Down at the coast, spending some time with my father, yesterday I came across an example of a common experience with elderly people, i.e. that their memory of recent events can be sketchy but their recall of events long ago pretty pin-sharp.
My mother, who spent the last years of her life in a secure residential home, suffered from Alzheimer’s. A regular feature of the inmates’ week was a general knowledge quiz with a twist – almost all the questions asked by the staff member acting as quiz-master or mistress on the day were about historical incidents, social events, music or movies from the 1940s through to the 1970s.
What was remarkable for anyone present who was visiting a relative or friend living in the home when the quiz session was taking place was the extent to which the inmates were able to answer the questions correctly. Those, like my mother, who from personal knowledge were vague or puzzled about recent events (e.g. in response to a query such as “What’s been happening since the last time I was here?”, i.e. the previous week) were seriously good on subjects such as Hollywood stars of the 1940s and 1950s, who succeeded Harold Macmillan as Prime Minister, which city hosted the 1964 Olympics or what year did rationing end after WW2.
We arrived yesterday after my father had been hosting a large family house party over the weekend which had spent most of its time doing impressive amounts of work in the garden. Asked exactly who had been present and what each of them had been doing, my father was unable to offer many specifics – there had plainly a lot going on but he was somewhat confused as to the detail.
Half an hour – and a gin and tonic later – we were discussing future plans regarding people to meet up with for lunch. One gentleman’s name came up – that of a nonagenarian as it happens, but one who indisputably retained most of his marbles – and for a while we discussed memories of him stretching back seventy and more years (in my father’s case).
Suddenly my father commented that said fellow had been a bit of an ‘afterthought’ for his parents, being ten or more years younger than his siblings, and added that his sister’s boyfriend of the time had come to an untimely end when, being on board a submarine called HMS Affray, he had been lost at sea.
“Was that during the War?” I asked.
“No, it was a few years after the War …” came the reply from my father, adding “… I have to say that I could never have been a submariner.”
Intrigued by this exchange, I moved to the computer and tapped ‘HMS Affray’ into the Google search engine.
My father was ‘on the money’ – HMS had gone down in the Channel on 16th April 1951 (yesterday had therefore been two years beyond the 65th anniversary of the disaster).
For Rust readers who might be interested, here is a link to the Wikipedia entry on the loss of said submarine – HMS AFFRAY