"Finished so quickly?" we said.
"No," he said. "I just couldn't remember anything that had ever happened to me."
Jeffrey Bernard had the same sort of trouble, for vodka-related reasons. When he was commissioned to write his memoirs, he put an ad in several papers saying that he had been asked to write about his life in the last 40 years, so if anyone could remember anything he had been doing in that time, could they get in touch with him?
This sort of thing doesn't make me look forward to writing my own autobiography. I have no plans to do so, mark you. It's just that I know one day when I am otherwise unemployable but cannot give up the habit of writing, I will probably sit down to write my life and times, and then find that my recollections do not stretch to a whole book, or even article.
However, I think I have recently stumbled across another method of jogging one's memory, and that is to talk to strangers as much as possible. In the past week I have had tiny bits of my life story filled in by people I met quite by accident.
Last Thursday, for example, I was in Bath looking for a present for someone and went into a shop in Shire's Yard which sells excellently ingenious Italian inventions, and the owner of the shop said, "Mr Kington! How are you?" I had no recollection of his face at all, and he could see this, because he said hastily: "We last met sitting next to each other in the casualty department of the Royal United Hospital, a couple of Christmases back. My wife had a broken arm. You had blood pouring from the back of your head. It was the day of the terrible black ice..."
Of course! It all came back! The day of the black ice when half the population of Wiltshire and Avon fell over and were driven to hospital by the other half. I fell backwards in my yard, and knocked myself out. My daughter heard the noise (she said it sounded horribly like a man biting into a spoonful of Grape Nuts) and came rushing out... Yes, it all came back. I even put my hand up to the back of my head, because I can still feel a small depression there which I am convinced was caused by the bang...
Last Saturday I took the dog for a walk and said hello to an unfamiliar man in a field. He said: "Mr Kington! How are you?" I looked closely to make sure it wasn't the Italian knick-knack magnate again. It wasn't.
"Well, we haven't actually met for 32 years," he said. "You were visiting Cambridge at the time, when I was an undergraduate there. We met at a party. I was with my girlfriend, one of the Carter sisters..."
This shook me. My wife's maiden name is Carter.
"What was her first name?"
"I can't remember," he said. "But her nickname was Flossie...."
"What I do remember was something you said to me, because it was a real put-down. I had just started getting interested in modern jazz and I told you that I thought the effect of the Modern Jazz Quartet was like cool champagne. `More like warm lemonade,' you said."
I was shaken. Not by what I had said, which was the sort of flip reaction you had to have to the MJQ in advanced jazz circles, but by the fact that this man could remember something I had said after 32 years (though not his girl's name) - something, moreover, I had no memory of saying at all.
Would it be possible to piece together your whole life story like this?
I once had lunch with a girl called Julia. Julia was very beautiful. She had been my secretary at Punch for a while. Some time after leaving Punch she came to see us all and I took her out to lunch. She was still very beautiful. She had also developed a line in wit, because I remember being surprised during lunch when she came up with something that was almost an epigram.
"Everyone has a bad novel hidden inside them," she said, "and about 10 good quiz questions."
"That's nice!" I said. And added, rather insultingly, "Where did you get that from?"
"You," she said.
I had no recollection of saying it. Now, it is the only thing I can remember that was said between me and Julia. Still, you have to start somewhere with an autobiography.
Oh, and one other thing.
"Tell me," I asked my wife, "have you ever been known as Flossie?"
"No," she said. "Why?"
I reflected how long it would take to explain.
"Don't worry," I said. "It'll all be in my life story, when it's written."Reuse content