Sarah-Kate Lynch puts her picture-perfect memory to the test – and wins

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1 January 1970

Reading Time: 3 minutes

How did elephants get the reputation for having a good memory? Sarah-Kate ponders this as she examines her own mind and wins a memory test.

If having a memory like an elephant is a good thing, and I’m not sure it is, then I have one. But how did elephants get this reputation? What exactly do they remember? The tree they stripped? The mud they rolled in? The savannah they crossed? Mind you, all savannahs look pretty much the same (as do trees), so perhaps that is their superpower.

Me, I might forget a name, but rarely a face. I can usually pinpoint the last time, or indeed the first time, I saw that face, right down to a location, an outfit, a song playing on the radio.

It does come in handy for a writer, this ability to remember bits and bobs from the deep, dark past, either personally lived or fabulously retold. What’s more, add memory to imagination, take away sticking to the facts, and you can pretty much always get yourself a darn good story. So, yay me. And yay elephants.

But do elephants, I wonder, having memorised the coordinates of every acacia tree in the Serengeti, find themselves at the watering hole wondering exactly what they’re doing there? For, despite my ability to locate in my memory a particular pair of shoes on a specific pair of ankles stepping around a certain muddy puddle, I often find myself in the kitchen wondering what I came in there for.

I’d like to say this has got worse with age. (Or would I?) But I’ve regained consciousness looking at an open fridge way too often, over way too many years, for that to be the case. Not that I remember the actual years and I’m pretty sure that is something to do with age, because the older you get, the more things you have done across a greater period of time, so the further stretched your grey matter when coming to recount it. Do elephants get one migration mixed up with another?

“You remember, hon, it was the year you got in all that trouble for squashing a water buffalo.”

You remember, hon, it was the year you got in all that trouble for squashing a water buffalo

“No, dear, it was the year you flattened the family of wart hogs.”

“That was the summer of the bat-eared fox!”

“No, it was zebra-gate!”

The Ginger and I had one of these impossible discussions recently (perhaps not quite that impossible) when we were on a mini-break in Golden Bay.

I knew the last time we had been there was for our 25th wedding anniversary and he knew the last time we were there was in 2019. Unfortunately, these two things did not occur at the same time.

“You remember, we went to that beach with the annoying people on the narrow path,” he insisted.

“All people on narrow paths are annoying,” I answered. “That one doesn’t stand out.”

“Are you sure we were celebrating the right wedding anniversary?” he asked.

This question wasn’t as silly as it might seem – because pretty much every year we get our anniversary wrong – but I was convinced I had researched the 25th one to get it right.

“But we were sad about the dog because we’d just lost him,” the Ginger recalled.

“No, we were sad about the estimate for our renovations. We still had the dog,” I countered.

We would still be there now arguing the toss were it not for my trusty iPhone. One quick scroll through my gazillion photos and I was able to quickly prove that I was right (one of my favourite things to do): our anniversary was in 2018, there were photos of us with the dog when we got home and, oh, yes, there’s the beach that you get to along the narrow path with all the annoying people.

Perhaps elephants have a better system.

“The water buffalo, darling – of course!” (Smiles secretly to herself as she accidentally sits on a hyena).

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