Some things are easy to remember while other memories are elusive. But wait — it's all coming back to me now in a flash of colour

There are certain things from your early schooling that you never forget. You never forget your times tables, for example, and that's because they were drilled into you.

Same goes for your verb conjugations in Latin and French. You didn't dare forget your verb "to be" or you'd get a detention.

I was reminded of all this on the weekend as I was driving along with the dog in the back of the car and a sudden word from the past popped into my mind. I said it aloud to the dog: "BODMAS," I told her. "Huh?" her face appeared to reply via the rear-vision mirror.


"BODMAS," I repeated. "You know. B – O – D – M – A – S." But she didn't know.

Trouble was, neither did I. Well, what I mean is I knew BODMAS – I had learned it rote-style like the times tables – but I could not for the life of me remember what it was.

I ran amo, amas, amat through my head to see if that would help but it failed to jog my memory. Same for je suis, tu es ...

I kept repeating the word all the way home but nothing came. Once, when stopped at traffic lights, I turned to the motorist next to me and, through my open window, said the word to him. "Whatever!" he sneered and planted his foot as soon as the lights changed.

Then for some reason I suffered a mental attack. ROY G BIV fired the first shot followed by Every Good Boy Deserves Favours (though I am aware some people substitute "fruit" or even "fudge" for "favours" – you can't be too careful).

Wyn Drabble is a teacher of English, a writer, musician and public speaker.
Wyn Drabble is a teacher of English, a writer, musician and public speaker.

"Mnemonics Now Erase Man's Oldest Nemesis, Insufficient Cerebral Storage," someone once said.

Then the attack went beyond mnemonics and at last I was in more familiar territory: "i" before "e" except after "c" (except in cases where this is not true), the circumference of a circle is measured by ... I'll need extra time on this one but I think it might have something to do with a square root or a cosine. Or whatever is the capital city of Canberra.

And then a song joined in, a song which incorrectly stated that on the bridge in Avignon people were dancing (or, literally, one danced on it).

Well, there weren't dancers when I was there. If there had been, they would have been wiped out by a speeding Citroen 2CV. (Even though it has been claimed that a 2CV takes "about a day" to get from zero to 60km/h and, once it has found speed, there's no stopping it.)

And a rhyme. "Red sky at night, shepherd's delight. Red sky in the morning, shepherd's warning." This might be how we learned about daylight saving but I can't guarantee that.

So while it's true that rote learning is valuable, it's not without its shortcomings. Besides which, we live in the computer age now so, when I arrived home, I was very quickly and easily able to find out what BODMAS is. It's the colours of the rainbow in an easy-to remember format invented by Roy G Biv.

Another failing is evident in any mnemonic invented for remembering the order of the planets. You can make up your own (Might Venus Envy Mars Just So Uncle Neville Perspires), learn it off pat and then they go and change the number of planets. Everything's stacked against you.


Thank you to the many readers who sent in their memories of bread's joiny bit. Most offerings seemed to involve "kiss" (as in "baker's kiss") and that seems quite fitting. I wish I could taste it but, as they say, nostalgia is a thing of the past.

* Wyn Drabble is a teacher of English, a writer, musician and public speaker.