This brief chapter is for those who are frustrated by their inability to recall scenes from their childhood. It's also for anyone who likes the idea of fit-■■ ness training, but can't stand jogging.
I am dedicated to the concept of exercise. Every morning I enter my mental gym (usually an easy-back chair) to put my imagination through a punishing programme of exercise. One of my favourite routines involves something I call 'time travel'. If I am honest, this particular 'exercise' is anything but exhausting: I find it incredibly relaxing and therapeutic. In fact, it's more like a sauna than a work-out, and yet it helps to tone or build up brain 'muscles'. Needless to say, it also works wonders for memory.
Time travelling is all about returning to a particular time and location from your past and trying to recall everything in as much detail as you can. I suspect that we have all experienced that moment when happy memories of a previously forgotten part of our lives come flooding back. It's an exciting feeling but it can also be intensely frustrating: we can remember only bits of the past, glimpses that rapidly fade into nothing.
Time travelling helps open up whole vistas of your past life. It throws wide the shutters, shedding light on lost scenes and allowing you to re-live lost sounds, smells, textures, tastes and emotions. The past is an integral part of our character; it defines who we are. And although some events in our lives are best forgotten, there are many that are unwittingly and undeservedly confined to oblivion.
It is common for people in the immediate aftermath of bereavement, for example, to clam up and not deal with the loss for many years. Later on in life, when they have finally come to terms with it, they want to remember every detail about the person who died — their face, the sound of their voice, their scent, the happy times spent together. But a poor memory lets them down, l ime travel can't bring people back to life, but it can animate memories and preserve scenes for posterity far better than any photo album.
I am also about to use it with someone who has lost her memory through an accident. Bit by bit, we hope to re-create her past, sketching rough outlines before filling them in with colour.
Start by returning to a location that conjures up a number of varied, incidental recollections: your old school, an old friend's house you used to visit, or a village you left long ago.
Choose a specific starting point: it might be a flagpole in the playground, a chapel pew, a treehut, a friend's kitchen. Look around you. What little incidents do you remember? How old were you then? What friends did you have? What were the typical noises? Traffic, trains, children playing?
Try to recall individual sounds characteristic of particular objects: the slam of a front door, a squeaky window, a creaky floorboard, a waterpipe that always shuddered. See if you can recall voices, even their timbre. If you are using your old school as a location, try to remember catchphrases used by teachers and pupils. Isolate particular events that took place, no matter how trivial they seem now. They obviously meant something to you then.
Use all your senses. Can you recall the smell of a damp, musty room, or die aroma of your garden? And what about the smooth feel of a polished walnut table, or the rough texture of a pebbledash wall, the one you used to run your hands along on the way to school.
Association is at the heart of time travel. One memory sparks off another. After a while, an overall picture begins to emerge, not just of the physical layout but also of your state of mind. Were you happy? Optimistic? In love? Depressed? Naive?
The deeper you reflect, the more memories will be triggered off. Experiences completely forgotten will come flooding back. Eventually, if you work at it, you will have the same problem as I have now: I never run out of memories.
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