Memory vs reality

While Malala’s and Latoya’s memoirs were written shortly after the events they write about, Roald Dahl was almost 70 years old when Boy was first published. In this snippet, he talks about his headmaster in primary school.  

While it contains a description, this snippet’s not really about what his old headmaster looked like. Dahl is thinking more about his memory. He flags this continually with phrases like ‘I can remember’, ‘in my memory’, and ‘I have a picture in my mind’.

The Headmaster is the only teacher at Llandaff Cathedral School that I can remember, and for a reason you will soon discover, I can remember him very clearly indeed. His name was Mr Coombes and I have a picture in my mind of a giant of a man with a face like a ham and a mass of rusty-coloured hair that sprouted in a tangle all over the top of his head. All grown-ups appear as giants to small children. But Headmasters (and policemen) are the biggest giants of all and acquire a marvellously exaggerated stature. It is possible that Mr Coombes was a perfectly normal being, but in my memory he was a giant, a tweed-suited giant who always wore a black gown over his tweeds and a waistcoat under his jacket.


Here is an example, using this photo as a starting point. 

I think Billy McGinty was the only one of our gang who ever did a double flip from the jetty, but I might only remember it that way because of something else to do with the first time he did it. Billy always seemed wimpy and reserved to me; I have a memory of a skinny little kid that couldn’t talk to girls, with hair that stuck out at all angles and striped swimmers that looked like he’d time travelled from the 1800s. I was 16 at the time and full of self importance, which clearly clouded my judgement. At that age, anyone even two years younger than you can seem like a baby. But what I clearly recall is that, just before the historic flip, Billy was looking at Ruth in a way that suggested that I wasn’t the only one keen on her. Then he did it, and I started seeing him in a new light. They’re married these days, so maybe Billy wasn’t as reserved as I remember, and Ruth might not have been as keen on me as I wished. 

Your turn. 

If you’re writing from your own experiences, go to the edges of your memory. It could be something from long ago, or it could be something you’re not sure you remember as being true.

Write a memory of someone from the past, based on your own experience, or based the picture. Write about both the memory and your thoughts about why you remember it.