I was interested to see that the new adaptation of ‘The Thirty-Nine Steps’ (due on TV over Christmas) won’t be including the Memory Man episode – the Memory Man is being used to store details of German spies – for the very simple reason that it isn’t in the John Buchan novel at all: it’s a Hitchcock invention, used in the 1935 film version (Robert Donat as Richard Hannay). Even Buchan is said to have thought it was an improvement on his orginal.
A Memory Man act wouldn’t survive today, I don’t think. Quite apart from the fact that everyone already knows everything, or thinks they do (trivia quiz syndrome), the suspicion would be that there was a digital device transmitting the answers. Nevertheless, it is possible to train the memory, as has often been claimed – you may, er, remember the ad which used to grace the front of many daily papers: ‘Develop A Super Power Memory’, by Harry Lorayne. I had a French teacher (yes, we’re going back 45 or so years again) whose surname was Graham-Evans, and he had actually paid for the book and mastered its secrets. At the beginning of a French lesson one day, he took out a pack of cards. This is exactly the kind of behaviour we expected from teachers, i.e. nothing to do with what we were expecting.
He shuffled and dealt out the cards at a reasonable speed, glancing at them as he went. Then he handed the pack to the nearest urchin, and asked said urchin to test him. He was able to recite the whole pack back to us in the correct order, without any hesitation. It was an impressive feat.
At this point, to our dismay, he turned to the topic for which he had previously steeled us: French vocabulary, the learning of. We sighed and opened our exercise books (cahiers). At this point, he announced that we were going to learn that day’s list of six by the Harry Lorayne method. The Lorayne method consists of using the visual power of the mind, and the ability of the brain to link successive images – to create absurd visual mnemonics. Now you could say that he had only a 50% success rate, because, after 45+ years, I can only remember three of the words he taught us (I may be able to remember the other three, but if I can, I can’t recall learning them that day). Still, here we go, and don’t ask me about gender, I’m not that good –
a) pelouse. This is French for ‘lawn’. All we had to do was to think of a lawn with peas running loose on it. Pea-loose-lawn. Got it?
b) bougie. This is French for ‘candle’. Easy. A candle swinging in a budgie’s cage.
and c) marteau. This is French for a hammer. All you have to do is imagine a hammer falling on your foot, and shouting ‘Ooh! Mah toe!’
It’s very efficient. I used to use it myself when teaching ‘Liberal Studies’, first setting up a control group of those whose memories were good, by administering a memory test, sending the said good ones away to memorise a list of twenty things, and retaining the ones who couldn’tr recall anything, and teaching them the list by the Lorayne method in five minutes. The ‘clever’ ones returned, we spent five minutes playing a nonsensical game to wipe out the immediate memory chips, and then set to work. The Lorayne group wrote the list, in order, straight out, to the amazement of the others.
I still use the system. Ask me the order of roundabouts by which I travel from the Buckingham end of Milton Keynes to the Open University. Not a problem.
Unfortunately, I have never had the occasion to speak to anyone French about dropping a hammer on a lawn-bound budgie. Otherwise, complete success.