Rhodri Marsden: Why don't you just write it down? My dinner is at stake here

Life on Marsden
  • @rhodri

My friend Dave likes to remember lists of things using mnemonics. It's not the most riveting hobby in the world, but I suppose it's less traumatic than genital piercing. When we were in a band together he'd painstakingly construct mental images to remember the list of songs we played each night.

So if the song "Gene Pool" was followed by "Space Mansions" (as it sometimes was) he'd imagine Gene Simmons from Kiss blasting off from Cape Canaveral in a jet-powered stately home, or something. As he committed these to memory backstage he'd rock his head back and squeeze his eyes shut in concentration – a movement he'd repeat during the show, after every song, as he tried to recollect what came next. Every night, I'd look at him and think, "Why don't you just write it down?"

Last weekend, a group of us were having a birthday meal in an Italian restaurant in Hackney, and as the waitress started to take our order, it was evident that she, too, was going to do this using the power of memory alone. I was troubled. I looked at her and thought, "Why don't you just write it down?" Our dinner was at stake here. This was no time to attempt feats of mental agility. I imagined her returning to the table, presenting a pizza with a flourish, like a massive playing card with a cheesy topping, and saying, "Madam! Was your pizza… the mushroom?" and us all looking disappointed and saying, "No."

Anyway, I didn't demand that she use pen and paper – I'm not a monster. But as we gave the order, I noted that she wasn't even using Dave's technique of rocking her head back and squeezing her eyes shut. "So," she said eventually, "that's two ham pizzas, one mushroom" – but I had to interrupt. "No," I said, pedantically, "it's one ham, two mushroom." My sense of despair deepened. I imagined everything going wrong, the birthday ruined. "Sorry!" she replied, breezily, before going through the rest of the order and heading off to the kitchen. Unfortunately the tale peters out a bit here because the food arrived without any problems. I suppose my point – if I have one – is that it MIGHT NOT HAVE DONE. And those of you who require a more dramatic ending to the story, well, some space dragons turned up and vaporised everyone with lasers.