I hereby state, in the clearest possible terms, that I am not, by nature, nostalgic: but I remember a time when I was……
Is this the least acknowledged of those tell-tale signs of aging? Why do we feel compelled to regale our youthful listeners with tales of our colorful past?
“I remember the Easter of sixty-two. Robert, that’s Michael’s dad – you won’t know him – and I were stuck in Hong Kong. Of course, the flights weren’t as reliable in those days….”
Our eyes, with our minds, float away to distant times in far-away lands. Our young audience’s eyes, meanwhile, are glazing over. Do we listen to the shuffling of impatient bottoms or heed the sudden needs to be somewhere else? Sadly…. As long as one bottom is still shuffling, as long as one ear is still bent, we plunge on and deeper until at last we are merely talking to ourselves. Those of us who suffer with the severer cases of pernicious nostalgia walk about within a youth-free zone; entirely untroubled by children except, maybe, those who shout things at us from a distance.
You see, we will never tell the tales youth wants to hear – the stories against ourselves. We won’t recall the day grandma sitting on the window-sill over there got drunk and fell out of that very window, or the dinner party with the in-laws when, anxious to impress, we whipped a family photo from our wallet and, along with it, a condom which landed in the gravy-boat. We don’t revive memories we ourselves would prefer to forget. We preserve our stature at the expense of being boring.
Nostalgia is a disease a little like Malaria, that will attack from time to time, revisit us without warning. It is no respecter of occasion. Elderly ladies, for example, seem particularly prone to episodes in the doorways of stores or the aisles of supermarkets, and there is nothing to test the efficacy of a narrative quite like a gathering in front of the sugar, or before the prescriptions counter at the chemist. Who has not been ‘caught’ in a shop by a line which begins: ‘Do you remember when you used to get these for half that price? I seem to recall this place was a Woolworths then…’ Or seated in a speeding car approaching traffic lights when the driver beside them suddenly gets that far-off glaze: “Of course, these engines aren’t a patch on the ’95 model. I had a green one, you know; the T$4 it was….”
In its most acute form, nostalgia can become severely debilitating and at times terminal. It is essential to avoid these cases. They have the power to utterly demoralize you and they use it mercilessly. Sufferers live determinedly in a vanished world where bus fares were rarely more than a shilling and beer was one-and-eight-pence a pint, and they never baulk at arguing with anyone who tries to charge them more. You can recognize them by their warning bugle calls:
“Service was service in my day.”
“Where’s the b****y porter? Get me a porter!”
“I’m not paying that!”
Such poor souls, lost though they regrettably are, are best left well alone. Even, insensitive as it may be to suggest, when they insist on crossing the road at this specific spot because: “It wasn’t a motorway when I was younger!”