The Tide Of Memory

(or, of Ladas and Gallifreyan Doctors)

Memory is a strange and untameable thing. This is my lesson of the week. (It is a Sunday, after all.)

A little backstory: I was doing a mild bit of research for a short story I’m writing (which I’m submitting somewhere). The story, as it turns out, is set in Singapore, and involves a Lada. Boxy little Russian car, pride of the Soviet nation, ya de yadaya. My family owned a Lada in the very late 90s to early 2000s, and I am intensely fond of, and nostalgic about, the damn rustbuckets.

In order to flesh out my story with actual proper facts, I needed to ferret out details on when the cars stopped being imported into Singapore. I knew it happened, because we had to scrap ours when the gearbox broke and we couldn’t get replacement parts for the lack of a local dealer.

I also knew where I could find that one specific piece of information.

See, my mind has this thing where it, for completely arbitrary reasons, hangs on to the memory of very specific single feature articles in the papers. I can forget who I had lunch with last week and what colour underwear I put on yesterday, but I will remember that The Straits Times ran a story about x-and-x a decade ago and the gist of the story was this-and-that. I remembered the feature article they did on B5 fans when HMV held a mini-exhibition in The Hereen, and this article would come back to haunt my brainmeats when I actually became a B5 fan much later, five years after the series ended. I remembered the feature article they did on Lomography, back when the lineup of Lomo cameras were limited to maybe five or six (LC-A, Diana, Colorsplash, Fisheye, Actionsampler and the other multi-lens cameras).

And I remembered the feature article they did on local Lada owners, several years before my family bought one. I remembered it mentioned the import history of the car in Singapore.

The problem was – all I knew was that the article was published in the 1990s. And the headline was “Love me, love my Lada”. After asking the ever-reliable Twitterlist for help on sources, I was pointed to the wonderful digitized library of Singaporean/Malayan newspapers kept by the NLB. I entered my search terms – the 1990s, “Love me, love my Lada”.

I found my article. 18th March, 1997. I’d remembered the headline exactly, word for word.

I hit the Lee Kong Chian Reference Library today to look up the article on microfilm and get it printed. First ever experience with microfilm, actually, but it was glorious. Scrolling through my specific reel I found articles talking about “Japan’s worst nuclear disaster” (tragically ironic to someone who pushes at least one Fukushima article online a day, at work) and articles talking about the upsurge in message pagers – the fresh new trend in mobile communication! – and the amazing possibility of computers that can understand what you say in the future. Ahh, the rosy-cheeked naivete of the 1990s.

When I finally got to the article I wanted, I did a small double take. I had remembered it as a double-page spread. It wasn’t. The layout was all wrong. I had precisely remembered the headline and the gist of the article, but the picture of it I held in my head was some fanciful construct I’d conjured up myself.

Memories can be tricky, tricky things.

I wonder what else hides in my brain.Typically, I don’t realise I remember little gems like these until they become suddenly relevant to my current life, at which point I might say, “Oh, that! I remember the Straits Times ran an article on that a number of years ago.” And then wonder why in the world my brain saves hitherto-useless junk like that. Maybe it knew something I didn’t. An unconsciously precognitive mind.

I had a dream once, a strange and vivid one. It was about an imaginary newspaper article. Specifically, the dream involved my mother and I looking over a double-page spread feature on Doctor Who, and pointing out and arguing about which of the Doctors we liked best. When I woke with that dream still in my head like a shallow dish of milk I was completely baffled– this was in the pre-RDT era, and the only thing I knew about Doctor Who back then was that a) my older geek friends talked about it sometimes, b) I’d seen mention of it in some sci-fi magazines I’d bought in the 1990s at the height of my Star Trek mania, c) there was somehow more than one Doctor because he could regenerate, the only thing I remembered from watching some spoof skit on a bootleg video tape, which somehow involved Rowan Atkinson. I was also convinced that it was a show I would never watch because I wasn’t going to catch up with a gazillion years of viewing history, thanks.

Fast forward ten years. I am now a diehard Whovian, and my sister and I argue about which of the Doctors we like best (she likes Ten, I like Eleven). I eventually caved after years of shouting “No! I am never watching Doctor Who!” when friends encouraged me to try out the NewWho seasons of the show, and became a fan. And yes, I thought about that dream not long after I got hold of the first few episodes and started to realise, “Hey, I am beginning to like this…”

What was it that my brain knew back then? Who knows.

My mother, unfortunately, has never watched an episode of Doctor Who, and I doubt she ever will. My father, on the other hand… I hope never to see him trying to impersonate a Dalek in the living room, ever again.


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