other day, who doesn’t have a watch or a phone most of the time, turned to me and asked me in Greek what day it was. I thought and said Wednesday after about one second. He hadn’t a clue, and needed to be told. In fairness to him, all days feel the same in Kythnos i.e. excellent, even Sunday mornings, which back in Brampton, Cumbria mostly felt like a staggered and perpetual funeral procession.
But here is what Bryce can recall, and indeed so can I. We both did German at the Grammar School aka The Brothel On the Hill, and we both had to remember the list of prepositions that take the dative and the accusative cases. Bryce last studied German at school in 1960, when he was 16, and that is nearly 55 years ago. I last studied the language in 1967, when I was 16 and that is nearly 48 years ago. But Bryce can actually recite, nay sing them, and with his own special dance and lunatic squint eyes, like possibly some deranged Oberhauptsturmbannfuhrer as he leaps about the room and mutters:
aus bei mit nach zu seit von gegenuber ausser! (dative)
durch ohne fur gegen wider um (accusative)
There are also the ones that take both cases depending on whether there is motion(accusative) or stasis (dative). So Ich gang zwischen die Hauser ( I went between the houses) and Ich stand zwischen den Hausern (I stood between the houses). It’s a pity I can’t find the elusive umlaut function on this bloody laptop, but alas I cannot. Google it methavrio. OK, boss. And come to think of it, boss, you could have used Gothic script for the German, and that would have been nice for your wonderful, quite adorable blog readers too, boss. Eh? Ah kiss my ass, my so called and very titular pal, and inner voice of conscience. Also why do you use the vocative case quite so fawningly, with your boss, boss, boss? More interesting to me, my good man, and I’m sure to them also, is why the accusative should indicate motion, and the dative stasis. Here’s a brilliant theory I shall now, wassaword, toss off, and no don’t make the obvious puerile gag, plus remember the term ‘intellectual masturbation’ is a) a cliché and b)meaningless. Listen closely. I always think of the dative as the posher of the two, partly because dative comes from the Latin word ‘to give’. To give, often you have to be richer and posher than the recipient, geddit? Uhuh, sounds grade A specious bollicks to me, boss, and in any case what’s it got to do with motion and stasis? Well, motion often implies lowly and anxious scurrying about, and stasis implies lordly sitting on your idle backside for evermore. Eh? I have never heard such preposterous and third form drivel, mine master, and I thought you were a man of integrity and it is very hurtful to be your far-sighted superego, or am I maybe your id, and to learn that you are frankly not.
Around twenty years ago, it annoyed me so much that I couldn’t remember the capital of Slovakia without lengthy cudgelling of my brains, that I pinned it on a bit of paper above my desk. I had a special interest in Bratislava because that is there Sunk Island had my novel Radio Activity printed in 1993. Far worse than that, was back in summer 1989, when Ione was a only a few weeks old, and Annie and I were sharing the small hours baby care. Incidentally, I can do a lot of things, but even I cannot breast feed, though in fairness I have never actually tried. Also parenthetically I can’t be only one to wonder why a man has tits/nipples in the first place, what bloody use are they to man or mammon? Regardless, the net result of all that broken sleep was that, more dramatically in me than in Annie, my grasp of words became altogether less than their usual fluency. Part of this deficiency led me into the highly dangerous area of spoonerism. For example, I found a white-haired bespectacled electrician to wire in our new cooker, and his name was Bill Cussons. The first day I introduced him to Annie I cried, “Meet Mr Bull Kissens!” Luckily Bull/Bill was hard of hearing but he still didn’t understand why my wife was shaking with massively repressed shoulder merriment.
Even worse on Christmas Eve 1989, still short of sleep, and lying awake in bed in beautiful Hethersgill, North Cumbria, I was wrestling with the following daunting epistemological poser:
What do you call the generally round object on a door, that also being the item with which you open it?
I simply couldn’t remember. I couldn’t remember it the previous day either, and had resorted to lunatic periphrasis when addressing Annie. The thing on the door, you know and you take it and shove and it opens it. Annie herself was so bog-eyed with baby care, she didn’t even notice her husband was talking in bizarre and borderline schizoid parsing terms. Then on Christmas Day, instead of Santa Claus flying down the chimney at pitch black 1 in the morning, it was me shot up in bed excitedly and cried aloud:
“ It’s door knob! Its fucking door knob, Annie!”
And of course I woke up both her and Ione, and Ione who had taken two hours to get over, started to cry, the way small babies will. Luckily she has mostly laughed ever since…