The unexpected consequences of remembered quotes

Memory is a curious thing. Mine is far from photographic, but I still often do that trick of recalling where on the page the line I’m looking for is, and how far through the book (and what the book looks like, where on the shelf it is, and how far up the unit the shelf is… but rarely which town the shelf is in).

Recently, I found myself writing a neat phrasing and realised that I’d borrowed it from an exchange with a friend, long ago:

Me: “How did your viva go?”

Her: “Well, I think. They nodded at the maths and laughed at the jokes, which has to be better than the other way around.”

I’ve admired that inversion ever since, and enjoyed appropriating it partly because in my head it’s always associated with that balmy summer afternoon, walking through the grounds of Trinity. There was nothing particularly memorable or significant about the occasion, it’s more that I’m surprised and delighted to find myself appreciating the connection between a structural phrasing and a physical event. Just as some smells might be associated in one’s mind with specific songs, perhaps.

Anyway, the friend and I drifted out of touch, and I never knew what happened to her. Her research papers appeared in Google, but nothing else. Until the other day, I happened to try again, and it turns out she bailed on science and is now – or rather, was, a couple of years back – Strategy Manager for BBC Radio and Music. Blimey.

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