My current walk to work is very much not worth writing about being as it is approximately 6 yards. I work from home you see so I just have to walk across the landing and I’m in my office. Pretty handy when you’ve got the weather we’ve had the past 6 months!
Instead I’m going to write about another walk to work, and what it represents for me.
Between November 2006 and September 2008 I lived in a little town house on my own in Loughborough. I moved there for a contract job and walked to work and back almost every day, each way taking about half an hour and being around a mile and a half I think. It was a nice walk; from my house, through the new row of houses to the old, then once I was through the industrial estate I would get to walk along the canal before crossing, walking further down the other side of the canal and finally heading up through another industrial estate to work. Over one year I got to watch a clutch of signets grow up and fly the nest. In fact spread between four or five nests in the canals of Loughborough I remember counting 23 swans in a single year.
The reason that particular walk to work remains so vivid in my memory is not only because I did it so often, but also because whilst I lived there I read Derren Brown’s book: Tricks of the Mind. I’ve always been a huge fan of Derren and have always said that if ever there were someone I’d like to be an apprentice to, it would be him! Anyway there is a good part of the book that is dedicated to memory and it is (perhaps unsurprisingly) this part of the book that stuck with me and which I found incredibly interesting.
One of the techniques for building memory was to form a narrative. The book started with a list of random words and goes on to create a narrative that helps you to remember them. I can still remember a number of the items on the list today (I hope) which included sausage, telephone, monkey, buttons, book, leaf and mouse. You start with the sausage, then imagine dialling an old fashioned telephone with that sausage. The telephone is answered by your Monkey Butler, who proceeds to do up the buttons on your shirt. I can’t remember how you get the book, but the pages turn to salad leaves, and then there was something about a mouse in a bowl… I’ll be interested to go back and see how accurate I’ve been with that so perhaps I’ll let you know! The idea being that it’s much easier to remember a story than it is a random list of words, so you simply build a story around the words you want to remember.
The techniques grow more complex (there’s something about l’s and p’s I think but I can’t remember that one much at all) until you reach the ‘memory mansion’ which is a technique that takes time and effort to build and in fact needs to be regularly maintained. The basic premise is that you build a ‘mansion’ in your mind full of all the most memorable places in your life, so you might walk through the front door of your mansion and enter your parents’ living room. On the right would be a door that leads to the student union bar you frequented at university, and on the left another door to your favourite room in the British Museum, etc. The point is that they are all places you can remember every last detail of without having to really try. Once you have your mansion you use the cues in it to assign things to in order to remember them, for example you would put something you wanted to remember onto the TV in your parents’ living room, or a post-it note on the Rosetta Stone in the British Museum. As I’ve said, it takes time and effort!
This is what I started to do with my walk to work in Loughborough, so I still remember the little playground as I cut through from my road to the next, and the post box on the corner next to the hedge as I turned into the industrial estate. I remember the sign on the warehouse that sold lazy boy bean bags, next to the place that had the dodgy looking limos. I remember the canal, and the old stone bridge, the bollard that signalled my re-entry to the industrial area, the sign that read how many days since the last accident at somewhere I walked past and how I never saw it go to 0. I never did much with this little ‘memory walk’ because I never really needed to, but I found it interesting nonetheless. I do have a distinct memory of sticking a stamp onto the post box though. Maybe I needed to buy stamps.
So that was my walk to work!
I’ve always wanted to learn more about these techniques and writing this has reignited that for sure. I might check out some of the reading recommendations from Derren himself on memory, so I’ll be sure to blog about it should I get round to it! It’s bed time now though so it’ll have to wait. Remind me in the morning would you?