Oh, what a tangled website we weave

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The Independent Culture
This Is what Alzheimer's must be like. What is? I don't know. I had the thought a minute ago but by the time I ... what? "This is what Alzheimer's must be like." That thought. Hello? Hello? Are you there?

It was in the kitchen. Some wrinkly black olives and that wonderfully pungent cheese, you know the one. Belfors. Argoblast. Bricolage Fermier. You know the one. You can get it just down the road, at that place that used to be a, used to be, anyway, it's a delicatessen now. It must be a delicatessen if it sells Reborzo. You know. Reborzo. The cheese, for heaven's sake. What's wrong with you? Hello? Are you there?

Anyway, I was in the, the kitchen and I thought: "This is what Alzheimer's must be like." Do you want to know what thought prompted that? So do I, but there must have been one. The pattern of events must have been:

THOUGHT #1: " ....................."

THOUGHT #2: "This must be what Alzheimer's is like."

Must have been. You could put money on it. (How? How can you put money on a thought? You can't ... Sorry.) The trouble is, I have lost track, utterly and completely. Distracted. Wake up in the middle of the, you know, everything goes dark and you black out, the night, where was I? There you are, then. My point exactly.

It's this website. I am writing a website. It's a marvellous website, full of wonders. One moment you are deep in the mysteries of the triple- helix Higgs propulsion system, the next you are wandering down the narrow, shady Ha'aq bin-j'Jabbli, where, at dusk, old professors from the College of Calligraphy stroll hand-in-hand, debating the finer points of Reborzo orthography, while cheery merchants call their wares and musky dancing- girls breathe invitations like incense from their velvet-curtained doorways. That's the sort of website it is.

But there's a problem, and although I am among the first victims I shall not be the last. Normally you write stuff - as it might be, this column - and you're going on about the yawning grave or nightclub hostesses or a nice mid-grey bird's-eye double-breasted worsted you've got your eye on or whatever it may be, and you suddenly remember a wonderful dish of fragrant Reborzo you once ate in an ancient Byzantine bordello overlooking the Adriatic, but the constraints of the job stop you in your tracks. "Better not go off at a tangent," you think to yourself, "otherwise the readers will get hopelessly lost, leading to complaints and the sack, plus I will get lost myself."

If you are writing a website, it's a different story. Hands up who doesn't know what a website is? Tsk tsk. It's a thing you get on the Internet. Hypertext. If this was in hypertext, you could point at the word "hypertext" and off you'd go, to a page which was all about hypertext. And maybe from there you'd go off to one about how the mind makes odd connections, which would take you to one about that horrible Dutch weed that Blegvad down below says is marketed on the grounds that it makes you paralysed and incontinent (right on, guys), and eventually end up reading about the brothels of Reborzo or ulcerative colitis or God knows what, stoma products or Underground London or the scarab-beetle in ancient Egyptian iconography.

Do you begin to see the problem? Websites - hypertexts - are about writing without restraint. Not even the basic restraint of having to keep track of what you are writing about, because the computer keeps track of it for you. Normally when you write something - not just me, all of us, whether professionals or not - what you do is remove for inspection a small section of your brain, smooth it out nicely, set it in order, make a copy, and then put it back, the result being that your thoughts are more ordered than before.

Hypertexts aren't like that. Writing hypertexts, every little "thought" that pops into your mind can be followed up. Just highlight the word that set you off, open a new page, and start drivelling. It's like tipping everything out onto a sheet of old newspaper. Everything. Including the bit of your mind that remembered that you'd tipped everything out onto a sheet of old newspaper.

The result is that the brain gradually becomes emptier and emptier until all that's left is disconnected rubbish too pointless or ill-conceived to connect to anything else. Phrases and snatches of song. Stimp. Weymouth shoes. Halfly bargreem. With a hey nonny nonny nonny what comes next? Whackstraw. Reborzo.

Nature abhorring a vacuum, the space fills up with false memories. At least, I assume they're false, because they weren't there a minute ago. At least, I assume they weren't there a minute ago, and I really ought to know. If there's one thing you should be able to remember, it's memories. What good are they otherwise?

But I'm not complaining. It's been an interesting life. I look back on the days when I was resident gynaecologist for Reborzo State Railways, coming down the straight with my easel on my back to celebrate High Mass with Max Planck on euphonium, and a genuine Boeing motorcycle with a spare pair of trousers and full matrix- metering. "Good morning, Prime Minister," they'd call from the boat-deck. "Do you have anything in a light Latakia mixture?" You could get a pound of mushrooms and still have change, not to mention an umbrella if you knew who to have a word with, but that was before nuclear power; Ray- Bans were still a gleam in somebody's eye. But it wasn't all womanising; I had 30,000 acres of prime grazing in the lush heart of the Reborzo grasslands, and I made my own hats.

Mind you, none of that is true. I made it up while I was in prison on trumped-up charges: arson in Her Majesty's Dockyards, but that was before the Tories got it. Wasn't it marvellous, Mrs Bottomley losing her seat? Hello? Hello? Are you there?

This is what Alzheimer's must be like, but don't worry. This is the Hyperworld. Just follow the links; the computer will do the rest.