Wednesday, 11 July 2007

A word in my ear

Why do we remember some voices and not others? I mean really hear them – their special timbre and volume and intonation? I realised today that I can hear, in an intensely realised way, the voices of some people I have known, while others have simply disappeared. It is not necessarily anything to do with the closeness of the relationship with the voice concerned, either. I tested this by trying to remember the voices of my late grandmothers. One is still very much there, inside me – I can hear her so clearly that sometimes I hear her voice quite unbidden. The other – and strangely, the grandmother of whom I was most fond - I can ‘remember’, in the sense that I can piece her voice together, recreate it from the things she used to say, from my knowledge of her accent and the pitch of her voice, its similarities to my mother’s voice, but it’s still essentially an external thing. A description, rather than an experience. I thought about school friends with whom I have not spoken for over a quarter of a century. Again, some voices came from inside my head, while others were the auditory equivalent of looking at an old school photo – an assembling exercise from information provided. Not the same at all. Perhaps some voices tune into a unique receptor in the mind’s ear, or set up a special kind of resonance in a particular pinpoint in one’s brain. It has nothing to do with the length of time one knew the voice. Nor the intimacy with which one was involved with the person concerned. It is something else entirely. Perhaps it goes back to the very first moment one heard a particular voice – to the effect that it had, to where, precisely, it first lodged itself in one’s mind. And that is why, while some voices are lost, faded away and gone, other voices – including those I know I will never, ever hear again - seem to exist autonomously, their every nuance so clearly embedded that it’s possible to have a whole conversation with that voice and it will always sound exactly right and true. As if it really has become an intrinsic part of oneself. By such means are some of us rendered, temporarily, immortal. (Gosh, I wonder if anyone can remember my voice - have I got inside anyone's head, or not? - I'll never know.) Is there a religion somewhere that's based on the premise that we live on, briefly, in another person’s ear?? Maybe we have a Jungian 'collective ear' - so that people who 'hear voices', hear real voices - someone else's ancestors, borrowed from some central human pool of remembered sounds. Definitely time for a spot of Googling . . .

Today’s big question: if you drop a large blob of guacamole on your computer keyboard, will the keyboard still work? Answer: yes it will if you remove the guacamole in a particular way. Should you ever find yourself in this position, do please drop me a line and I will explain in easy-to-follow steps. Today’s supplementary question: if, while removing a large blob of guacamole from your keyboard in such as way that the keyboard will subsequently operate perfectly, a small portion accidentally transfers itself to your brand new crinkly silk skirt, will that skirt ever look the same again? Answer: no it will not. Just as well, therefore, that the meeting with daughter’s new head-teacher which had prompted the wearing of said skirt had already taken place a couple of hours earlier.

Whilst attending to my keyboard, I realised that, over the course of the last 18 months or so, I have managed, by my constant toiling thereon, to erase entirely the white letters on the most frequently used keys (it is a black keyboard. I am dead trendy, clearly). What particularly struck me, however, was that I couldn’t for the life of me work out, just by looking at the keyboard, precisely which of the letters had rubbed away. Which letter sits between B and M in the bottom row? No idea at all. I had to type something in order to discover that it was N. This must either be because I have been touch-typing for 25 years and therefore never actually look at the keyboard, or else it is simply that a tough, impenetrable wall (or possibly hedge) has grown up between the two halves of my brain, so that it is no longer possible for the left and right hemispheres to communicate with each other. Is this an age-related phenomenon, I wonder? Or just a personal failing? The latter, I suspect, now I come to think about it. I’ve never been able to play the piano without music. The moment I look down at the keys, I wobble and fall off. I always blamed the way I was taught but now I think it’s just me. And not unconnected with the facts that I am a non-starter at mental arithmetic and can never remember which way to turn the steering wheel when I am parking a car.

So there we have it – from tortilla chip malfunction at lunchtime to a perfect explanation for dented rear wing, in two easy steps. 'There is something wrong with my brain, your honour, I don’t know what comes between K and ; . ' (I just checked and it’s L). Oh and that’s another thing – E, L and N are the rubbed-away letters. Are these the most frequently used in the English language? I shall have to do a bit of research to find out. If not, then it will be something to do with the middle finger of my left hand and the index and ring fingers of my right hand. Perhaps they are stronger and more vigorous and decisive than their digital chums. But, if so, why? The right hand side of the space-bar is worn to a shine (it's a MATT black keyboard - I am THAT trendy), but that is because, when teaching myself to type, I omitted to teach myself to alternate left and right thumbs on the space-bar and therefore only ever use my right thumb for spaces. (My left thumb has been regally held aloft this past quarter century. I really should start thinking of giving it some gainful employment or it might simply fall off, which would be a nuisance.)

All the above is entirely unconnected to the fact that I live on a Muddy Island, so I will end by observing that at 9.30 this evening, the sky was a vibrant turquoise, and it merged, almost imperceptibly (but for the tiniest change of hue if you stared long and hard but not so long and hard that everything went a bit fuzzy) into the dark aquamarine sea. The clouds were a childish, candyfloss pink, their reflection on the wave-tips dramatic shades of lilac. The air hummed with colour and salt and seaweed. The dog swam after an abandoned flip-flop.The tide was up, so the wading birds were silent and the only sound was the tug of the incoming waves on the dried shingle. By 10 o’clock the sky, enchanted by its own reflection, had matched the myriad mauves and purples of the sea. I didn’t take a camera. Seaglass count: 2. Too busy gazing at the sky.

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