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If Memory Doesn’t Serve

It's one in the morning, and I'm lying there unable to sleep because I can't remember something, and it's driving me crazy. This is not something important, like my children's names or the correct way to fend off a swarm of bees, but something stupid. It's the name of some actor, the one who was in that film with that girl? And there were these cars in it? With these things on them?

The tossing and turning disturbs my wife who blearily asks what's up. I explain my problem and she says go to sleep, you can Google it in the morning. So I get up and go downstairs and spend half an hour Googling various combinations of words 'til finally I tiptoe back upstairs and slide into bed. "Are you alright?" she asks sleepily.

"Antonio Banderas," I tell her.

"Oh yeah," she says. "He's married to whatshername."

"Who?"

"You know the one; she was in ah... Working Girl."

"Oh her. Is he? What's her name again?"

But all I get is some muttering, followed by snoring.

After ten minutes of arguing with myself I'm back downstairs, firing up the computer again. Bloody Melanie bloody Griffith.

God knows how many times a week the war cry goes up: "Where are the car keys?" We've these dinky little hooks up in the kitchen, one of which has a neat little label on it that says "car keys", but do the keys dangle from this little hook? No, they do not.

"Well you had the car last," she says. "They must be in your pocket."

Fair assumption. So what the hell was I wearing the last time I drove the car? This kicks off the following process: trudge up the stairs, muttering to self, enter bedroom, stand in middle of floor wondering what the hell I came up here for, sit on bed, pick up book from bedside locker and start to read, put down book, pick up the half empty glass of water from bedside locker and saunter down the stairs again. She's standing in the hall, coat on, glasses on, front door open. "Well?" she says.

"Oh eff it, the keys. Hang on ... " And back up you go.

Failing to remember the names of actors is one thing, but there's a whole rake of far more serious information disappearing off into the void every day. Did I turn off the oven? Did I lock the front door? Did I put up the fireguard? Didn't I have three children this morning? Where the hell's your brother? I mean sister. In school? Still? What time is it? Oh right ...

My daughter is now at the age where she wants to know things like why it's winter, and what kind of bird that is. And I used to know all that kind of stuff, didn't I?

"It's a swallow."

"But I thought all the swallows went somewhere warm for the winter."

"Oh yeah, er, it must have ... come back early."

"Why?"

"I don't know; maybe it forgot its car keys."

These days, looking for a lost something is not a process of remembering where you put it; that's a total dead end. Instead, you ask yourself where you'd put it if you were putting it away now, then look there. This is not an idiot-proof approach. I should, I know, start doing Sudoku or get myself one of those Nintendo DS brain-training things, but chances are I'd just put it away and it would never be seen again, or at least not for a thousand years or so, when it'd be found by archaeologists sifting through the remains of the house.

I recently got my sister the exact same present for Christmas as I did for her birthday six months earlier. And the thing is, when I got it for Christmas I was delighted with myself. I thought, she'll love this, this is a cracking present, what a clever, thoughtful fellow I am. And I must have had the same conversation with myself six months before. Do I remember? No, I do not.

I can only assume that all this forgetfulness is the onslaught of age, plus, inevitably, all that alcohol. Like most Irish people, I spent my 20s failing to climb out of a pint of Guinness. So now I'm reaping the ... whatdyoucallit ... large spinny-around thing ... carried Dorothy off to Oz. Oh I forget.

John Hearne is 39 -- and just about on top of that hill


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