How come I remember ‘Big Aggie’ but not a discussion I had last week?

I have always had the most terrible memory.  Right from my school days I was aware that I had to work extra hard to remember things I learned at school.  I blame my good but not startling exam results fairly and squarely at my erratic memory’s door.  I have never had a problem understanding what I’m being taught or shown, but ask me to recall it shortly afterwards and I’m in trouble – unless it’s something I use so often it becomes second nature.  My swotting for exams involved remembering things parrot fashion.  Almost immediately after the exams the information disappeared.  It doesn’t go completely though.  Mostly it remains in my mind but is so hidden away that it is hard to recall it.  I know the information is still there because it will pop up in my head at some random point when I don’t need it rather than when I do.  This makes quizzes a no go area for me as you can imagine.  I’m sure my brain has faulty wiring!  I like to describe it as having a very old filing clerk who takes a long time to search through the filing cabinets for the information I’ve requested.  By the time he comes up with the goods I’ve moved on to something completely different.

What’s that got to do with Big Aggie I hear you say?  Who is she and why am I able to I remember her?

Well, ‘Big Aggie’ represents one of the things I am able to recall – songs.  I don’t need scientists to tell me that it’s easier to remember words when they are associated with music.  It has been obvious to me for a long long time.  The song about Big Aggie was one that my mum used to sing.  My mum passed away many years ago, when I was a teenager, so I can’t ask her why she used to sing it – maybe it featured in some amateur operetta that she was in – but I can still recall the lyrics and the melody.  It’s a humorous little ditty about a rather large lady trying to dance…

Oh the night I took big Aggie to the ball

Well she couldn’t dance, she couldn’t dance at all

When I asked her to reverse

Well she fell and skint her ‘erse

Oh the night I took big Aggie to the ball

While researching this blog I came across the following Web site for Tobar an Dualchais/Kist o Riches which is a collaborative project that has been set up to preserve, digitise, catalogue and make available online several thousand hours of Gaelic and Scots recordings. This website contains a wealth of material such as folklore, songs, music, history, poetry, traditions, stories and other information. The material has been collected from all over Scotland and beyond from the 1930s onwards.  “The Nicht ah took Big Aggie tae the Ball” features here…

The first record I ever owned contained two children’s songs:  The A-side was The Big Red Bus and the B-side was The Thirsty Mini.  Decades later I again remember the lyrics and the melody.  I was chuffed to find that someone has posted recordings of these songs on You Tube and recently I had a little sing-along.  My recollections of the lyrics were spot on.  I hasten to add that at no time did I overtly try to learn the lyrics, it just happened auto-magically.

It doesn’t stop there.  Him indoors creases up when I sing the Matey advert – word perfectly.  Matey was (and still is) a bubble bath for kids.  Last week it was the John Collier advert that got a vocal airing – a man’s outfitters of the 1970s if anyone’s interested.  I don’t stop at adverts.  Obscure songs of the past are also easily recalled: Car 67 for example, which popped up last week in the reruns of 1970’s Top of the Pops and which I could sing from start to finish!

So here I am, still memory-challenged with the mundane, everyday stuff but able to sing-along to copious songs and adverts of the past three decades.

If only we sang rather than spoke our everyday conversations, I would win every quiz in the world.


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