Tell Your Own Story
We Don’t Do That Sort Of Thing! by Paul AnthonyMake Your Submission to Writing & Me
It was Peter de Vries in his 1959 book The Tents of Wilderness who coined the phrase “Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be”. The following year, the stage musical “Fings Ain’t What They Used To Be” bemoaned the arrival of frothy coffee, rock and roll and ‘monkeys flyin’ round the moon’. Max Bygraves subsequently took the title song into the charts. In 1978 Simone Signoret, the French singer, borrowed the title and used it as the title of her autobiography – La Nostalgie N’est Plus Ce Qu’elle Était. So nostalgia is not a new phenomenon.
It is the basis of all memoir and is a commercial commodity nowadays. Many radio stations in the USA exist solely to play what is cleverly re-branded as “Classic Rock”. “Dreamboats and Petticoats”, a musical about life in the Fifties, still sells out wherever it plays.
For me, nostalgia is a comfort blanket, a place to go when the going gets tough, a cache of valuable memories and other such clichés. How many of you have finished convivial evenings in the pub with a “Do You Remember” session when it is fondly recalled how great aunt Rosie used to spit tobacco a distance of twenty feet!
Others, however, like the deliciously named Nghi Lam say that:
“People seem to get nostalgic about a lot of things they weren’t so crazy about the first time around.”
And he may be right! A lot of nostalgia may be fudged memory. How can anyone remember with any fondness, outdoor toilets with the wind whistling around you as you groped for a square of newspaper and stopped to read that Russia had invaded Hungary and when you pulled off a few more sheets to follow the story, all you got were the greyhound results.
And I would like to meet the guy who said that “Schooldays are the best days of your life”. Yeah, if you like getting walloped with a strap for forgetting that the Boston Tea Party took place in 1773. Not for me they weren’t!
Poets and writers have traded on nostalgia for years. William Butler Yeats built his reputation on the “Lake Isle of Innisfree” in the nineteenth century. Thomas Hood did the same with his poem “I Remember”
More recently Seamus Heaney churned out endless reminisces about his youth in the country in south Derry, digging turf and threshing corn. People bought and still buy his stuff. Why? Because it reminds them of their childhood. Well, that’s the former Nobel Laureate in Literature summarily dismissed then! He was simply a peddler of nostalgia!
Like trying to define what age a record has to be before it can be classed as a “Golden Oldie”, nostalgia is unfortunately selective and age defined. People do not want to know what I had for dinner last week, but they do want to know what I had fifty years ago!
So, for people of a certain age, Pinky and Perky, radiograms and stereograms, Curly Wurlies and Dib Dabs, doing handstands against walls, holding your arms out for your mother while she wound wool around them, the Big Freeze of 1963, running outside to see if the sweep’s brush had come through the top of the chimney will make you stop and reminisce. A memoir must touch someone. It is like brushing against a nettle – you feel it for a little while.
That is why I indulge myself by writing memoir. I can revisit little drops of time but like a box of Quality Street I unwrap the fudge cremes as well as the “purple ones”.
The reader too has to be part of nostalgia. He/she needs to have experienced what the writer is talking about. If I were to write about Steam Traction Engines in County Wicklow 1947-1961, it would be a good topic for a Mastermind contestant or an esoteric PhD thesis but it would not lie easily within the realm of general nostalgia for the general populace. So I allow myself some element of fabrication. One of my readers was extremely disappointed to learn that I had not really run away from home to hibernate when I was nine years old!
You may remember proper petrol stations where without getting out of the car, petrol was delivered by a forecourt attendant, and you got oil and water checked plus windscreen cleaned. Forecourt attendants nowadays are there simply to manage the traffic as you pop inside for a microwave turkey dinner. If you ask for a timing chain and a puncture repair kit, you will be told by an expressionless cashier:
“This is a garage luv! We don’t do that sort of thing!”
(c) Paul Anthony
About The Adventures of the Tricycle Kid:
If you liked Kevin Arnold in The Wonder Years and Bill Bryson’s Thunderbolt Kid, then this book is for you. It is a warm reflection on growing up in Belfast, Northern Ireland in the Fifties and Sixties before the spectre of the “Troubles” raised its ugly head. It looks at defining moments in childhood such as learning to ride one’s first bicycle, first day at school, playing street games that no longer exist, first love etc. etc. There is an element of impishness in the central character. Be with him as he shows off his newly learned swear words in front of his mother’s friends, how he kills his pet goldfish with whiskey and how he also nearly kills his six month old sister as he force feeds her candy to stop her crying. He also innocently sets fire to a priest and hibernates for the winter – well tries to anyway. It is set in a time of innocence when play stations and multi channel television did not exist. It will bring you back to your own childhood. You will probably shed a tear and you most definitely will laugh out loud.
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