Memories Are Made Of This

But that’s the trouble, doctor. I remember things, yet when I try and get hold of the memory, really try and recall all the details, it slips away as if it wasn’t really there in the first place.

I see.

I’m sorry to trouble you with this, but I have to say I’m worried I might be getting Alzheimer’s or something.

These are short term memories, I take it? Alzheimer’s typically affects the short term memory. Long term ones are already in the bank, as it were, and are usually still available to those with the onset of Alzheimer’s. Not that I think that that’s what we’re dealing with here.

There’s plenty of problems with my short term memory certainly, doctor. Like where I’ve put my keys and glasses. And I can’t tell you how many umbrellas I’ve lost. The number of times I go into the kitchen and can’t remember what I’ve gone in for.

Oh, but that’s perfectly normal. There’s even a name for it. It’s called the boundary effect and it isn’t just confined to people getting on in years.

Yes, that’s just it, doctor. It’s not only senior moments, though there are plenty of those. It’s memories from earlier in life too.

Have you tried accessing, as we in the medical profession like to say, happier memories? It could be that your mind is blocking more unpleasant ones. Try accessing a happier memory, something that made you feel good that you’d really enjoy reliving.

It’s happier memories I’m talking about. They’re just as elusive as any other sort. I can summon up the feeling – the elation or the contentment or the excitement – that a past event represents, but then when I try and think of what actually happened – where it was, who was there, who said what, that sort of thing – it all slips away.

So give me an example.

Right. Okay. Maybe like when I think back to when I first realised I was in love – a long time ago now – we’re both lying in the sun, looking into each other’s eyes. And I think, so this is it, this is love. And it’s a wonderful feeling. But then I realise I can’t remember where the field was that we were in, and which friends were with us, because I’m certain we weren’t alone, nor even whether the sun really was shining. Maybe it wasn’t. Maybe, over time, I’ve added that bit. And I start to wonder if I’ve imagined all of it. And then I realise that all my memories are the same. I can’t remember any details and those that there are, I have a troubling feeling I’ve added myself over the years,well after the event

I see. And does that matter? You still have the feeling, don’t you? Of what it was like to be in love for the first time?

I can still conjure up the feeling, yes, but then, that’s it. I feel as if my memories are like those Roman gravestones you used to see in museums. You know the ones, where only one corner is the real thing. The rest is someone else’s reconstruction of what they think the stone would have looked like, or should’ve looked like, all built around that one tiny fragment. Who’s to say whether they’re right, the people who’ve added on the rest? Even if they are, it still means most of it is largely fake. That’s my memories – tiny fragments of feeling – supported by what I think should be around them, but I suspect wasn’t at all.

I think you’re worrying unduly. I’m sure you’re not inventing your old memories.

But I am. I’ve forgotten almost all of them, so I embellish what’s left. And every time I do, something real falls away and I lose another piece of my past and of myself.

Perhaps that’s how it is for everyone. Perhaps our memories are not nearly as fixed as we like to think. It’s possible that each time we recall a memory we have to reconstruct it from the time before, which is itself a reconstruction of the time before that. Some psychologists think so, anyway. All that repeated copying is bound to make for the occasional error, which we then fill in as best we can.

So is it the same for you then, doctor? Your memories are full of holes too?

Well, I have to say I haven’t given it much thought.

Maybe you should. Maybe you’ll find you’ve more holes than memories.

Perhaps. But then, does it really matter? Isn’t it now that counts? Perhaps memories are no more than an indulgence anyway.

I don’t think so. I think our memories are the record of all the things that have made us what we are. Lose them and what have we got left?

Oh, now I’m afraid you’re getting a little too metaphysical for me.

Nothing more than a few scattered impressions, full of holes.

Well, perhaps you’d like to make an appointment with one of my colleagues who can help you with your problem. In the meantime, if you could see your way to bringing our desserts, I’m sure my wife and I would be most grateful.


I don’t dare speak out. It’s so difficult to go against what the council of elders say. I know that it’s right in all it says about the great Providence of our gracious God and the redeeming crosse of our Lord Jesus Christ. And how, if we don’t confesse our sins, we will be cast into the lake of fire forever, along with the devil and his mynions. I know all of this to be true. I have been raised in the ways of the Lord. Everyone in the settlement knows these things.

And yet, that is part of the problem, is it not? When thou knowest something is wrong but no-one else seems to and they conform and their conforming makes matters worse. Our hard-earned freedoms are slowly being taken from us and no-one seems to have noticed. We are even being instructed on what we should wear; cover yourselves the reverend says – in this infernal heat! – and treat thy neighbours as pariahs if they do not comply, do not play their part in keeping the colony safe. I know there are dangers out there, but this does not seem like the way to deal with them.

Judith tells me just keep my mouth shut and do as I am told. Judith, my goodly wyfe. Just be quiet she says, then they don’t single you out too. She is right of course. No-one wants to meet the same fate as the dissenters; the heretics as the council calls them. But when you can see that the church is doing something that just does not seem… well, right. Shouldn’t you speak out then, whatever the consequences? When it is telling you something that deep down you know is not faire or reasonable?

But then, the dissenters did that and look where it got them. No-one will hear from them again. Cast out, like the scapegoats of Holy Writ. Judith is right. Do not step out of line, conform, keep quiet. The ministers and powers-that-be know what they are doing. It is our job to do as we are told. They know what’s best for us. It is for our own good. It is how we will survive these cataclysmic times.

Isn’t it?

Jesus writes…

Image: Caleb Havertape (

Ubi Dubium has posed the question, ‘why didn’t Jesus write his own gospel?’ It’s a good question. What better way to ensure his ideas were conveyed precisely without any margin for error or misinterpretation, than to do it himself? If he hadn’t the time or the ability to do so, why didn’t he dictate his message to one of his literate disciples (surely one of them could write) who could then, as an eye-witness, finish off the story accurately once Jesus himself had returned to Heaven. Why, instead, did he leave it to people he’d never met, most of whom wouldn’t be about for another few decades?

It seems to me there are three possible answers.

  1. Jesus believed the world as he knew it was soon to end. He was convinced God was about to intervene and sweep away the old order and inaugurate the Kingdom of God on Earth. If the gospels that have come down to us are to believed, this was the core of his teaching. Jesus mentions its imminence repeatedly across the synoptic gospels and the morality he proposes, wholly impractical in the long term, is designed for the ‘shortness of the hour’. In this scenario, Jesus and his followers had no interest in writing anything down for posterity. There was no posterity; the end was very truly nigh.

  2. God didn’t want his Son to write his own story. He wanted the job left to people whom Jesus never met, who were little more than children during his lifetime and who lived hundreds of miles from where events occurred. God was sure this was the best way to create a record of his Son’s visit to Earth, without inaccuracies, inconsistencies and contradictions. 

  3. The creator of Mark’s gospel bought into Paul’s celestial Saviour, his illusory ‘Lord Jesus Christ’. Mark set about creating a ‘what if’ back story for him, set in Palestine in the recent past and constructed from Paul’s ’revelations’ and Old Testament ‘prophecy’. Mark highlighted Paul’s teaching that the Christ, whom he calls the Son of Man in his gospel, would soon be coming to the Earth (not a second coming or a return) to rescue his Chosen and reset reality.

Are there any other possibilities? I can’t think of any, nor have I read of any. So which of the three is the most plausible?

Scenario 1 leaves us with a Son of God not knowing what he was talking about. This Jesus was wrong about when the Son of Man would appear, wrong about the End of the Age, wrong about the traumatic nature of God’s intervention, wrong about the Final Judgement, wrong about the fate of the unrighteous and wrong about the Kingdom of God being established on the Earth. This scenario gives us a Jesus who is a failure as both a prophet and Messiah. It’s a wonder anything at all was written about such a loser, let alone narratives that preserved his hopeless predictions about the Kingdom’s arrival.

Scenario 2 is of course ridiculous, though it is the one most Christians buy into, more or less. As well as its inherent implausibility, it relies on the hypothetical document Q, for which no evidence exists let alone any extant copy (or even fragment). It, and a supposedly reliable oral tradition, are speculative, needed only to counter the improbability of this scenario.

Scenario 3, while contentious, makes most sense of why neither Jesus nor any of his contemporaries wrote down or otherwise recorded a single thing he said or did. Mark’s gospel, created shortly after 70CE, was the first anyone had heard of a Jesus on Earth. The three subsequent gospels were all based, to varying degrees, on Mark’s fable. In this scenario there was no real Jesus, and no dozy disciples, to have recorded his exploits and teaching.

What you think, Ubi?

The Traveller

Ever wish you could go back and start again?

Irving woke suddenly. His first instinct was to sit up but he found he was already propped up with pillows behind him. There were two figures at the foot of the bed. He couldn’t tell who they were; he didn’t recognise either of them. He realised, furthermore, that he’d no idea where he was. This was not his own bed, certainly not his own room. There was an oxygen cylinder beside him and an intravenous pole on his other side, a tube from which was attached to his arm, delivering some colourless liquid into it. And what an arm! Not his own. He raised both: skin and bone, fingers like arthritic spindles. This wasn’t how it was supposed to be. He was 49, for God’s sake!

‘Dad?’ one of the figures said. ‘Are you okay?’

‘Dad?’ Irving repeated with a weak, quaking voice that was also not his own. ‘I’m not your dad. I don’t even know who you are.’

‘It’s me, dad. Mark.’

Mark was his son’s name all right, but Mark was only 24, not like this imposter who was himself in his forties. ‘No,’ Irving growled, tugging at the tube attached to the valve in his arm, and wincing at every painful movement.

‘Grandad, best not,’ said the second stranger, reaching towards him.

Grandad? What were these two up to? His grandson, his daughter Emma’s boy, was only just turned 3. ‘I don’t know who you are,’ he growled, ‘but I’m not your grandad.’

The pair exchanged glances. Irving ignored them, hoping they’d grow tired of their game and go away and bother someone else. Instead he took in the room around him. With a jolt he realised where he was. This was the hospice, where his own father had spent his final days a few years earlier. Suddenly, something about this made sense; he was here for his own last days, his mind was failing him. Perhaps it had already; the last 30 years wiped from his memory. In that case, the strangers might be who they claimed to be. Though it was still hard to believe that this bearded giant was the little blond boy he looked after at weekends.

‘Davey?’ he asked cautiously.

‘Yes, grandad. It’s me.’ He seemed pleased to have been recognised.

‘Where… ‘ Irving began. ‘Where’s your mother?’

Davey looked at his uncle again, unsure of how to respond. ‘He doesn’t remember,’ he said.

It was true: Irving didn’t remember, but he was sufficiently aware that something bad must have happened. He felt the room turn and his consciousness begin to drift. He gave into it and allowed himself to slip into the dark.

When he woke again, there was someone else in the room. ‘It will be tonight,’ they were saying. ‘If you like, we could increase the dose a little, make it easier for him.’

‘No,’ Irving shouted, ‘Not yet. I don’t belong here. I want to leave,’ but the sound that came from his mouth sounded nothing like the words in his head. They were more like a series of desperate groans, and before he lost consciousness for the last time, he heard his son say that it would be for the best.

* * * * *

Irving reasoned that he, like everyone else, was a time traveller. Everyone was travelling into an unknown future at the rate of one second per second. The direction of travel was always forward, or at least it appeared to be. There was no-one who travelled in the opposite direction, from present to past, not even at the same stealthy pace. Irving, however, had begun to entertain the possibility that it need not be so. If travel was possible in one direction, into a future that until it was reached had no actual existence, then movement back into a past that had demonstrably existed up to only a second earlier seemed more than a viable proposition. A visit to a known destination was much more of a sure thing than a mystery tour to somewhere that as yet had no didn’t exist. He spent many hours calculating how to reverse the direction of travel at a mere second at a time. He was not over ambitious. He did not seek to move in millennia or even decades like the time travellers of science fiction; he knew, from the everyday journeys of everyday people, like himself, that it was best to take things slowly; to work first with seconds and to build slowly and gradually to hours and then days.

The work progressed satisfactorily until matters came to a head with a greater sense of urgency the day after the department’s mid-summer party. He had not intended to drink quite so much, but after the award of a generous grant as a result of a successful research bid, everyone was in celebratory mood. The alcohol flowed more freely than was usual at these events. He eventually took a taxi home and after a pint or so of water, turned in.

It was the following morning that he hit the child. He just hadn’t seen her coming, darting out from between parked cars. Irving’s reflexes were slower than he anticipated; the result of the previous night’s alcohol consumption, and despite the fact that every aspect of the collision, every movement of the child’s body, jerking mid-air like a lifeless marionette, took place over several elongated seconds. Eventually she landed with a cracking thump on the side of the road while Irving sat motionless behind the wheel. He knew then, as time began to resume its normal flow that he would take advantage of its distortion and press backwards through it, leaving behind the accident one second at a time into the immediate past and beyond, to a time before he had hit the girl. On arrival at a time when the strands of time that had led to this point had unravelled, he would relive the last few hours so that they did not result in a dead child at the side of the road. He would not take the fateful car journey and the girl would live again. These thoughts were instantaneous; he was already moving, letting time peel away, first in slow seconds and then accelerating so that he felt himself moving rapidly. He began to lose consciousness, trusting in time itself and in his own calculations to propel him safely to a new beginning.

* * * * *

He woke suddenly. His first instinct was to sit up but he found he was already propped up by pillows behind him. There were, he could make out, two figures at the foot of the bed in which he found himself.