..Awakening recently the morning after a
disgusting alcoholic debauch, in an upturned laundry basket in a strange
and malodorous bathroom, two disagreeable things struck me. The
first was the appearance of my tongue, which was lime green, furry,
completely numb, and limply hanging a good six inches out of my
mouth. When I attempted, in some alarm, to stuff it back in, it
proceeded, to my greater alarm, to fall out of my head completely,
causing heart stoppage and a strangled cry of horror that persisted
until I realized it was in fact a sock.
..The second and much more disturbing
disagreeable thing was the realization that, not only did I have no
idea where I was and how I had come to be there, but after a fairly
early point I had no recollection at all of the night before. The
last thing I remembered clearly was telling my Mum I was just
nipping out to post a letter, and plainly much had transpired
since then. Immediately a single word leapt into my mind, piercing me
with an icy terror: Korsakov's.
..Korsakov's Syndrome, a condition in which
the short-term memory is permanently impaired, has been a fear of mine
since student days and the spectacular blackouts I was prey to then. I
first came across it in Dr. Oliver Sacks's book on neurological
disorders, The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat. (A truly grim
book. Typical story: 'A bloke came into the hospital. He had been struck
on the head by a falling girder and was behaving like a duck. He's still
doing it now, I couldn't fix him, he was completely fucked. But I had a good play around with him,
and thanks to his tragic ordeal I can now pinpoint the exact area of the
brain that prevents us from waddling and quacking. Hooray for science.')
Hat tells the story of a 49-year-old man who had had his memories
of the last thirty years erased and consequently believed himself to be
a teenager; alcoholism was the cause although nostalgia for the last
time in his life he felt truly alive may have played a part. To him it
was as if his mind had been transported forward in time into an aged
body and a strange future world.
..The more I think about it, the more I feel
certain that Korsakov's is my destiny. My alcohol intake is moderate
at the moment, barring a few colourful splurges, but it will undoubtedly
grow as personal failure and life among the foundations of the Fourth
Reich takes its toll. Better, anyway, to become an alcoholic than to
become reconciled to this horror. And nostalgia is already a disease
with me; already the scenes of my happy childhood are more vivid to me
than any of the interchangeable grey days of the non-existence I lead
now. Yes, Korsakov's is for me, and in many ways it will be a mercy.
..One morning not too long from now, I will
leap out of bed bright-eyed and energetic and cram my coarse and hairy
29-year old carcass into my old school uniform, still hanging in my closet,
grab my satchel and dash out to catch the school bus. There I will
notice that my schoolmates appear to have been replaced by strangers
who are staring at me and whispering to each other, and I will
probably start to cry. But then, a resilient child, I will perk up and
try to make the best of things, and will attempt to make the acquaintance
of some fresh-faced young girl who takes my fancy, offering to carry
her books and asking if she would like to see my conkers. Arriving at
school, I will notice that my teachers appear to have become shrunken and grey
overnight, and have called the police to arrest me, and I will start
to cry again and probably soil myself.
..Or perhaps I will fancy it is the school
holidays. I will grab a football and my Panini sticker album, hop on my
Raleigh Chopper, and bike round to Jimmy McCormack's house. I will ask
his Mum if he is coming out to play, hopping impatiently from one foot
to another in sheer joie de vivre. Mrs. McCormack will explain,
gently I hope, that Jimmy lives in Middlesborough and is a chartered
accountant with a wife and two children. I will depart, bewildered,
and probably start to cry.
..The thing with Korsakov's, though, is that
you are unable to remember anything new from one day to the next, so the
next day and every day after that I will dash back round there and ask her exactly the same thing.
..I think I will have to make a tape
explaining the situation to my younger self. I will keep it in my room
in a prominent position, with a big label saying MICHAEL: PLAY THIS
TAPE IF YOU ARE SUDDENLY STRUCK DOWN BY KORSAKOV'S SYNDROME AND BELIEVE
YOU ARE A 16-YEAR OLD TRANSPORTED INTO YOUR 29 YEAR OLD BODY. (16 was
my high-water mark for various reasons, so it is to that age that I shall
..However, I intend to complete mislead the gullible
young sod that I was. The tape will be constructed in such a way as to
cause maximum destruction and chaos. I will be dead, in effect, after
all, so I have nothing to lose. Here is what I will put on it:
.."Hello, Michael. This is Michael speaking.
If you are listening to this tape, then you have been struck down by
Korsakov's Syndrome, a condition which impairs the memory. Although you
believe yourself to be a teenage boy in the 1980s, you are in fact a
29 year old man living at the turn of the Millennium. Do not panic. I
have anticipated this for some time and have prepared for it. This
tape contains all the information you will need for your new life. If
you follow the instructions I am about to give you, no-one will ever
suspect what has happened and you will not be hospitalized.
.."You are, of course, rich and famous, as
you knew you would be by this age. You are a Hollywood film actor,
although in Britain you are best known for your role in a popular
sitcom. You played a comic delivery man. Your catchphrase was, "Where
do you want it, round the back?" If ever you get into a sticky
situation of any kind, say this phrase and wink. It is enough to melt
the stoniest heart.
.."There is another thing it is important
for you to know. You are married, Michael. You are married to Princess
Margaret. I realize this will come as a shock to you. I know your
boyhood dream was to live a trois with Claire Grogan and
Suzanna Hoffs, but trust me, Michael, Margaret is your one true love.
With her you have known bliss beyond your wildest dreams. At the moment
you are back living with your parents because you and Margaret have
had a row, but the truth is she needs you, as you need her. Go to her,
Michael. This is where she lives. [Find out her address and tell him.]
Go to her, reclaim her, throw yourself on her wearing a pirate costume,
the way she likes you to.
.."You will find many strange customs in
what to you is the weird and futuristic world of the end of the century.
Britain is a much more relaxed and friendly society now. The way we
greet people upon introduction is not with a handshake or even a hug,
but by placing your hand on their genitals and exposing your genitals
for them to do likewise. If you do not do this people will think you
cold and unfriendly.
.."Another thing. You will probably notice
many people walking around carrying mobile phones. Everyone has one
now. The old phone network is obsolete. The old phone boothes are now
used as prostitution boothes. Anyone you see in a phone booth is a
government-licensed prostitute. They will have sex with you for fifty
pence. They come in all ages and types to cater for different tastes,
but they are all prostitutes. Try one, Michael, I can recommend it.
Margaret won't mind, you have an open marriage. Remember, they are
government-licensed prostitutes, and if they refuse to sleep with you
you should report them at once to the nearest policeman. Or failing
that, a postman.
.."Now. Transport. As you would expect, we
have made many amazing technological advances since your day. For
international travel, teleportation devices like on Star Trek are in
common use in every city. They are disguised as manhole covers to
blend in with the street. To use one, stand on it, stamp on it three
times, and say, "Take me to China," or wherever you want to go. If it
is out of order, report it to the nearest prostitute.
.."There is one important event it is vital
you should be aware of. For several years Earth has been fighting a
terrible war against a race of space aliens. People will think you
strange and unpatriotic if you do not talk about this a lot and say
how much you hate the bastards.
.."You will often see young people of both
sexes walking the streets wearing combat trousers. These are members
of the Earth Militia, who defend us against the aliens. Although most
of them will appear to be teenagers, they are hardened space marines
who only look youthful because of the effects of the space-warps they use.
It is important to show them respect. Whenever you see any in the street,
stand still and salute them until they have passed, and call out, "God
bless you, you are Earth's last hope."
.."The aliens walk among us, Michael. They
take on human form and commit terrible acts of sabotage. There is one
way you can spot them. They have metal studs in their tongues,
almost like ear-studs. These studs are the transmitters connecting
them to their mother ship. And what seems like a tongue to you is
actually the slimy alien which controls the humanoid shell. If ever
you see someone with a metal stud in their tongue, grab hold of the
tongue and pull it out. Tell people you have found an alien and they
will help you.
.."Good luck in your strange new world,
Michael. I can guarantee you won't have a dull moment."