Column: July 20, 2011

I FEEL sorry for Rupert Murdoch. As I watched him being grilled about things that happened a couple of years ago, I felt a great sense of sympathy for the Wizened of Oz. And this was before the idiot with the white foam.

For I, too, suffer from his affliction. They say there are two sorts of people in this world: those who can remember things.

I have a dreadful memory. My uncanny ability to wipe information from people’s minds is almost a super-power, if it weren’t for the fact that it only works on me and that I have no control over it. If I were in the X-Men, my code-name would be Forgeto.

It has caused me more grief than any of my many other failings, because people assume it is actually laziness. Far from it.

If anything, the firefighting that my forgetfulness causes me to do expends far more energy than the performance of the tasks I have forgotten. If I could get back all the time I have lost unnecessarily making up ground for stuff that has slipped my memory, I would be retired by now.

Occasionally, well-meaning types ruffle my hair and tell me I have a memory like a sieve. And I say to them, “Oh, that is very good. Did you come up with that one yourself, or did you get it out of the Bumper Book of Rubbish Clichés?” And they say, “Well, at least I haven’t left my umbrella on the bus.” And I look at my shoes and tuck the black sheathy umbrella cover sticking out of my pocket farther inside.

But they are right. My memory is like a sieve, but not any sieve which could work in the real world, because it lets all the big stuff, like loved ones’ birthdays, fall through its holes, and keeps all the small stuff, like Superman’s birthday (February 29). This is what makes people think I do not care. They ask, “How can you know all the words to The Beverly Hillbillies theme tune, but not remember that report is due today?” And I say, “What report?”

Other well-meaning types take me to one side and try to organise me. “Yes, yes,” they say. “I’ve got a terrible memory, too. So what I do is I write everything down in a diary or notebook, and then I don’t forget things. Why don’t you try that?”

And I say to them, “No, you don’t have a terrible memory. Because YOU remember to write things down. And then you remember that you have a diary or notebook with things you’ve got to do written down in it. And later you remember to read it. You’ve actually got an absolutely brilliant memory, because you remember things some time BEFORE you are meant to do them.”

I did once feel guilty about my ability to retain trivia at the expense of important things, so I tried the “writing things down” trick. It did not work and I nearly missed my girlfriend’s 18th birthday meal as a result. This was 20 years ago, by the way, I am not Hugh Hefner.

We had not been going out very long and she phoned me to tell me the time of the meal. As soon as I put the phone down, I ran to get a pen, phones being essentially fixed devices in those days of black and white internet and 15p Mars bars. I wrote it down, “8.30” and put it next to the phone. There was no way I was forgetting it.

It was 7pm on the night of the birthday meal, and I was in the bath. It was pushing it, admittedly, with regard to the time, but I was keen to be clean and tidy. So when my mother knocked on the bathroom door with the news that my girlfriend’s entire family was waiting outside in their car, I wasn’t really in a position to receive guests.

It transpired that in the period between putting down the phone and writing down the time, I had forgotten my girlfriend had said, “7.30” and decided it was “8.30.” I later married her, and, ironically, none of her family has ever forgotten the event.

Oh, yes! “And people who can’t remember things.”

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