Thursday, September 02, 2010

"If I had a hammer" redux

Aida Edemariam interviews Terry Pratchett for the Guardian. Here, on the encroachments of Alzheimer's:
He doesn't say it in so many words, but that must also be combined with grief for the loss of his ability to write longhand, or type with anything other than one finger at a time (although, weirdly, he is still perfectly able to sign his name — "the bit that knows how to sign my name is an entirely different bit of the brain"); the grief of knowing that while he may have years yet, most of his other mental faculties will go the same way. But probably not suddenly.

"Every day must be a tiny, incrementally . . . incremental . . . incremental . . . – he stumbled over a word; you must write that one down," Pratchett says with a dark, almost-laugh. (Having been a journalist himself, before becoming a PR in the nuclear industry and thence a novelist, he rarely passes up a chance to remind you that he knows how journalists work) ". . . incremental . . . change on the day before. So what is normal? Normal was yesterday. If you lose a leg, one day you're hopping around on one leg, so you know the difference.

"The last test I did was the first where I wasn't as good as the previous time. I actually forgot David Cameron. I just blanked on him" – this time the laugh contains, what – a kind of ironic approval? "What happens is, I call it the ball bearing. It's there, it just hasn't gone into the slot." He cannot begin to do tests that require him to scribble shapes, but asked to list names of animals, "I industriously say more than you can possibly imagine" – you can just see the pleasure of the earnest nerd in school – "and we go on for a little while until she smiles and says, 'Yes, we know, we know.'

"And then there was the time with dear Claudia with the Germanic accent – which is always good if someone's interrogating you – and she said, 'What would you do with a hammer? And I said, 'If I had a hammer, I'd hammer in the morning. I'd hammer in the evening, all over this land.' And by the end I was dancing around the room, with her laughing. The laugh will be on the other foot, eventually, and I'm aware of that. But it shows how different things can be: I can still handle the language well, I can play tricks with it and all the other stuff – but I have to think twice when I put my pants on in the morning."

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