The past two decades have been wiped from my memory. I blame the government

My proposed series for Radio 4 on sixties coffee-bar culture has been rejected. The letter from the commissioning editor said that although the idea was "intrinsically interesting", he had an "awkward sense" he'd heard something similar on the network in the past few years.

I knew what he meant. Even as I was listing the most famous coffee houses and describing the glass cups and the instantly recognisable hiss of a sixties Gaggia machine, I'd been overcome by the feeling that I was being marginally less than original.

But only yesterday, as I was rummaging under the stairs for a stain remover, did I discover the truth. There, next to my toolbox, was a pile of old cassettes: three recordings of my Open University programmes on role theory, two Miles Davis cassettes and a tape which my own handwriting announced as "Cappuccino Culture. R4".

Within seconds I was pressing the "Play" button. What was I about to hear? A programme made by a colleague that I'd enjoyed enough to record for my personal listening pleasure? The tape engaged and there bubbling up through the Tommy Steele signature tune was the first sound effect: the instantly recognisable hiss of a sixties Gaggia machine. Then a voice said: "Yes, that's the instantly recognisable hiss of a sixties Gaggia machine." There was no need to check with my partner. It was, unmistakeably, me.

I pressed "Eject" and scanned the other side of the tape for a date. "September 1992". There was no escape. I'd made a Radio 4 series about sixties coffee bars less than seven years before submitting exactly the same proposal to exactly the same network.

My problem appears to be RRML (relatively recent memory loss). I have a crystal clear memory of very recent events, such as the opening paragraph of this column, and an equally vivid memory of events in early childhood (I can summon up at will an image of myself aged three watching my father glue Phillips Stick-A-Soles onto my mother's scuffed shoes). But in the past few months I've managed to forget in the course of casual conversation that my mother is dead (1995), that I've ceased to work for York University (1992), and that my second best friend, David, is no longer around for a pint on Tuesdays because he's doing 15 years inside for manufacturing acid (1989).

According to my new Muswell Hill psychotherapist (a complex Lacanian with a faint Jungian aftertaste), there's a lot of it about. She's seeing at least five RRML patients a week, and is coming to believe their symptoms are related to the inadequacies of the present Labour government. Under analysis, all of them reveal that they worked for the best part of 20 years to get Labour elected and now can only cope with the traumatic sight of Blair, Brown and Cook in office by pretending that the past two decades simply did not happen. Some of them apparently wake up in the middle of the night shrieking "It wasn't me. Don't blame me", before sinking back into the security provided by RRML.

Despite such disturbing stories, my therapist still insists that I count my blessings. After I'd popped in yesterday with details of the coffee-bar disaster she tried to reassure me with a story about a patient who'd come to see her the day before talking about suicide because of his complete inability to remember events that had occurred only a few seconds before. My therapist leaned forward sympathetically and asked him how long he'd had such a terrible problem. "What problem?" he asked.

This article first appeared in the 26 March 1999 issue of the New Statesman, Eating people is wrong