James Clarke Masthead
August 1 2012 at 10:09

I learnt long ago that one’s memory is a good liar. It was in 1994 when I was walking with Julie, my younger daughter, from Calais southwards towards Boulogne. We were nearing Cap Gris Nez which is where channel swimmers land or from where they depart.

I remember clearly as a 16-year-old arriving on foot at Cap Gris Nez and meeting a young American channel swimmer named Shirley-May who was my age. I shared chips with her in the cobbled market square which was glistening from a recent shower.

When, 40 years later, I arrived with Julie we found a solitary cafe a kilometre or two from the Cape. I asked the proprietor how far it was to the village. He said there was no village. There was just the windswept Cape.

And Shirley-May? Who knows?

Julie and I were trying to retrace a lone journey I had made walking and hitching down the length of France to the Mediterranean. I realised I had forgotten a great deal but that which I thought I could remember I now began to doubt.

The late American author, Jessamyn West (she would have been 100 years old this year), said, “The past is really almost as much a work of the imagination as the future”.

I found her quote on a website (www.drmardy.com) which contains “Dr Mardy’s quote of the week”. The site recently listed some quotes regarding memory. Dr Mardy Grothe, an author and motivational speaker, himself observed: “Descriptions of the past can contain as much fiction as fact”.

This is the bane of historians.

My wife and I frequently find we have totally different perspectives of quite vivid events which we have shared. I have lately given up “correcting” her because I am constantly remembering Maurice Chevalier’s song:

We met at nine
We met at eight
I was on time
No, you were late
Ah yes! I remember it well

We dined with friends
We dined alone
A tenor sang
A baritone
Ah yes! I remember it well

As Grothe says, “Over the past several years, I’ve had a number of sobering experiences where I’ve described some past experience to a friend or family member who was present at the same event. To my surprise – and occasionally even to my shock – the memories of the people who witnessed the same event were strikingly different from my own.”

I am convinced most people (all people?) will agree with Truman Capote who said he remembers “things the way they should have been”.

I have been toying with writing an autobiography but realise I cannot possibly write a serious one. As Franklyn P Jones wrote – he was a journalist who died just after I was born – “An autobiography usually reveals nothing bad about its writer except his memory.”

As one grows older – which is something I am quite good at – one often cannot recall what happened yesterday but you begin to recall more and more of the deep past: the name of one’s English teacher perhaps or an incident that had been buried in your cranium for 40 years.

If I ever summon up the temerity, not to say the required level of conceit, to write my story it can only be tongue in cheek. This is not only because I cannot trust the veracity of my memory but because if I start reminiscing about my travels and travails I’d have to make up almost everything from about the time I mastered how to tie my own shoelaces.

But then I find I am quite good at that too.

* This is the last time Stoep Talk will appear on Wednesdays. From next week it will appear on Mondays and Fridays.

Contact Stoep Talk: Fax: 011-465-4564

Write to: Box 876 Lonehill, 2062

e-mail: jcl@onwe.co.za


Comment Guidelines

  1. Please read our comment guidelines.
  2. Login and register, if you haven’ t already.
  3. Write your comment in the block below and click (Post As)
  4. Has a comment offended you? Hover your mouse over the comment and wait until a small triangle appears on the right-hand side. Click triangle () and select "Flag as inappropriate". Our moderators will take action if need be.

  5. Verified email addresses: All users on Independent Media news sites are now required to have a verified email address before being allowed to comment on articles. You are only required to verify your email address once to have full access to commenting on articles. For more information please read our comment guidelines 

Blog Categories

Popular Tags