Monday, January 21, 2008

Just like riding a bicycle!

Some learning seems to stay with you - even when you haven't used it in ages. Other learning seems to vanish like the mist after even a short period of non-use.

This weekend, I played two games of squash after a 20 year absence from the court. To my surprise, I hadn't altogether lost it. I usually knew where I needed to be, even when the ravages of time meant I couldn't get there. I also always knew what I needed to do when I got there, even when I couldn't quite pull it off. One thing I had forgotten - to my astonishment - was the cardinal rule of taking ownership of the "T" straight after a service!

My first game was against (and I use the word loosely, since we were really just knocking about) my husband, who kept me running around that court like the proverbial headless chicken! My second game was against my 16-year old son, who is fit, fast and sporty. I was delighted that this time it was I who had him running himself ragged all over the court.

By the end of the second game, I had successfully rediscovered the skill of digging a ball out of the back corner (albeit clumsily) and playing off the back wall (ditto). I was still forgetting to return to the "T", though!

A while ago, we took the family to Bletchley Park, home of the famous decryptors of the Enigma machine. In one room was a range of computers, representing the history of personal computing. One of them ran WordPerfect 5.0 on a DOS operating system (I forget which version). In the days that WordPerfect enjoyed 75% of the global market share, I ran more training sessions on both of those than I care to remember! Nevertheless, when I sat down in front of that PC, I couldn't for the life of me remember the key combinations associated with even the simplest of commands.

Some years ago, we visited the small island off the west coast of Sweden from which my husband's maternal family hails. The island doesn't allow motorised traffic other than the most delightful mopeds (see photo), and most people make their way about on bicycles. My mother-in-law (who grew up on the island) after many, many years out of the saddle, mounted her bicycle and cycled about competently within moments. It is fair to say that she later had an accident - not her fault - and was banned from cycling by her daughter for fear of broken bones, since, like many others of her "type", she suffers from mild osteoporosis.

However, the irony is that it took her far longer to regain the same level of confidence in her native tongue. She had been speaking English (with a strong Swedish accent) for so many years that, even at the end of the time we spent there, she had a tendency to lapse back into English ( guessed it... a strong Swedish accent) when she became animated.

For me, the common factor is that both the easily remembered skills were psychomotor, while those less easily recalled were more cognitive.

I wonder if anyone else has similar experiences or observations in this connection.

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