Miles Kington: Just call me memory man, the numbers are all in my head

I have never bothered to master the use of phones for storing numbers. I can remember them all. Obviously, I get mocked a lot by people with i-Pods
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The Independent Online

In a new documentary film called Unknown White Male, the central figure is a stockbroker called Doug Bruce who suddenly loses his memory. Can't remember who he is. What he is up to. Anything. And nobody can explain why he has lost his memory.

Well, I think I may be able to help. I think it was probably because his personal organiser was doing so much remembering for him that he forgot how to do it himself. Someone once said that if you can remember the number of your credit card off by heart, you are probably doing too much shopping.

I think it may have been me, actually. But I see it differently now. The way I see it now is that if you can remember the number of your credit card, you are helping to stave off the ravages of old age and memory loss.

When I was younger, I used to have a very good memory for things such as telephone numbers, addresses and post codes. Numerical things, mostly. Not faces so much. But names and numbers, yes. Actually, I still do, even if not so strongly.

To this day I can remember the address we had when we first moved into West London in the 1960s, which was 44 Addison Road, W14. The telephone number, I think, was WES 9816 and the one we had, later on in Notting Hill, at 75a Kensington Park Road, was PAR 6606. I can even remember the number of my mother's Renault Dauphine, sold 40 years ago, which was RUN 169. Impressive, eh ?

Well, no, it's not, but it does explain why I have never bothered to master the use of phones and mobiles for storing people's numbers. I have never really needed to. I can pretty much remember them all. I do have a mobile phone, but there are no numbers stored in it, just as there are no numbers stored in the electronic memory of anything else I have. Either they are stored in my memory or, if the worst comes to the worst, they are all written down in an address book.

This marks me out as one of the most retrograde operators on the scene, lagging 10 or 20 years behind everyone else, and obviously I get mocked a lot by people with active thumbs and i-Pods and dexterous texting capabilities. (I haven't got round to texting yet either.) But I think it may also mark me out, quite by accident, as one of the most advanced thinkers in the realm of memory retention.

The theory seems to be that if you exercise a function of your brain, you keep it elastic and practised, and if you abandon it, it gets choked up with weeds and ceases to function. Well, it also seems to me that if people depend more and more on their personal organisers and databases to remember things for them, and less and less on their memories, their memories are going to get more and more rusty, till they finally seize up.

Most people don't actually remember things any more. They just retrieve them. They dip into the database, scroll down and find it there. They don't have to remember them, so they don't try. The only numbers that people really have to learn by heart are their pin numbers or car registration number. A lot of my friends, I have discovered, do not even know the number of their own mobile phones, so that when they lose them, they have no idea what number to ring to find out which sofa they have put it down the back of - and when they lose their mobiles, I suppose, they lose everyone else's number as well.

Am I saying that every time I dial a phone number, I either remember it or look it up? Yes, I am. I am so hopelessly disorganised that I HAVE to learn these things by heart, and then key them in in full, every time.

And my only comfort, apart from the fact that I couldn't care less when I lose a mobile phone, is that this constant effort may be keeping my memory green and agile while the rest of you are sinking into an electronic oblivion. Maybe that explains the amnesia of Doug Bruce, the central character in this new documentary film Unknown White Male, the stockbroker who suddenly finds he can no longer...

No, hold on. I've already said that, haven't I? Sorry about that.

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