Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 21 October 2014

Billy's memory loss is no joke, but don't forget, it won't hit us all

Billy Connolly
Billy Connolly

How discomfiting to read about Billy Connolly forgetting his spiel at Belfast's Waterfront Hall. More dismaying still is the fact that this is worrying him. With any luck, he'll have nothing to worry about.

He's 70 now and clearly feels the memory loss might hint at yon appalling Syndrome. Billy said: "This is f*****g terrifying. I feel like I'm going out of my mind."

As my colleague Lindy McDowell noted yesterday, it could happen to anybody, but it's particularly awkward when you're on stage.

Billy's wife, Pamela Stephenson, says the lapses might have been caused by excessive boozing early in his career. Maybe. Might just be a 21st century thing. Information overload and all that.

Might be a combination of factors. I'm being even vaguer than usual, but this is difficult to get into perspective. Everyone I know in their fifties says their memory is shot. And we can't all have Alzheimer's.

My mother took Alzheimer's pretty early – in her late 60s – and died from it, so obviously, at 55, I have to fight the urge to attribute every memory lapse to inheriting the dreaded condition.

And these memory lapses are legion, even down to momentarily forgetting the names of close friends. Yet young people tell me they too often have "senior moments": going upstairs and forgetting why.

We all do that. But, after 50, we start to fear the worst. Like many men, I tend only to attend the doctor's surgery if I've a limb hanging off. Even then, I fear they're just going to attribute it to stress.

It's been the most popular diagnosis since I gave up smoking.

Campaigners have urged Billy to get himself along, presumably to sit a test that begins by asking him who the prime minister is. However, surely answering "that posh git, wotsisname" would suffice.

It's a difficult call. You don't want to know. And what can they do anyway? Well, some things in some cases, so we hear. So I dare say it's the right thing to do.

Laughing at the whole thing is another option.

I've learned, for example, never to say in an argument: "There are three clear reasons why I am right."

I list reason number one and am nearing the end of reason number two when I realise I can't remember reason number three. And so I just say: "And, thirdly, 'coz I just am, right?"

There are perhaps other things you can do. Crosswords, of course, and I find that meditation helps: focusing and all that. However, generally speaking, I'm far too busy for that sort of thing.

Besides, just sitting down and doing nothing is one of the hardest things to sit down and not do.

I don't mean sitting down and watching telly. I mean, sitting down in silence and taking a dander through your brain.

But when I manage to meditate (maybe a total of 10 minutes a week), I feel the old memory performs that little bit better, even if I can't answer the question: "Why am I sitting here cross-legged like a complete pillock?"

Unless she was pretending and saying "Thank God, he's gone" after my visits, my mother had no idea who I was for the last few years of her life.

It's inexpressibly awful, but it's not what Fate has in store for all of us by a long chalk. It's important to remember that.

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