I first experienced the emotion known as “nostalgia” when I was 28. I can no longer recall what it was that had me wandering down Memory Lane, but I remembered something that no longer existed, that had existed in my childhood, and that I missed. This, I think, is the sine qua non of nostalgia. Nostalgia – what it means and where it leads – took up a fair bit of the last week.
In one case, this was deliberate. The Pet Shop Boys headlined Edinburgh’s Hogmanay this year and their concert reminded me, to an extent I had not thought possible, that they provided the soundtrack to my childhood. Although I couldn’t always remember when a given song was released, I remembered other things: “It’s A Sin” being banned at school because it “encouraged homosexuality”. “Go West” being played over footage of the collapsing Soviet Union. “Integral” being something of a soundtrack to ongoing revelations of the extent to which GCHQ has been spying on all of us, despite being released in 2007. And so on.
I remembered the words. I remembered the lurid computer graphics of days gone by (although the blocky early 90s graphics on “Go West” suit the Soviet Union, with its uneven development exposed to prying eyes once the communist regime collapsed: “Upper Volta with rockets”, as Henry Kissinger described it).
I remembered the public prissiness around discussion of the duo’s sexual orientation. And I gave thanks that this has gone the way of the dodo, at least in Britain.
I didn’t expect the nostalgia to hit so hard. Perhaps I should have. The other nostalgic exercise was not deliberate, except in the limited way one is responsible for sharing what one thinks is a witty link on Facebook that then generates a Thread o’ Doom. The link was this one: 11 Sounds That Your Kids Have Probably Never Heard. Now some of them dated me (I post-date the coffee percolator, the petrol-station bell, the flash-cube, and the record-changer). However, all the others? Yes, guilty as charged. It took ages for televisions to make their way to North Queensland (and even then you needed a 90 foot aerial to see anything through the snow). Both the ABC and the BBC sign-offs have remained with me, and I remember being mightily impressed by the test pattern on the first colour telly we ever owned.
When I moved to the Big Smoke, I was quite cut to discover all the city kids had had colour telly for years and, even worse, they had four channels. After I shared the link, friends of all ages and backgrounds – although, admittedly, all from developed countries – joined in on an epic nostalgia trip. I learnt things even the most detailed social histories don’t teach you, like this:
There are smells that have gone too. The smell of a spirit duplicator (and the wild colours it would duplicate in). Coal gas. The slightly odd smell of other-people’s-houses before the widespread use of air-fresheners. (I am sure ours smelled just as odd). Schools used to smell of chalk-dust, mud and unwashed child. I’ve not smelled truly long-term unwashed adult for a couple of decades either (though whether that is because there is better hostel provision for the homeless or because I live out of town and take trains instead of living in town and taking buses I wouldn’t like to guess).
The shared memories were moving, a reminder of how we once were. And that night I went to Pet Shop Boys, and remembered when People Like Me Really Were Queer, and It Was Not Something One Ought to Discuss. So, Memory Lane. It led to a good place. Well, a much better place. Progress. It’s a thing. Happy New Year, everyone.