Christmas performance, said my neighbour as we walked our dogs in the rec this morning. She was referring to the easy Times crossword. “Panto”, said I, feeling virtuous. “Yes, I know,” she responded, “but all I could do was fill in the letter ‘P’, blank, blank, blank, blank, and go back to it later.”
There are some weeks where a certain topic comes up time and again. This week, it was memory. As I got dressed this morning I listened to Stephen Fry on Desert Island Disks bemoaning the lack of credit given to those with good memories compared with other skills.
Then again, as I was waiting in the queue for Body Pump, our instructor came down the line asking each one of us for our names, then went down the line again to see whether through visualisation he’d managed to remember them. Didn’t like to remind him that I’d been doing his class for ten years and he did used to know it!
I am in awe of those with good memories. Until this week I didn’t know that Mark McCormack, the American lawyer, sports agent and best-selling author, had a mind like a computer. He didn’t rely on diaries, but because he always had a very full schedule would sometimes tell a colleague or friend that he would ring them in six months at a certain time – and he would, on the dot. He also left behind 30,000 boxes of material which has now been archived by the University of Massachusetts, so he always had back-up.
Me? Well my memory is good for the most part but there have always been gaps. I can remember numbers, but not dates (yes, I know, seems a contradiction in terms but there it is). Names sometimes present a problem now, but I’m confident if I leave it for a couple of seconds the answer will come winging back.
But smells, well that is a whole different ball game. Again, this week I caught an episode of The One Show featuring the singer Mika and chef Michel Roux Jnr. The presenters aired a slot about growing mushrooms in coffee grounds, then passed the resulting fungi round to their guests. What did they talk about? Yes, you’ve guessed it: the smell, and what it reminded them of.
In fact, it turns out that Mika collects smells. He puts objects into small brown bottles, seals them with a stopper, and then transfers them to a dedicated cupboard. When he wants to remember an occasion, or a person he goes to take a sniff. I thought I’d see whether he’d posted anything online about this and sure enough there is a very entertaining article up there.
He admits that, even as a musician, he finds smell has a far greater ability to trigger memories than music. He goes on to recall that he fired an old assistant on a tour because her perfume was the same as that of a teacher who’d made his life hell at school. And he was later proved right in doing so.
I’m with him. The smell of roast chicken instantly takes me back to my childhood. Chanel no.5 is another prompt. And the smell of damp returns me to a basement flat I lived in in my twenties. What smells trigger a reaction in you?