Memory Tricks.

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by Anna Raccoon on August 28, 2014

I can remember events that date back to being three years old – but they are ‘fixed images’ rather than a ‘video’ rendition of events. I have a clear image of my Father, bent over an old Rayburn, cooking bubble and squeak for me – but if you ask me ‘what was on the table in that room’ or ‘who else was present’ I couldn’t tell you – I don’t have the ability to ‘replay’ the entire sequence of events as I do for later memories.

Even at age 8, the memories are fairly static – and here I can draw on some that might properly be described as traumatic in that I was in hospital for many months, undergoing surgery, and didn’t see or hear from my parents during that time. You might have thought that event was traumatic enough to be imprinted on a child’s memory – but in fact I had totally forgotten until my brother came up with a letter written by me, found in my Father’s papers, which referenced in my childish hand writing, that I hadn’t seen them for two months, and hoped they might find time to visit me.  No sooner did I see that letter than it brought back a host of other memories, including the name of the young lad in the bed opposite me, the fact that his Father was a farmer, and that he had managed to blow his chin off twice with his Father’s shotgun – in search of rabbits. I was particularly upset about him for it had been necessary to give him a glass eye, which he used to take out every night…

I am quite confident that if someone had shown me an article 50 years later regarding a man called Jim, of farming stock, with a glass eye, perhaps a reference to the Oxford area, or a childhood shooting accident – I could easily convince myself that it was ‘Jim’ from the bed opposite. (if perchance you are reading this Jim, I apologise for bringing back memories of the screaming creature with all the tubes in the bed opposite you…but you did give me terrible nightmares).

I was minded of these memories when I read the NHS report of the allegation made against Jimmy Savile at the Roecliffe Manor. The NHS investigator had no trouble believing that ‘the informant was a sincere and honest individual’ nor that life in that convalescent home was ‘harsh’ – a nurse confirmed that a child had been tied to a chair for bed wetting; whilst such treatment might seem horrific in 2014, I was tied to the bed frame for repeatedly pulling out my ‘tubes’ so find it totally believable, and in keeping for the times. Children’s hospitals and convalescent homes weren’t the cuddly ‘mummy lying next to you’ ‘decorated with balloons’ and ‘nurses that make you laugh’ establishments that we expect today.

However, patient ‘A’s recollections proved harder to match to reality. Despite claiming to Operation Yewtree that he had placed an advert in the Leicester Mercury which had brought forth 47 e-mails from ‘other children abused by JS at Roecliffe’, he was not willing to hand over details of who those people were. Repeated advertisements in the same paper and a variety of other papers by the investigators failed to elicit a single response. Requests for patient ‘A’ to contact the 47 himself and ask them to come forward elicited the response that they didn’t want to talk to the investigators. Who were the 47? Assuming they existed, were they people who scented another compensation claim and had come forward to him and reinforced his belief that it was JS at Roecliffe?

Whatever the answer to that question, by this time, patient ‘A’ was quite sure that the person who had abused him at Roecliffe was called Jim, had dark hair, did ‘odd jobs’ round the hospital three out of four week-ends, wore a brown porter’s coat, sometimes worked on the hospital radio, and drove an old van ‘like a butcher’s van’.

By the time of his third interview, the best part of two years after constant media attention on Jimmy Savile, the butcher’s van had become a ‘camper van’, ‘Jim’ had lost his dark hair and was identified from a contemporary photograph as being the peroxided Jimmy Savile, and patient ‘A’ had remembered being taken to meet Slade, T-Rex – and, of course, Garry Glitter, in a motorway service station – and offered as corroboration that he had since been told that it was well known that these stars were often seen in that motorway station…

It is not hard to see what has gone on here – nor to sympathise with patient ‘A’. Old disjointed memories of an unhappy and frightening period of his life have been shorn up by modern stories in the media. From the report we can glean that he is today, a ‘fragile’ individual. Was he sexually abused – or did he undergo some painful medical procedure at the time? He remember a nurse ‘comforting him afterwards’. If we accept, as I am quite happy (happy is probably the wrong word in this context) to do so; that he was abused by someone who worked as an odd job man at the hospital – we know that he wasn’t called Jim – they had never employed anyone called Jim.

Neither, after probably the most exhaustive and painstaking investigation carried out by any of the NHS Trusts, was there any record of Jimmy Savile ever having been near the place – and their dedication to the task is to be applauded.

That’s not a ‘false allegation’ – that is a painful memory being given socially acceptable validation in a modern context; it’s not malicious, it’s trying to make sense of that memory of the glass eye…

This incident, in turn, came to mind when I saw the photograph at the top of this page. It’s a Village Hall in Hampshire. There are Village Halls like it all over the country. People use them for low-key weddings, the annual dinner and dance of the Geranium Society, and the Council Rates rebate office letting their hair down at Christmas. They are cheap to hire, and if you don’t go with the brown Windsor soup apparently being served in our picture, you can dismiss the tables and cram 150 people in there to listen to the newsagent’s son and his three friends squark out a rendition of the latest hits and jig about a bit.

My photograph was taken in 1969. If you weren’t alive back then (JuliaM???) you will have to take my word for the fact that it is utterly representative of the scene that you could have photographed in hundreds of similar halls the length and breadth of the country. Soberly dressed people having what passed for a fun packed evening out in those days. No fights, no punch-ups, nothing exciting happening.

Except that one young lady does remember something happening in that very hall. Not that it should be described as exciting – traumatising would be the word. She remembers that a man put his hand up her skirt and touched her vagina over her clothing. She was the same age as patient ‘A’ in 1969. She’s never forgotten that incident, nor his ‘hairy hands’. The man had got up on stage and was singing an old song that has been around since 1902, but had recently been reissued.

The song was ‘Two Little Boys’. Everyone knows that Rolf Harris released ‘Two Little Boys’ to world wide acclaim around that time. Everyone knows now that Rolf Harris doesn’t have hairy hands. In fact everyone knows that despite exhaustive inquiry that rivals that of the NHS investigators there is absolutely no record of the extraordinary event that would have been Rolf Harris, world famous entertainer, appearing on stage after the Brown Windsor soup in Leigh Park Community Centre. No record of it at all – and no one else come forward to remember what would have been a staggering event in sleepy Havant in 1969.

The Rolf Harris jury were asked to chose whether they believed the word of ‘three victims’ (who must be believed) or the word of a man who had twice deceived his long-suffering wife by having lengthy affairs, who was roundly condemned as a liar for not remembering being at ‘It’s a Knock Out in Cambridge’ (he wasn’t – he was at a TV program called Star Games, which he might well have remembered). The jury, who were ‘confused and unable to come to a decision on Friday’ had by Monday, made a decision between a ‘deceitful liar’ and someone ‘who will be believed’ and jailed Rolf Harris as a paedophile. 

Am I alone in seeing similarities between the ‘Leigh Park Incident’ and patient ‘A’ who spent long periods in Roecliffe Manor and the tricks that memory can play on you when your memory is jogged?

Am I alone in wondering how Slater and Gordon manage to juggle the hundreds of ‘historic abuse cases’ they are now handling as a result of the ever helpful media – and the fact that last year they also recovered £13,000,000 in personal injury damages for 1,050 Police Federation members.


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