How To Remember Directions

If you want to join the ranks of London's 23,000 drivers of black taxis, you first have to pass a gruelling test known as 'the Knowledge'. Among other ■■ things, it requires that you learn 468 routes around the capital, including 5,500 roads, and a whole host of museums, churches, hospitals, railway and police stations, theatres, parks, and other landmarks. It's hardly surprising that the success rate for passing is a mere 30 per cent. .

In 1992, I was asked by Auto Express, a motoring magazine, to memorize four routes from 'the Knowledge'. My examiner was none other than Fred Housego, celebrity cabbie and winner of Mastermind. Never one to do things by halves, Fred asked me to sit blindfolded in the back of his cab before driving me around what he considered to be the toughest routes in London. (Anyone who saw us probably thought I was being kidnapped.)

Fred sang out the directions to me as we went along: 'Left into Southwark Street. First right into Blackfriars Road. Forward Blackfriars Road. Remember the sandwich shop on the right. Continue into New Bridge Street. Leave New Bridge Street for Farringdon Street. Spot the station on your right. Turn right at traffic lights into Clerkenwell Road.'

On and on we went, twisting and turning through the streets of London, passed St Paul's, through Covent Garden and Trafalgar Square, around the Houses of Parliament. I wondered if it would ever end. Once the ordeal was over, however, I was able to recite perfectly the instructions for all four routes, including details like the sandwich shop on Blackfriars Road. Even Fred was a little bemused: 'I've never met a cabbie who can do anything like this!' he told the magazine. 'I gave him the hardest routes and he scored 100 per cent.'

It would have only confused the issue if I had disclosed that my mind hadn't been on the streets of London at all. I had, in fact, been taking a leisurely stroll around East Herts golf course.

HOW TO USE A COIF COURSE FOR REMEMBERING DIRECTIONS

Most of us tend not to be given instructions sitting blindfolded in the back of a black cab. They are usually offered in a hurry, through a wound-down window. Or we arc standing in a draughty phone box, lost in the dark and without a pen, desperately trying to remember what the person on the other end of the line is saying.

'Go left at the lights,' they say.

And so on.

If you are ever in this predicament again, try using a familiar journey to record the instructions. And I urge anyone who plays golf to choose a route around their favourite course. It doesn't matter if you're not a player; a country walk or a route through your town will more than suffice.

A round of golf is not such an odd choice for a journey as it might sound. I think it is fair to say that most golfers, on completing a round, are able to recall individuid strokes; also the exact spot where the ball landed, their choice of iron or wood, and even their opponent's play. The next time you are in a clubhouse, grit your teeth for a few seconds and listen to the golf bores as they trade descriptions of miraculous second shots on the seventh fairway or twenty footers at the fifteenth green.

What's going on here? Are people suddenly being embued with wonderful powers of recall every time they play a round of golf? If you were to ask any club player how he or she approached the third shot on die seventeenth, or how many putts they took on die fourth, they could probably tell you. In fact, they could probably take you through an entire round, recalling 80 to 100 shots in perfect sequence. It's all beginning to sound familiar. Isn't this exacdy the sort of memory trick I perform, except widi playing cards and numbers rather than golf shots?

So why do we have such a problem remembering eight to ten road directions, when we can recall 80 to 100 golf shots in a trice? If you have understood my approach to memory, you already know the answer. A logical journey around a golf course, with each stage sequentially numbered, is bound to give order to an otherwise ramshackle set of memories. It's exacdy the same technique you learnt for memorizing lists and appointments. Even if you're not interested in golf, it is a perfect example of the hidden potential our memories possess.

DIRECTIONS

Imagine you are given the following instructions to remember. You don't have the time or wherewithal to write them down; besides, it's hazardous trying to read and drive at the same time.

1. Left into Western Avenue

2. Right into Cannonsgate Road

3. Third exit off the roundabout

4. T-junction: right into Station Road

5. Pass Red Lion Pub on the left

6. T-junction: left into Braintrce Road

7. Straight on for four miles

8. Second set of traffic lights: turn right

9. First exit off roundabout into Warren Way

10. Sixth House on the left: Blacksmith Cottage.

It's a daunting challenge, but you were meant to be at Blacksmith Cottage half an hour ago for an important supper engagement. Let me tell you how I would memorize these instructions, using a golf course as my journey.

I relate each direction or signal to an imaginary strike of a ball and its subsequent position. Turning left, for instance, is represented by a ghastly hook shot; turning right is a slice; straight on is a satisfying drive plumb down the middle of the fairway; a roundabout is a green; and a T-junction is the next tee. I translate names of roads, pubs and other landmarks into memorable images - exaggerated, colourful, bizarre which are then incorporated in my round. As I said earlier, I personally imagine myself standing at the first tee at East Herts golf course.

1. Left into Western Avenue

To remember 'left', I imagine driving a wild hook off to the left-hand side of the first fairway (not unusual for me). To remember 'Western Avenue', I picture a hostile, action-packed scene of cowboys and indians engaged in mortal combat on the spot where the ball has landed.

2. Right into Cannonsgate Road

This time I imagine slicing the ball way over to the right-hand side. It's going to be a tricky one to play: the ball has disappeared straight down the shaft of an old cannon that is leaning on a gate.

3. Third exit off the roundabout

Roundabouts are always represented by greens, and I remember the exit by the number of putts it takes to sink the ball. My putting has always let me down and today is no exception: I three putt at the first. Alternatively, I could imagine myself standing handcuffed to the flag. Handcuffs are the number shape for 3.

4. T-junction: right into Station Road

The T-junction automatically takes me to the next tee, where I promptly slice the ball again to the right. Unlike most slices, however, the ball doesn't disappear into thick undergrowth. I imagine it landing on a station platform and bouncing mercilessly through the crowd, scattering terrified commuters in all directions.

5. Pass Red Lion Pub on the left

My next shot lands in a nasty bunker to the left of the green. As I approach, I see a ferocious red lion guarding the ball. He is prowling round and round it, looking distinctly menacing. I think I'll concede the hole.

6. T-junction left: into Braintree Road

At the next tee, it's another hook, I am afraid. The ball skews off to the left of the fairway by a tree - a very thoughtful tree, as it happens. Looking up, I am amazed to see a large brain wedged between two of its branches. The Tree of Knowledge, no less. This will make a fine story back at the clubhouse (zzzzzzzzzzzzzz...)

7. Straight on for four miles

At last! My game is coming together. I hit the ball straight down the middle of the fairway with my four iron. (Once again, I could also incorporate a numbers-shape, in this case a yacht, to remember four miles.)

8. Second set of traffic lights: turn right

My next shot lands in the rough on the right. Ahead of me, I imagine a large traffic light, rising out of a inconveniently positioned lake. A swan is swimming round the pole, as if protecting it. A swan is the number-shape for 2.

9. First exit off roundabout into Warren Way

My green play is improving: I single putt the next shot. But it's not only the length of the putt that is impressive. The green is crowded with rabbits from a nearby warren. Alternatively, I imagine that the flag has turned into a telegraph pole (the number-shape for 1) to remind me that it's the first exit. Not surprisingly, I prefer to putt at roundabouts when it's the first exit.

10. Sixth house on the left: Blacksmith Cottage

Finally, I hit a six iron off to the left of the next fairway, and watch, in disbelief, as it lands in the furnace of a blacksmith who has set up shop on the course. Alternatively, I picture an elephant (number-shape for 6) being fitted with a shoe by a blacksmith.

They may be surreal, crazy images, but I bet 1 arrive at the supper engagement before you do.

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C H A

P T E R

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: jr .. '

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