Physical Memory

My teens coincided with the early-to-mid 1980s. I don’t remember there being much televised football then. There was more than I do remember – I worked too hard at school to take time off for MOTD, when it was a Saturday night thing, let alone evening live matches.

I didn’t really read the papers either. What all this did was place football, physically in my imagination, twenty miles down the A6 in Luton. There was some more a little further south, in Watford, and some out east in impossible places like Ipswich and Norwich.

Noone has heard of Norfolk or Suffolk for years, of course. I imagine they’re long abandoned. Bedfordshire can’t be far behind.

The internet, and to a lesser extent, digital television, opens up new branches in the mental map. Tony Buzan was onto something. When I took on mindmapping and the methods he recommended in “Make the Most of Your Mind” or whatever it was called, my school grades rose from Cs to As almost immediately. The very physical map I had of sport in my world in, say, 1983, has been superseded by something more interlocking, 3-D and virtual. Something Buzan would recognize; something he foresaw.

It’s hard to describe without showing you, but George Best against Benfica is kind of over there in Youtube, Sven joining Portsmouth is up on a screen in the Queens Arms, and that riproaring Etoo opener is on 101 Great Goals, which is placed more centrally than the other two. Chapman’s Huddersfield is on a plate on p.100 or so of a League history at the bottom of a book stack in the hallway. And so forth.

But over the last couple of days, snatches of a Beethoven overture have been surfacing in my mind, and they’ve made me realise how a virtual/mental map has its limitations.

The core of my musical life has always been classical. Thanks to a teacher at my primary school, it got there first. There are probably around about 100 pieces that mean something significant to me, and I owned most of them – for preference on those evocative German yellow-centred records – by September 1988. I sold them for food in 1991, but by 1996 had recovered the collection on CD before I had to sell all over again. (Given where I sold them, I wonder if any of them are on Brian Micklethwait’s famous coffee-jar shelves now?)

I turn out to be one of those who preferred the warmer, more distorted and shorter-lived sound of records.  I never really missed the CDs, and now I have everything in high-bitrate MP3s. Which I neglect for Spotify.

But here’s the thing: if a passage starts playing in my mind – like that Beethoven overture – I have to go back to the records I had originally in order to identify it. I go back to a small ’80s room over a garage in Surrey, furnished with a sofabed and white melamine, and flick through the careful row of properly-shelved records, until I have one in my memory’s fingers that feels right.

The alpha list of MP3s on my screen, by comparison, means nothing. In some ways it feels wrong. Why isn’t Dvorak’s 9th paired with the Carnival Overture? Why do I have all of the Mozart Piano Concertos, instead of one loved record with Mitsuko and Jeffrey on the cover, their faces young and close as lovers? And where’s that cheap but forever irreplaceable LP of Verdi choruses that I lent Mum for company when her husband walked?

Worst of all, of course, is that Beethoven overture, because that’s part of  a boxed set, and although I can feel the tissued sleeves in my fingers, I can’t read the labels.

The same few beats repeat themselves: a hunting horn, then a brave, optimistic pause. It’s on one of these records. Leonore III?


7 Replies to “Physical Memory”

  1. The first LP I bought was a present for my father: West Side Story. Unfortunately it was so successful that he asked for another next time, “something by Sinatra”. I couldn’t bear bloody Sinatra, but there came a mighty stroke of luck – I found an LP with that ruddy man singing but with a fine pianist in support – Nat King Cole. (P.S. I can’t bear Cole’s singing either.)

    Beethoven had to wait for Uni days.

  2. West Side Story, oh Lord. I liked that, until MY father got his copy. One of those short-lived cassette boxed sets that sat between the front seats of the car like a fat plastic fag packet. Also present: Wagner and the Spinners.

    Sinatra – this is purely subjective, but back in my shrink days, I couldn’t help but notice a correlation between Frank-worship and out-and-out narcissism.

  3. I don’t think my father was a narcissist – I suspect that he remembered the young Sinatra singing with the Dorseys. I, of course, didn’t.

  4. Agh, I was afraid I’d implied that. Not at all; apologies. I had in mind that kind of lounge-suited brylcreem male who is so proud to serenade us with “New York, New York” at weddings in dim ballrooms (last happened to me in some hideous functionroom under Twickers in the ’80s, but the memory endures).

  5. No apology required. I was just exercising my inner lefty by pretending to take offence on someone else’s behalf.

  6. Lp of Verdi choruses? I assume this is poetic licence, since i didn’t even have a record player. glad to see you are still alive. So am I. Love M

  7. You had a record player alright – mine. I left it with you for Hilary 1990 precisely because you didn’t have one.

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