‘The Forget button purges your history in a single click. Check it out’ suggests my Firefox message today. Only somebody under 35 could invent such a thing – somebody with all the synapses in full working order, convinced of his immortality, and able to remember exactly what he was doing in the morning eleven days ago. For me to attempt such a complex mission these days would involve at the very least a calendar and several diagrams, the main content of which would be empty spaces and question marks.
Working on the Maoist principle of every journey beginning with the first step, the opening stage of the investigation would involve establishment of what day it is with a degree reasonable of certainty. There have been times in the recent past when this objective alone has not been 100% achieved until the next day, following which the process begins all over again.
I suppose in many ways it’s a good job God isn’t Chinese, because otherwise we’d either all be thrown away after six months, or spend 99% of our lives on a shelf in the attic, dribbling pointlessly. Luckily she isn’t, because a Professor of Neuroanatomy told me me long ago (I’ve no idea when to the nearest twenty years) that the human brain and body is designed to work, if looked after reasonably well, at around 70-90% of capacity for a median total of 48 years. When life expectancy was 40 (up until about 250 years ago) that left plenty of room for error and old age. Today there are people aged 48 who’ve never had a proper job. One of them’s the bloody Prime Minister for crying out loud.
The history of my body is what one might call a series of intermittent and largely half-hearted attempts to tidy up after a series of wild parties. Before the age of 18, it was a temple on account of a burning ambition to become the White Pelé. At University it was a fermentation system occasionally using the accelerators available at Kentucky Fried Chicken outlets. Once I found gainful employment, it dawned on me quite quickly that it was possible, in the 1970s advertising profession, to be permanently full of nice food and good wine at the Inland Revenue’s expense; so from around 1974 to 1979, the body Slog was a run-down end-of-terrace in Balham. Fatherhood, ambition, an ulcer and the persistent pain of rising pavements brought about a change of direction (advertising people became almost overnight the Perrier Generation in the 1980s) and thus until I packed in full-time work in 2000, this New Seriousness meant, at least during the daylight hours, my body was dragged to and from the gym but rarely saw the inside of a pub, gastro or otherwise.
The bit one can’t do much about in a physical sense is, of course, what lies between the listening equipment on either side of the head. My hearing is in great shape because a good 70% of what’s said to me arrives in heavily accented, Occitane-influenced French. Nothing keeps the ears on their toes like constant exercise. Ears don’t have toes, this is just a figure of speech. Also I have no desire to get my lugholes grafted onto my feet. The point is, the brain area needs a different kind of activity to keep it up to scratch. If this doesn’t happen, pretty soon people start scratching their heads, and after that the plastic cup with spout beckons.
It’s been my belief for nearly half a century that the brain remembers pleasurable stimulation effortlessly until the day we die, and forgets physical pain within days. This system works quite well in some ways: it explains for example why most people remember the good times, and forgive nasty things done unto them. It is in turn the only possible explanation of why women suffer the inestimable pain of childbirth…and then nearly always decide to do it again.
In other ways, sadly, the model is at best badly parked and at worst upside down in a ditch. Rather too many of us focus on the pleasure of booze and orgasms; this – coupled (if you’ll pardon the expression) with women forgetting vaginal exit pain – means a never-ending population problem for a species whose main predator is itself. The power bestowed upon us by oodles of cash is very easily remembered, and has now become an addiction that threatens our very existence. And last but perhaps most important of all, the pleasure derived from praise is near universal….but we seem to have little or no discernment when it comes to the people proffering it. The fulsome praise of frustrated architect Adolf Hitler led Albert Speer to design buildings so monstrous in their reflection of the Führer’s megalomania, later computer modelling showed that his planned Reichstag dome would have developed its own micro-climate of almost constant rain.
For myself, I approach the eighth decade with a brain suggesting at around 8 am that bollocks shall not go unpunished, at 1 pm that a couple of beers with lunch would be quite nice, at 3 pm that a siesta might be in order, and in the early evening that things in the garden need variously cutting, moving, watering, cropping or feeding.
6.30ish pm brings with it the stimulating memory of red wine, cooking, and musing. This evening, I’ve been musing about memory dysfunction and the occasional joys to be had from forgetting. Devoutly schismatic Christians, fundamentalist Islamics, military nerve centres, the political Left and the Neoliberal Right remember everything and learn nothing. This will do for the species in the end.
The Daily Mail triumphantly unearthed the fact today that Jeremy Corbyn once said, “Homo sapiens is a bloody nuisance and it would be a good thing for the Earth if another asteroid hit and wiped us all out as soon as possible”. I think the Wail was trying (in its usually artless manner) to suggest that this makes Comrade Korbychev an unutterably wicked person. I suspect it means he is nothing more than an exception to the species rule.