False Memory Syndrome (Number 94 of a Series)

Last night I went to Winchester again.

As best as I can make out, we went in 1984, when we were checking out universities for my big bother and we stayed in Lymington so that we could take a look at Southampton. In fact, I think we went to the New Forest twice — I believe my father was considering retiring there. So we saw the Mary Rose and we went to Salisbury and we were disappointed by Stonehenge…

And Winchester.

I think I remember the statue of King Alfred, but above all I remember a narrow medieval street, yellow and grey, possible sandstone walls, and a door off the street into the Great Hall. There was a lot of traffic — I recall a bus almost running us over — and it was pissing down, real cats and dogs.

In the Great Hall, a couple of metres off the floor, was a huge round table, allegedly that of King Arthur — but, oddly, even though I was avidly reading about pyramids and the Bermuda Triangle and UFOs in the Bible, I cried BS.

So, an invite to speak to A Level philosophers at Winchester College gave me a reason to return after thirty years and take another look. I didn’t expect to remember much of the town, and, indeed, nothing seemed familiar.

winchester great hall 1a

That narrow street has gone.

Indeed, the Great Hall is in a square, set back from the road. The buildings to the right are pre-twentieth century, the courthouse adjoining is evidently 1970s Brutalist, with a flight of steps.

“Did people used to enter from the other side?” I asked.

No, that’s the barracks.

The table also seems to be higher than I recall, which is odd since I’d be half a metre taller, so it ought to seem lower. The door to the building has moved.

I am convinced that Winchester has changed, but the museum staff must have been sworn to secrecy.

(Am I conflating the Great Hall with a visit to a cafe or a long since lost secondhand bookshop? Is my memory of the Merchant Adventurer’s Hall in York bleeding into it, although I don’t think either side is straight onto a street?)

And in the evening, it began to piss it down again, real cats and dogs. Yes, familiar.

It only seems appropriate that I’d been invited to Winchester to talk about Philip K. Dick and was going to discuss the questions of what is real and what is human. It gave me a new introduction for the talk.