It was quite late. Six of us had enjoyed a lovely meal (cordon bleu chicken, pasta, mushrooms and a green salad, for the cooks out there) and the after-dinner repartee and stories had begun.
The moon glinted off the water on the distant lake and the air was warm and soft. Cicadas shrilled and chirped and there was a sense of an evening coming to a close, but in a pleasant way.
We were recounting funny stories and comedy moments we recalled. I know that I had mentioned the famous ‘penultimate supper’ sketch and even tried to find it on my mobile but there had been no signal.
One of us then asked the question: Who was that Australian chap?
Another commented that this was a rather large group and could he narrow it down.
Eventually, we were all trying to dredge up the name of a man, who was quite well known some 30 or so years ago.
Each of us contributed a little nugget of information, which perhaps allowed another to suggest another small fact.
This may have been accepted by the others or not, but little by little, we inched towards the identity of the mystery Australian. It turned out to be Clive James.
But, and here’s the thing, it took six of us quite a while to assemble sufficient collective memory to remember the name.
I think it is an age thing.
As we get older, we have the memories, but they are obscured; they seem to lie behind a slightly opaque curtain, where you can sort of make out an outline, but no particulars.
Frustratingly, you know that you know something, but it is tantalisingly out of reach.
Eventually someone else says ‘Clive James’ (in this case) and you wonder why you hadn’t been able to retrieve the elusive memory.
It is almost as if we have too many memories. I don’t know if you ever went to a seaside fair on a pier when you were young, but they often had a silly game.
You would put a coin in a little chute and it would roll down to a platform, already full of coins, which was moving back and forth slowly, with a pit underneath.
If your coin landed in a good way, it would slowly push a coin off and you would collect it. This was your prize.
Memory is a bit like that. Your memory can be so full that to put a new one in an old one needs to be pushed out of the way, to make room.
The problem then comes when you want to retrieve one of these older memories; they are deep in the pit.
It is difficult to find it. You need clues and other hints which lead you towards it. When it is found, there is a little frisson of celebration: A memory has been rediscovered.
I like Clive James’ books. I even have a couple on the shelf behind me, as I write this.
I have forgotten much of their contents, however, so I am going to re-read them.
Isn’t memory wonderful?
l Mike Gaunt is a former assistant headmaster at St Christopher’s School, Bahrain – firstname.lastname@example.org