PC 226 The Truth, The Whole Truth ..

I am sure we have all seen it on television, in plays or in films, the moment of gravitas when the clerk of the court offers a bible to a witness and says: Take the bible in your left hand and say after me ………. “I do solemnly, sincerely and truly declare and affirm that the evidence I shall give shall be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.”

Some years ago I was called to serve on a jury in the local Hove Crown Court. Having been sworn in, we were asked to judge whether the accused was, beyond reasonable doubt, guilty or not. It was a great reminder of the way our justice system is the bedrock of civilised society, being judged by one’s peers. I had my share of making such judgements in the army, both as a Battery Commander delivering summary justice to miscreants under Military Law and also on a Courts Martial panel. Trying to establish the truth is quite subjective, for we all innocently filter what we hear and see through our own mesh of experiences.

Hove Crown Court

You may recall me quoting Caroline Jones from her book “the space in between” in PC 202; it’s worth repeating as she eloquently sums up the issues about memory: “…..  I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings – and who is to say that my version is true anyway? Who is entitled to say what is true in any family’s history? It is all shades of grey, interpretations and misinterpretations: something that passes one person by might be the thing that tips another onto a different journey; and all, in the end, coloured by imagination and weakened by unreliable memory.”

Last year, still in the age of the Trump Presidency, we read about the hearings on the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the US Supreme Court. These are not things we in Britain understand. Here judges are appointed to our Supreme Court by the monarch; the name of a nominee is given by a Selection Commission to the Prime Minister who must pass the name without comment to the Queen, so in theory ensuring the Judiciary remains apolitical. You may of course think the American way has some merit, as it gives a congressional committee an opportunity to determine whether A or B could or should be selected.

This is by-the-by. What always amazes me is a person’s ability to recall conversations from their past, in the case of Christine Ford and Brett Kavanagh over thirty years ago. She had accused him of sexual assault at a party. Now I understand that when the experience is traumatic, the memory can be very vivid and long-lasting. But my mouth drops when I listen to someone recall a party 36 years ago …… one where alcohol was present ….. and go into the ‘he said’ ‘she said’ recall. It’s the same when people write their autobiography. Conversations with my mother when I was 7? Nah! Can I quote verbatim what I heard last week any better than last year or within the last decade? Nope! My mind generalises the experiences, compresses the data so it’s manageable.

I find myself shouting at the television more and more, mouthing ‘bollocks’ or somesuch; must be a feature of being over 60? Most recently it was during a screening of an ITV lightweight crime drama entitled MacDonald & Dobbs, set in the city of my birth, Bath. The second episode was centred around someone’s death on the railway tracks running through the Box Tunnel. This tunnel was designed by the prolific Victorian engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunnel (1806-1859) and its alignment catches the rays of the rising sun on his birthday, the 9th April.

Much was made of this fact in the drama and that it only happened once a year ‘on his birthday’. Well, anyone with even the scantest knowledge of our solar system and our earth’s tilting axis will know that the sunrises on the same azimuth some five months later, in this case on the 4th September. But if you didn’t know, as maybe the writers of the drama didn’t, then you would accept this as the truth – the whole truth being different, gospel.

I didn’t watch Harry & Megan’s interview with Oprah Winfrey, but saw enough of the clips and read much of the analysis to form a view. This is not about them or their situation but more about the trend to challenge what is true. Although advertised as an interview, it seemed more an opportunity for them to air ‘their truths’, to make statements that went virtually unchallenged. The rules for royal titles for instance were laid down in the Letters Patent, issued by King George V, so in my view it’s disingenuous for Meghan to make out otherwise. Similarly her statement that she had a ‘secret wedding’ before the official one was simply untrue; revelations such as these diminish the whole two hours and subsequent furore.   

Much has been made over the past 18 months by both Harry and his brother William of the modern challenges to our mental health. So in my mind it’s unbelievable that Meghan didn’t discuss her suicidal thoughts with him and he, in turn, couldn’t help or find the right person for her to talk to; shame on him. What is striking are these new ideas about what is true, what is your truth or my truth and what isn’t; to use a playing card analogy, that a ‘lived experience’ can trump ‘hard evidence and intellectual analysis’. One person’s version of past events can be rather different – summed up nicely by the statement from The Queen – “recollections may vary”.

The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Richard 16th April 2021


PS And slightly tongue in cheek, we always imagine that the BBC newsreader’s script is grammar-perfect and speaks the truth!! Not so the other evening when they described Prince Charles as the late Prince Philip’s elder son, when he is of course his eldest son

3 thoughts on “PC 226 The Truth, The Whole Truth ..

  1. Not only very interesting but highly philosophical!
    You have identified that the biggest threat to modern, civilised society is the absence of absolute truth. Whereas for many this used to be God, it has now become a case of “what I believe is the truth for me”.
    What do you think??


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