Pointless memory

February 17, 2009

Having banged on about holding on to memories, and bequeathing them fully-formed to the next generation, it occurs to me that my head – and yours, I can’t believe it is just me, oh God I hope it’s not just me – is filled with completely useless information, for instance number-plates which were on my parents’ cars. What is the point of being able to recall that my mother had DBR 188, or that, at the same time, my father had RHP 660? But I can’t shake them – and actually, since the act of committing them to paper or screen is a secure way of making sure they stick still faster – they are gummed to my synapses for good. Meanwhile, perfectly healthy facts and figures have gone the way of all skin and bone. I can tell you my post-codes – EX4 4SL for a long time – and yet I cannot remember my national insurance number, which might be a skill worth having.

I was trying to explain this to a friend the other day – that I could remember, for instance, the pin numbers I have had for a whole series of defunct cards or accounts. Unfortunately, while talking to her, I couldn’t actually recall the phrase ‘pin number’ without prompting and assistance, just that I could recall a particular number. It was 8445, and about twelve years ago, that would have let you into a hole in the wall for an account with the Nationwide. (Have a go; but I haven’t even got an account with them now.) I can remember it because I stupidly thought up a mnemonic for it: ‘George Orwell won the war’. It might seem a stupid mnemonic, since GO, for all his sterling qualities, cannot be said to have beaten off the Nazis on his own, but the phrase works because of the internal rhyme, or…or…or…, just as much as the (19)84/(19)45 which it was supposed to – and still does – summon up.

In computer terms, these are ‘orphans’, as in the jolly phrase ‘orphaned .dll’ which sometimes crops up when ‘cleaning’ the inside of my hard drive. They are also, it seem to me, rather like keys. There is something I can’t do (no you can’t, tell me you can’t), and that’s to throw away keys. You feel, irrationally, that they might come in handy, even though they open an office to which you never go, and which has, in in my case, been bulldozed to the ground. If there were a world metal shortage, a key amnesty would see the world straight.

I did write a poem about this a couple of years ago, and it seems a bit daft to have a blog without poems in it if you are a poet, so here it is. It won a modest runner-up prize in a national competition about three years ago, so I am fairly fond of it:



Sometimes you come across a bunch, fob-happy,

just hanging, like a dead pendulum. And vaguely,

they take you to doors and cabinets, to parked cars,

in houses and on streets you don’t inhabit.


It’s always early autumn with keys. They wait

impassively, slowly rusting, all their desires

lost in distant locks. They have quite forgotten

the scramble of your hands, they way they hunched


in your pocket, or under the dashboard, hiding

while you pasted your face with panic. You were

in love with them, then. They let you in.

You touched them unconsciously, ran your dabs


along their lengths, their bulleted grooves,

their edges rising and falling like the last heartbeats

on a hospital monitor. You knew them in the dark,

lavished their barrels. And now you can’t recall


which homes they opened, which secret places

they gave you, and why they were so important.

You held them. They welcomed you, somewhere,

blind with desire. They touch you, uncertain.