The perfect memory

Forget accolades. Forget those times when you became, just for an instant, what you always wanted to be. Forget the palm trees and the sea breeze: the memories diminished by expectation, then stolen by ubiquity, polished and handed back to you by spreads in magazines. Forget the moments that you made into memories before you even lived them.

Remember nests, instead.

Because, my over-achieving Finch boys, the perfect memory is not a springboard but a cave. Like a restless cat you need to sniff it out from where it emits the musty reek which signals it unmistakeably yours; stalk its borders; rub against its contours; choose the central spot and quietly, intimately curl into it so you can relive a soothing snatch of selfhood on a train to Stoke on Trent.

The perfect memory is not born from the blousy, spangly ease of the beach or the tundra, the concert hall or the balcony. It is not symbolic or meaningful. It survives, buried in the mucky boot room of your mind, because at some point you experienced a momentary noticing of what it felt like to live, in mundane and miraculous detail. It sprang from an instant when you were uncharacteristically freed from ego and introspection, when you let the outside in. It has been miraculously preserved by your body, the juices of your awareness pouring round it like a fossilised fly; it was born of particularity and sensation, and these are the qualities it restores.

So, as I flash past Birmingham, I remember plum trees. Plum trees in all their living specificity: the bruised balls pendulous with their bluish blush, splitting and seeping with crusted amber pearls. An angry day, heavy with weather, almost-hot and purply pissed. The wool scratch of coat underneath my elbows, and the burnt smell of old soil ground into my feet. A book in my hands, from which I’ve looked up, and the strange walk-on cast that troop onto the stage when you really notice: a straggle-threaded off-white bra cracking in the wind; the alien malevolence of an armoured ant twitching towards my hem; a scrap of orange curling ribbon caught on the trunk of a tree. I feel the empty heaviness of embodiment as my windblown mind meets my flesh with a slam. The crowded vacuum of being, crystallised in a single scene.

And for a precious second I wake up, back on the train. I feel the sinister chill of the air-con riffling the down on my arms; I spot the fabulous Cavalli-style lace shoe boots on the otherwise drab businesswoman across the aisle; I savour the stale station coffee furring my tongue and smell the extraordinary sweetness of the banana skin whose innards I’d gobbled, untasted, a few minutes before.

So much carpe dium crap is written about remembering how to live; too little about remembering how to remember. It takes some practice, sir. You might have to circle round a potential perfect memory a few times, tread the earth, test the give of it, before you can put your shoulder to the ground. But it’s worth it. You’ll know you’ve found it when it gives you a glorious noticing hangover.

Suddenly, Stoke on Trent has become a place of untapped opportunity. A garden of pylon-shaped plum trees.