I miss the olden days. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t miss black-lunged street urchins scurrying up hellish, carcinogenic chimneys. Nor do I miss the days of young cotton mill workers getting a vicious strapping for having the gall to complain about exhaustion and a degloved finger. No, I’m talking about a mere 25 years ago, which genuinely feels like the olden days.
My wife and I were at the park recently with our three-year-old son. He was playing on the swings and I was doing that thing that dads do, where I positioned myself directly in the way of his ascent so that he could kick me up the bum in a slapstick comedy style. After every carefully choreographed impact, I would then express Widow Twankey-levels of shock and surprise that even a pantomime director would ask me to significantly tone down. Still, it was a routine that was delivering lots of giggles, which is better than any drug in the world. (I had a toke on someone’s spliff at the Reading ‘95 festival and then had to spend a good couple of hours pretending that I found fruit hilarious – so it’s definitely better than that.)
My wife and I recently went on a train journey to take my two-year-old son to see Peppa Pig and George, courtesy of my very lovely and thoughtful mother-in-law. I’m a father now, you see. So this is how I occasionally spend my time.
Our journey began at Kidderminster Severn Valley Railway station, where we immediately joined the end of a long queue of families. “Hell is other people,” as Jean-Paul Sartre once said, which is why, in spite of the quaintness of the station, it’s how I imagine Brief Encounter would’ve looked if it had been produced by the Channel 5 documentary team behind the series Neighbours from Hell, High on Spice, Hacked Down My Conifers.
Maybe it’s that the world is so fucked up right now and seemingly teetering on the brink of nuclear war (Donald Trump’s preference to being impeached over his ties to Russia), but I’ve been spending a lot of time wrapped in a warm, comforting blanket of nostalgia recently.
It all started when I heard Madonna’s ‘Borderline’ on the radio, which instantly triggered a memory of a school coach trip to Wales in 1986. Midway through the four hour journey from Watford to Criccieth, a girl I fancied suddenly reached over my seat, placed her Walkman headphones over my head, and pressed ‘play’, saying: “This is what you do to me.”
My grandma died a couple of weeks ago. She’d just turned 91, was in failing health, and died peacefully in a nursing home. There were no frenzied attempts at resuscitation, with medical professionals swarming around her bed to a discordant soundtrack of blips and bleeps from an array of lifesaving equipment. She just ate some porridge for breakfast, returned to her room, then slipped away.
I hate all this bollocks about ‘safe spaces’, as if the very notion of having somewhere you can go to be content and happy, largely insulated from the hate, fear and bullshit of the world, is somehow indicative of weakness or timidity, or an unwillingness to engage. “Get back to your safe space, snowflake!” seems to be the insult du jour on social media at the moment – often, but not exclusively, used by emboldened right-wingers (let’s call them ‘red caps‘) who just love snappy slogans (Take back control! MAGA!). However, it completely loses its impact if, like me, you think of it merely as a kind-hearted suggestion. “Get back to my safe space? Thanks, I will! It’s cosy there and we have Hobnobs.”