Funny what you remember. Above is a photograph featuring my regular, if increasingly occasional, walking companion Steve Kenny. We’re in the middle of a walk in Dunwich, in Suffolk, sometime in the early 2000s I think. Those are the ruins of Dunwich Abbey in the background.
Steve and I have walked a lot of many miles together over the years, in town and country, and invariably we talk as we walk. Needless to say I don’t remember any of our conversations verbatim, but I know the kind of things we’ve talked about, and like to think I remember some of them in detail. And my recollection is that on that day in Dunwich Steve was telling me about an idea he’d had for a sitcom that involved superheroes and people who worked in local government.
He now tells me he has no memory whatsoever of this sitcom idea of his. However, he does remember a horse and a small boy. The story, as he tells it, is that there was a horse in a field next to the Abbey ruins - we petted it and it seemed friendly enough. This, in fact, I do now remember, though probably wouldn’t have without Steve’s prompting. And apparently I said that despite "making friends" with the horse, I felt I could still eat it. Steve said that he couldn't (unless in great extremity, of course) as he felt there was now a bond between us - however slight and recently created. I don’t actually remember this conversation, but it sounds very much like the kind of things each of us might have said.
And now the part I don’t remember at all. According to Steve, “A couple came along with a young boy – they let him give some grass to the horse. He was too young (a toddler) and was doing it all wrong. I had an urge to intervene but of course, I didn't – we'd already started to move on. It was almost inevitable - the horse nipped the boy’s fingers - the couple were surprised but not as surprised and distraught as the boy, who was probably scarred for life (I was thinking mentally - but perhaps physically as well) - the horse had big teeth, he had little fingers. Did I blame myself or the stupid couple - perhaps both? I couldn't escape the feeling that the horse had done it deliberately - perhaps you were right to want to eat him.” To be fair to myself, I didn’t say I particularly wanted to eat him, simply that I felt I could, if the circumstances presented themselves.
As I go through life, and as I walk through the world I generally resist the urge to turn my experience into anecdote, but this is a pretty good anecdote. The only problem is, it doesn’t feel like “my” anecdote. I don’t doubt that it happened exactly as Steve described – I don’t for a moment think he’s inventing it - and that I was there and was at least a passive witness to events. The problem is simply that this seems to be Steve’s walking anecdote rather than mine, which is why I give him full credit. I wonder if Marcel Proust would have had any such scruples.
Proust did write, “But when from a long-distant past nothing subsists, after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered, taste and smell alone, more fragile but more enduring, more unsubstantial, more persistent, more faithful, remain poised a long time, like souls, remembering, waiting, hoping, amid the ruins of all the rest; and bear unflinchingly, in the tiny and almost impalpable drop of their essence, the vast structure of recollection.”
Of course, I don’t have any recollection of how the horse smelled, any more than of how he tasted.