If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

- George Washington

Monday, 16 November 2009

The Brylcreem Bounce

Ok, I'm certifiably bonkers, but ... bear with me.

I was driving home this morning after doing my lecturing gig at the New University, and a jingle came into my head. Don't ask me why, for I know not. But in the 70s, there was an advert for a men's grooming product called Brylcreem, I'd say 'ask your grandad', but I understand that Brylcreem has undergone a bit of a revival recently, so maybe the cultural reference isn't so obscure. The ad showed lots of men with greasy quiffs, and was accompanied by a jingle:

A little dab of Brylcreem on your hair
Gives you the Brylcreem ... bou-ounce!

The word 'bounce' was sung as two syllables, with the first glissanding from a minor to a major third, and the second back on the tonic. I can hear now the rather strained mid-Atlantic accent of the singer, and the tune and tempo, note for note. And I can also remember the version we, as skoolboys, used to sing:

A little dab of Brylcreem on your stairs
Makes your Granny ... bou-ounce!

Now, I know that this is only humorous in the 'you had to be there' sense. But what puzzled me for the next twenty miles was -

Where the hell was all this information stored? Which part of what I laughingly call my 'brain' was host to the chemicals and charges and switches and zaps that went together to recreate this resoundingly stupid jingle? I don't believe in homeopathy, and I won't accept that bits of my 'brain' had this memory in their - er - memory, without there being some physical manifestation. If I think of it as an audio file on a computer, then I suppose we are dealing with something around 200Kb, or the size of a meduim-sized photo. Oh, and another 200Kb for the skoolboy version. And this is real data: if you were unlucky enough to have me in your living room at this moment, I could sing it to you, with a fairly faithful rendition of tune and tone of voice. In other words, it isn't virtual data - it is realisable in the real world.

I suppose, in computer terms, it is a small file somewhere in an archive folder, which can be retrieved and replayed by the right combination of search terms and commands.

So - where was it? Where?

And also, while we are on the subject, where are all the other stupid, inconsequential, trivial, nugatory, negligible (except that they aren't, in the strict sense of the word) and irrelevant memories that I can recall if the circumstances are right? The rather fatty taste of a cheap ice-cream when I was on holiday with my parents in Cornwall in - let's say - 1960? The sound of the crowd at a firework display on the same trip (oooh on the way up, ahhh on the way down, since you ask - something which has proved useful in all sorts of situations)? The feel of the front doorstep (Cardinal Red) on the backs of my legs when I used to sit there talking to the girl next door at the age of nine?

It's all there.

(And why is it that I can remember the precise details of the transmission arrangements of Emilio Largo's yacht Disco Volante in Fleming's 1961 novel Thunderball (the Shertel-Sachsenberg system, if you must know), when more recent and significant information, such as the date of the Health and Safety At Work Act, is always just beyond reach, and I need to look it up? Again.)

It strikes me that the human brain is impossibly complex and labrynthine - especially when it can be used to question and examine its own workings, as it is now.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you. That Brylcreem jingle came into my head only t'uther day and I felt compelled to google it, which led me here. Perhaps our memories are stored as fractals, i.e. complex patterns defined by a fairly simple equation? It would save on memory, as in kilobytes, wouldn't it. Just a thought.....


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