Memories are curious things, mine has always been selective but of late it simply refuses to have anything to do with anything it deems less than crucial, according to Libby this means just about everything of a domestic nature. Absent mindedness is often the default position of the overtly brilliant, it is supposed to indicate an intellect with much better things to do than remember its hat, or doing the washing up or its fifteenth wedding anniversary. In the brilliant forgetfulness is rarely seen as a deficiency because the brilliant are always busy being brilliant, who cares if they forget where they left the baby if after misplacing it they invent a decent reusable coffee cup. I have tried the I’m too clever to remember argument on Libby and it has be said I don’t think I got away with it. I even attempted to convince her that my baldness was symptomatic of my amnesiac brilliance as my head was so stuffed with big ideas that they pushed the hairs out from the inside. However the mere mention of Jason Statham was enough for her to quash that assertion. For the record though I think the Stath is a genius but in exactly the same way that David Beckham isn’t.

The importance of memory is often misunderstood and quite often we are only really aware of it when we need to remember something but can’t, the seven times table perhaps or our single line in the school play or pulling the hosepipe out of the swimming pool so it doesn’t overflow into the pond and chlorinate the fish. I have always been forgetful and easily distracted, is that a chocolate eclair? This has meant repeating the unnecessary again and again until it sticks. Sometimes though I can’t be bothered so I still get my postcode wrong and have never known my mobile phone number, luckily I don’t need to because Libby knows it. Not knowing these things has never worried me, my memory in other less utilitarian areas has always been exceptional but there comes a time when you notice certain simple everyday actions no longer leave a trace. You find yourself going back to check the oven is off and the front door is locked and you turn the flat over looking for the glasses that are in the pocket you patted just moments before setting off to look for your glasses.

These slips of the mind are just an annoying part of getting older, they are the memories that skim lightly across the surface, they were never meant to be kept. The real trove lies beneath, the memories that have descended, rocking to and fro, until they rest in the silt, deep and permanent on the bottom. These are the memories I cherish, the ones I don’t have to remember, the simply unforgettable. This is where we keep all of what makes us who we are, the importance of being, the notion of love and the illusion of time. It is our sense of mortality, morality, of loyalty of preference. It is the promise we make in haste, the heart we carve in a tree, the decision we cut in stone. It is the gap between the truth and the recollection, the tune that is more wistful when unexpected, why the return home always seems shorter than the outgoing journey. It is all the fire and sparks, the embers and the ash, it is all that we hold and hold dear.

It is why nothing seems crueller than when the unforgettable is forgotten, when the treasured past goes inexplicably missing. The mind returns to the right spot, it knows where it left the memory, the time the place, only to find the landscape dragged smooth. The self flutters for a moment, craving the answer to the question but remembering only that it has lost something. I have seen this happen too many times now, the creeping confusion when nothing comes to mind, the slow climb back up to eye contact, then watching as the act of forgetting is forgotten to be replaced by an uncertain smile. Dementia is much more than the loss of memory, it is the loss of love, of family, of future, it is the severing of the tether that connects us to our very existence. When our memories leave us faint recognition feels like a lie, familiar faces merely remind us of someone else. We become unknown to ourselves, drifting through the emptiness of inner space, while slowly but surely the stars in our universe wink out, leaving only darkness and unimaginable distance.

Terrible as this is it is often worse for the forgotten than the forgetful, when the child becomes the vessel of the parent, their living library. Once shared recollections become singular, definitive and the ties that bind are unbound, communion withdraws until conversation feels like shouting through the letterbox of an empty house. We stare into the faces of loved ones, appealing for a clue as to their whereabouts, searching behind the eyes for a flit of expression, some trace of the truly absent mind but are left only with a guilty sadness and the unwanted sense that we have been abandoned.

In our gathering introspection we fear the same fate awaits us, questioning simple lapses of concentration, anticipating a loss of cognition while we are still able. Yet these later internal considerations are as nothing when compared to the lifelong attention we lavish upon the external, as if forgetting our bodies are little more than elaborate vehicles, fiendishly complicated transport, uniquely liveried carriages for the mind. We confuse our exteriors with our inner selves, desperately maintaining the paintwork, often quelling the occupant to reflect upon or photograph the superficial. Yet it is the depth of our memory, the quality of our reason that lifts our head and lights our face, that shapes the thoughts that animate us, that makes a photograph worth keeping and a moment worth remembering.


There follows a slightly hostile poem about losing one’s mind, not to dementia exactly, more to the hooks and blades of the past. I can’t pretend it’s pretty because it’s not, it is a bit odd though and curiously triumphant. When I wrote it I couldn’t decide if it was about an old lady living in Bexhill thinking she was Marilyn Monroe or about Marilyn Monroe living in Bexhill thinking she was an old lady. It can be either, both or neither. It’s best taken slowly.


Marilyn in Bexhill.

My mind is Marilyn
but my flesh is not.
It is weak,
the state I’m in,
so uncertain.

I curse my lot,
having failed in my duty
to preserve,
to keep,
my celebrated beauty
now hidden deep
behind a frail curtain.

Is this the old age I deserve?
To wither.
Because have no doubt,
time always wins.

I tried to save my skin,
every day laid out
with a cucumber penny
on each of my eyes
and a gimlet gin.
I would cleanse my sins
and they were many.
Wipe the slate clean
with face packs
of come hither

Now it’s too late,
so buyer beware,
I am sight unseen.
Come of ageing signs
are all that’s left of me.

I put on my hair,
fill up the cracks,
powder the damn cheek,
give the stitched lips
a bloody smear,
paint my portrait
from memory,
colouring it in
with childish skill,
going over the lines.
But still,
at least I’m thin.

Alone in my room
I dress in fear,
without reflection.
Snagging bony slips
in vertiginous gloom.
I don’t look down
for my own protection.
I have come to hate the light
for how it turned on me.
Only under cover of night
do I move through society.

It might be free
but I loathe the bus,
harsh fluorescent hell.
I journey into town
sitting up the back,
amidst the smell
of damp OAP.

To avoid any fuss,
I always travel disguised
and as such go unrecognised.
What would they think?
That gal from across the pond,
enigmatic in my beige mac,
blushing horror pink
over ghostly pale
whilst insect lashes bat
behind a dark veil.
The preferred grey under blond,
beneath a plastic rain hat.

I don’t play bingo
or tea dance,
my evenings are spent
with the great and good,
in retrospective cinemas
in Bexhill Hollywood.

I sit in the front row,
turtle neck bent,
in a wan trance.
A fading glimmer
across the void,
before brilliant stars,
flesh blood and celluloid.

I watch the forever young
as they watched me.
See her shimmer,
the eternal sprite,
promise bound to promiscuity.
Highly strung,
lowly born,
laughing too loud
at the cruel joke
retold with silver scorn.

The hearts I still break
with blazing red glamour,
back turned on the crowd,
remembering sex
through milky sight.
Sipping warm coke
for the side effects
of the drugs I take
for the clamour.

I glance behind
at the breaking story,
callow faces shine,
a pure cinematic truth
lit by my reflected glory.

I dream of the time,
of the peace I will find,
when the longing has ceased
when the voices are mute.
They urge me to harm
at great length.
What can I say?
I would
if I could.
Eat their bitter youth
as they eat mine,
the meat of the fruit,
throw the rest away,
love, hate, crime,
anything to be Marilyn again.

You would never guess,
sweet old dear,
butter wouldn’t melt,
out of her mind.
There’s nothing to fear,
I can’t hurt them because
I have so little strength,
less and less, unless.

Of late I have felt,
it won’t be long
until I’m gone,
until I rise above.
An everlasting psalm,
on the other side
of the holy portal,
where the light is kind.
I will look down on
those I can’t abide,
sustained by their love
and I will be strong,
as strong as I was
when I was immortal.

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