I Forgot To Remember To Forget
I remember it well: hurrying through grey and rain-wet central London, ignoring the air-raid sirens that invariably presaged another, more lethal kind of rain; finding my way through the blacked-out streets to the National Gallery, where Dame Myra Hess was playing Bach…oh, hang on. That wasn’t me at all; that was some character in a book I read.
I also remember lying on a bone-white sand beach, the palms whispering above me as my Thai mistress sat by a driftwood fire and cooked the fish I’d speared and I re-lit my opium pipe while…wait: was that really me or a character in a book I read? No, I’m pretty sure that was me but it does highlight a problem I’ve noticed as I get older: Dishonestly Acquired Memory Syndrome (did I just make that term up? I can’t remember).
I keep finding myself having to disentangle my genuine memories from memories acquired in books. It’s always books: films don’t seem to have that ability to persuade me that I’ve actually lived through something myself. I expect it’s because a film does all the work for you–you’re a mere passive receptacle of someone else’s imagination. A book, however, forces you to work, to imagine, to construct, to build and populate. Reading is a creative process and a powerfully influential one.
Will this phenomenon become more pronounced with age? Will I, as I collapse gently into my dotage, become convinced that I charged with the Light Brigade? Explored Africa with Burton and Speke? Robbed banks in Florida? Panned for gold above the Sacramento River? Reversed a Jensen Interceptor into the wooden guard-box outside the French Embassy, reducing it to match-wood and the guard to rifle-waving hysterics? Actually, I really did do that last one.
Let’s have poems on the uncertainty of memory.