TV review: Maureen Lipman: If Memory Serves Me Right, BBC1
Brushing Up on... British Tunnels, BBC4; Could We Survive a Mega-Tsunami?, BBC2
I wonder how much of Maureen Lipman: If Memory Serves Me Right I will remember in a year's time. Some of it is going to blur, frankly, if only because of television's fatal weakness for pulling in the same old faces.
Test me in 12 months about the sequence in which she learned techniques to help her remember names and faces and it's possible I'll recall it as a Michael Mosley programme in which Maureen Lipman had a walk-on part, rather than the other way round. Or, possibly, I'll remember it as another programme altogether, the particular techniques involved having featured in several films on similar subjects in the past 10 years. I know I've heard that thing about vivid mental pictures somewhere before, I'll say to myself, but I can't for the life of me think exactly where.
One thing I think I will remember is "the reminiscence bump", one academic's name for the fact that a significant portion of our long-term memories date from the time when we're between 15 and 25 years of age. His theory was that this was because it's a time of particularly fervent self-definition, and we use adolescent memories as a kind of fixative of personal character, foundation myths we tell ourselves about how we came to be the people we are.
But it will stick in my memory because of what happened to Lipman when her old school interrupted the reunion she was attending so that the current choir could sing the school hymn. Two or three lines in and every 60-year-old in the room appeared to be singing along word perfect, despite the fact that they probably hadn't heard it for more than 40 years.
If you were looking for a detailed account of the mechanisms of memory you would have been out of luck. There was a bit of desultory talk about the hippocampus and the amygdala, and one of those obligatory visits to a CAT scanner so that Lipman could see her memories lighting up as little pixels. But "an echo of the past reverberating in your head" was about as good as it got in terms of explanation, and that isn't an explanation at all, frankly, just a poetic paraphrase.
If you were willing to settle for a meandering exploration of the emotional texture of memories, however, there was more to satisfy. Most striking was Rudy, plagued by a memory of the aftermath of a bombing in Northern Ireland, his mind looping the image of a fellow soldier walking towards him carrying a severed hand. Forgetfulness wasn't a plight for him, as it is for Terry Pratchett, who also appeared here to talk about his memory loss. It was something he yearned for.
Brushing Up on... British Tunnels released Danny Baker into the BBC archives to do what he does best, stringing together curiosities and oddities with verbally ornate jocularity. To be honest, I didn't find it quite as funny as various sources had promised, but Baker's manner is very engaging. I relaxed with his opening line: "The fact that all human beings are obsessed with tunnels is well documented... I assume."
That insouciant addendum being very typical of his style. The archive is a pleasure too. "What's the biggest thing you've ever bought?" asked a local reporter of a scrap-dealer who'd just purchased a redundant Channel Tunnel boring machine. "Um... possibly Reading Gas Works?" the scrap-dealer replied hesitantly. You'd think he'd have remembered that.
Could We Survive a Mega-Tsunami? No, don't be bloody daft, of course we couldn't. In fact, I barely survived the film, a silly scientific disaster movie based on the fact that half of La Palma may slide into the Atlantic ocean at some point in the future, wiping out much of the Eastern seaboard of the United States. If it's going to happen you have better things to do with the time remaining than watch this.
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