Thursday, 2 February 2012

Baking cake

There have been days in my life that have been momentous. There have been times of great adventure. But even in the most exotic of locations, there can be little that makes one particular day unique. As I am currently in a more settled period of living, this is particularly true.

And so the memory tag may be something trivial that makes a day stand out. For example, Tuesday 17 January was very cold and the river was partly frozen as I cycled by it to work. It was also a day I had my hair cut. I made a point of remembering the haircut, not only as a tag, but also because I don't really register how long I leave it between haircuts. Generally I leave it too long, as my style is short and I can get away with it growing several inches. So I am prompted by it becoming untidy, rather than any routine. If I am remembering every day of my life, I might as well remember my trips to the barbers.

Yet such trivial and recurring events are only useful as tags if I decide to make them so. Yesterday I made a cake. Bread pudding, it was; I had a loaf past its best. This was the second time I have made this recipe and I had sufficient special ingredients (raisins, brown sugar, mixed spice) from the last time to add to the bread, milk and eggs. Making the cake is part of my memory tag for 1 February.

As I made it, I realised I could not remember when I did so before, even though it was a short time ago and after I began this process of remembering every day of my life. It had not been used in my tag for that day.

But surely I can remember, I thought.

Passage of time has a feeling associated with it. It was longer than a couple of weeks ago, I was sure, but less than a month.

I could remember selecting the ingredients in the supermarket, and which particular supermarket it was. But it is one we go to regularly and I am not making a point of remembering what I bought on every trip. Perhaps with time I will develop effortles perfect recall, but I'm not spending hours of my life rehearsing shopping lists so I remember them forevermore.

It was on a weekend. I made a point of making the cake that evening as I had spent the preceeding days working late and wanted to do something more relaxing and as a surprise for my wife.

Armed with these clues, I ran through the weeks from a month ago, thinking particularly of what we had done at the weekend and whether I had been working late during the week. Saturday 14 January was a day I deliberately left the computer closed and we went to nearby Easton for a day out. On the way back we called in at the correct supermarket; the memory of selecting the pack of raisins could have been from this day.

Then I remembered where we had lunch while we were out; the café was my memory tag for that day. Thinking back, I saw a display of cakes when I paid, including bread pudding and that had given me the idea of making it that day.

So, voila, the previous time I made this recipe was Saturday 14 January.

It took a while to remember, identifying the associated clues and feelings. There were several contender days, which is a warning that potentially I could have opted for the wrong one and reinforced a false memory. In the end, seeing in my mind's eye the cake in the café gave me the certainty that it was that day I decided to make it myself.

The significance of this is it shows that this process allows me to pin down and flesh out memories that I did not make a conscious effort to store away at the time. The power of this is a strong motivator for continuing.

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