When we moved from one flat to another recently I was gratified to be able to bring the 'garden' with us (I refer to the collection of potted plants which stood on the balconies). Having nurtured them, they have acquired some significance beyond decorative effect: they represent - in a very minor way - continuity; proof that I am making some sort of impact on this world and not just passing through. The plants seem to like the new place just as much as we do but lately I noticed that the bamboo was looking bedraggled: despite the season, its leaves were turning browner rather than greener. On close inspection I saw it was being drained of its sap by aphids, which came as a surprise since I thought it was just pandas that ate bamboo. Too late to save it by killing the bugs, I cut it back in the hope that it will regenerate next spring. To throw it out would have been easier but I am getting rather fond of that continuity thing: it helps remind me who I am and where I've been.
Lately I've had a few such reminders. Earlier this week I met up with a former work colleague. At the factory, where over many years we had built a business together, we talked not so much about old times as about her future plans. Coming away from the meeting my feeling, though tinged with nostalgia, was overwhelmingly one of contentment. Having established the business, I can now take satisfaction from the fact that a younger generation has used my effort as a stepping stone to the future.
Then there was my friend's 59th birthday party. Close friends and acquaintances came together to celebrate the occasion - some of whom I had seen the day before, others not since the last celebration - but, in what felt like too short a time, we reaffirmed the connections that give us context and that sense of belonging. What misery it must be to be a stranger at such a party, invited by a friend but without a stake in the shared history of the group - like a refugee starting another life in a foreign place.
I can remember the date of my friend's birthday because it coincides with the longest day of the year; otherwise I would have to rely on a system. There are well established techniques we can employ to memorise things - but I haven't got around to practising any. The anonymously-authored Latin textbook Rhetorica ad Herrenium, written around 85 B.C, documents a method of memory training which was used by the ancient Greeks and is still used today. Based around the ability of the human brain to remember spaces, it proposes the creation of an imagined building full of rooms in which information is stored. Mastery of such methods was crucial to the internalisation of knowledge in the absence of the printing press but in the age of the internet it is useful mostly to contestants in the World Memory Championship. My preferred memory aid is the electronic diary, although it does have its drawbacks: I forgot my brother's birthday this year because of dependence on it. As I sheepishly explained to him after the event, I had not felt it necessary - given our shared history - to make an entry for him. Consequently my phone, on which I now rely for prompts, did not alert me.
Nevertheless I am adamant that, with ready access to so much information, I need not clutter my mind with too many facts. Instead I shall save my capacity for personal memories - the kind that keep the wolf of insignificance from the door.