For years I knew my earliest memory: pushing my elder brother off a tricycle at the age of perhaps 3. The image was vivid in my skull. I knew exactly where it took place - on the drive at Broad Rd - and the tricycle was an off-white metal beast.
I could even remember the feel of my brother's terylene shirt and the skinny ribs beneath it as I pushed him off. He was about a year older than me so it was a moment of unusual triumph.
Perhaps 10 years ago I was visiting my elderly mother and she asked whether there were any of the old family photos I was interested in having and she pulled out a disintegrating album that I hadn't seen since I left home in the mid 70s. Here were black and white photos going back almost 90 years starting with her own infancy.
My father appeared for the first time during the war, in uniform, sitting grinning with his mates astride an unexploded bomb somewhere in Europe. And there was another of him on leave one summer lying naked in long grass, reading a book, a bandage round his knee for some reason. He had a fine taut young body.
After that came the standard visual chronicle of a post-war family: the wedding, the first house, the first car, a succession of sprawling babies and so on, every photo unique in its detail and yet duplicated in a million albums of the same period.
And there, some pages in, as you have already guessed, was a photo of my plump little self at the age of perhaps 3 trying to push my brother off a tricycle. All of which demonstrates the first truth about memory which is that we can convince ourselves that we remember things that we do not in fact remember.
A few years ago we heard a lot about recovered memories. The idea was that certain events were too horrific for people to retain a conscious memory of. To dwell on them would be to go mad.
So people suppressed them, locked them away in a dusty cupboard at the back of the skull where they could cause no harm and there they would remain effectively forgotten until the day when some trained psychoanalyst, or more ominously a prosecutor, went rootling around in the skull and persuaded its owner to dust off the cupboard and unlock the door and let the nasties out.
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And I for one never believed a word of it. Encouragingly, we hear much less of it today.
The second, and related, truth about memory is that even when we do remember something, that memory isn't fixed. Every time we bring it to mind, and particularly if we tell it to someone else, we recast it. We edit bits, we smooth it out, we make it neater, funnier, better, more dramatic.
And having recast the story, that's the version we retain of it. So by the time we have told the story a dozen times - and who amongst us hasn't? - what we remember is no longer what happened but the story we have based on what happened. That story isn't a lie, because it's actually how we now remember the event, but neither is it true.
Proof that this is so comes if you are ever fool enough to attend a school reunion, when stories have had decades to diverge. Over drinks you bump into angel-faced Mike Morris and immediately remind him of the time he threw a steak and cheese pie at Dave Collier in physics while the teacher, Dizzy Mills, so named because he was 6 foot 8, had briefly left the room.
Dave ducked and old Dizzy stepped back into the room just in time to collect the pie slap bang on … but Mike Morris, who is emphatically no longer angel-faced, is looking at you in blank amazement. No no, he says, that wasn't how it was at all: it wasn't him or it wasn't Dave or it wasn't Dizzy or it wasn't a bloody steak and cheese pie even though you can see the whole incident as vividly as you can see the room you're standing in now in the bewilderment of an altered past.
What really happened? Mike Morris doesn't know and nor do you and nor does anyone in the whole wide world. It's gone. For ever. And where does that leave us? Precisely where we have always been, marooned on the island of the present tense, the past lost, the future neuter, knowing little, certain of less but somehow holding on.