Monday 26 September 2016

Memories are made of this .... well maybe

John Masterson

Published 11/07/2016 | 02:30

Cliff Richard
Cliff Richard

Memory has always interested me. And frankly, I don't set a lot of store by it. Ask three people about something they all witnessed and you get three stories. When somebody tells me that they are absolutely certain about something, I go on my guard. There is little in my memory that I am absolutely certain about. Memories are forever being modified, and the way that we recall an event in one year may be quite different from the way we recall the event the following year. Our memories become influenced by photos, by conversations, and by the very act of recalling them in a variety of circumstances.

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This was in my mind when I saw interviews with Cliff Richard after it was announced that he had no case to answer re an accusation of sexual abuse. I do not in the least mean to make light of sexual abuse when I say that to be wrongly accused must also be a horrific experience. And the longer the lapse of time between the alleged event and the accusation, the more difficult it is to feel confidence in anyone's story. I say this fully aware that for many victims the reason they do not go to the authorities is because of the fear instilled in them by the perpetrator.

We all have things that remind us of people, relationships, events, places. Any time I am at a level crossing as soon as the train passes I have an image of Tom Courtenay in Dr Zhivago travelling across Russia at speed spreading mayhem.

I was once told bad news in a restaurant and the person telling me used a slightly odd turn of phrase. I have never heard that phrase since without my mind catapulting me back to that same table. I can still feel remnants of the shock I felt then.

There is a movement I do with my hand and immediately my father comes to mind. And my father comes to mind in another vivid memory I have. It happened at Dunmore East when I was about five or six. I still have the scar on my fourth finger on my left hand. My father thought I was in the car and accidentally shut the door on my finger. As clear as day I can see the bone protruding.

The truth is less dramatic. He didn't know I wasn't in the car. He almost shut the door on me. My fright was cured with an ice cream. The image I have that is so vivid never happened. I must have built it up over the years with schoolboy exaggeration. I suspect I would pass a lie detector test with it to this day.

Recovered memory scares the life out of me. There are things I remember that I suspect I dreamt. For years I had a recurring dream in which I had murdered someone. I suspect in the right hands it would only be a matter of time before I confessed.

If the only evidence is memory, I tread on the side of caution.

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