Yapton’s memory man David Bathurst is at it again, this time reciting the entire New Testament – 172,000 words – from memory, over four days in Boxgrove Priory.
David, who is unaware that the feat has ever been achieved before, will be in action from May 2-5, reciting from memory for around six to seven hours each day, all in aid of the Gambia Upcountry Development Charity, which provides underprivileged African children with schooling.
David is inviting people to drop in at any time to listen - and to contribute to the cause.
He will take a short break between books and a longer break around the middle of the day, but otherwise will be pacing himself with plentiful coffee and refreshments, supported by his wife Susan, by stewarding assistants form the Priory congregation and by representatives from the charity.
“Back in 1998, I recited the Four Gospels from memory, which was a great success,” David said. “I felt that it was a wonderful way of communicating the Gospels and was also a test for me. I decided at that time that once I had retired from full-time work, I would have a go at the whole New Testament.”
The Gospels are just under half the length, with the Gospels certainly the easier part.
“The catch is the material in the second half of the New Testament which is very, very much more demanding to learn because it is more abstract. There is a lot more theology. There is a lot in there that is harder for the modern reader to understand, and if it is harder to understand, it makes it harder to keep in memory. It doesn’t really roll off the tongue. A great deal of the Gospels is familiar in terms of stories that we know, but once you get to the Epistles, it is much less familiar.”
David brings to it all a quite staggering array of feats of memory including reciting the 150 Psalms from memory in 2002; reciting (and singing) the complete works of Gilbert & Sullivan from memory in
2004; reciting (and singing) the complete published works of Michael Flanders & Donald Swann from memory in 2006; reciting (singing) Handel’s Messiah from memory in 2009; and reciting Alan Bennett’s complete Talking Heads monologues from memory in 2010.
Day one (Friday, May 2) will focus on Matthew, Mark and John; day two on Luke and the Acts of the Apostles; day three on the Epistles from Romans to the Colossians; day four, the rest.
David, aged 54, who works part-time as a criminal defence solicitor, says he doesn’t have a photographic memory, but key to the feat is picturing roughly where he is on the page, whether he is coming to the end of one page or starting a new one.
“But for learning it, it has been a case for 80-90 per cent of the time of sitting down with the text, looking at it, shutting and the book and seeing how much I can recall.”
David started preparing for his latest feat in January last year without knowing just how long it would take to learn. By April-May last year, however, he was confident enough to set the date.
He has always had an astonishing memory, but he stresses the need to train it. When he is not memorising the New Testament, a game he likes to play is to remember what he has done every Saturday since 1980. As he says, he has always enjoyed crossword puzzles and exercising his brain.
For the latest challenge, he says there will be two enemies - distraction and the nature of the second half.
“But I should be fine if I am well fuelled with coffee and refreshments!”