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Letter From America: Sola Denouement

...Once upon a time I had a memory like a steel trap. Anything admitted therein was locked up safer than the Crown Jewels in the Tower of London..

But now Ronnie Bray has reached that stage in life when he cannot remember whether or not he has previously seen a film or television programme.

For lots more of Ronnie's delicious words click on Letter From America in the menu on this page. Read also chapters of his autobiography A Shout From The Attic.

Once upon a time I had a memory like a steel trap. Anything admitted therein was locked up safer than the Crown Jewels in the Tower of London. Not only did it hold everything, but also its entire catalogue of contents could be recalled in an instant. It was a wonderful thing, a good thing, and it served me well. They say that every good thing comes to an end, and while there are still a lot of things that have not ended, my memory has undergone some startling changes. These changes are most readily seen when it comes to watching television programmes.

One major and not unwelcome sign of memory rotting into holes is that I can watch an exciting film all the way through and not remember that I have seen it before multiple times until the last five minutes. Another symptom is never knowing what is on and when it is on.

In the good old days when it was a choice of watching the BBC television programmes or nothing, life was simpler. The advent of ITV made choosing between the two channels difficult, especially when two equally fascinating programmes were screened at the same time. But that was still easier than choosing between the four, and then five, celestial channels available in the Old Country of a few years ago.

In the USA we have access to several hundred television programmes twenty-four hours a day, so the act of choosing has become a matter for the Wisdom of Solomon. Watching one programme means almost certainly missing something equally interesting on another channel. Our woes are compounded by us not being able to programme the VCR to record a channel we are not actually viewing.

As if that was not enough to throw us old pair into confusion, the television guides are such massive documents and printed in such small type that we cannot successfully navigate them. Consequently, we miss interesting programmes we would like to have watched and only discover them when they are in their closing stages.

In so doing we have made a remarkable discovery. Whatever has happened in the preceding fifty or hundred and ten minutes, all of which we missed, everything comes together and is explained for us in the final ten minutes – the denouement, in which evil is thwarted, scoundrels are brought to justice, wrongs are righted, the unredeemable sacrifice their lives for virtue, the dog saves the day, the cheat gets his come-uppance, the boy gets the girl, and the whole plot from start to finish is explained so that we suffer no sense of loss.

It is a minimalist approach that helps us cope well with advancing memory loss that lets us enjoy closing moments as if we had viewed the whole thing. For us, at least, sola denouement is the way to go. ‘Wuthering Heights’ is reduced to a ghostly conversation between Kathy and Heathcliffe, ‘Seabiscuit’ is about a horse race, ‘The Sound of Music’ is about a family outing at night, ‘A Beautiful Mind’ is about pigeons, and ‘The Quiet Man’ is about a mixed marriage. Last night’s television decision was made in our routine way.

"What are we watching tonight, dear?"

"What’s on?"

"I don’t know. Just click on something."

"Ooh! ‘Last of the Summer Wine’ has just finished!"


"Yes, dear, double drat!"

"Is the Bucket Woman on?"

"Which channel?"

"I don’t know. Just hit some buttons and see what we get."

"‘Gone With the Wind’ is almost over."

"Have we seen that one?"

"I can’t remember. Do you want to get the last bit?"

"Might as well. What’s it about?"

"I haven’t a clue."

"Well, at least it’s in colour."

"Who is the man with the ears?"

"Gary somebody."


"Something like that."

"I think I’ve heard that music before."

"Is it a musical?"

"It looks like a house on fire!"

© 2006 Ronnie Bray

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