Friday, May 16, 2008

On Nostalgia

Let me start by saying that I'm not proud of myself for what I've done. In retrospect, it was the wrong thing, but I couldn't help myself. I'm a man, and I have needs. There was a woman involved, of course. In these kinds of confessions, there always is. She was blonde, and I'd always believed that she was unattainable, but suddenly she was unattainable no longer. I could own her. I could possess her. She would be mine, and nobody could ever take her away from me again. So I stifled my doubts and my qualms. I smothered my feelings of guilt. I suspected that there would be regrets, but I was prepared to take my chances. To hell with common sense. Chances like this didn't come along every day.

So I paid my money, and I bought a box set of The New Avengers, starring Joanna Lumley.

For those of you too young to remember, or too old to care, The New Avengers was shown on ITV between 1976 and 1977 , and starred Patrick Macnee, the aforementioned Ms Lumley, and a clothes horse named Gareth Hunt, who was charming but wooden, like a primitive children's toy. It was an updated version of a 60's show named The Avengers, hence the cunning inclusion of the word 'New' to denote all that was flash and modern about the 1970s: flared suit trousers; Ford Capris; male perms; legwarmers . . .

The New Avengers wasn't very good, even in the 1970s, and it hasn't improved terribly with age. It had a budget so limited that the crew probably packed their own sandwiches before they came to work, which might explain why Joanna Lumley spent its two series wearing a minimum of clothing. ("Sorry, Joanna, but money's tight so it's the short skirt and bare legs combo again. Mind the snow, love . . .") The best thing about the show was the theme tune, all brass and wah-wah guitars, but then that's true of just about every 70's cop show one cares to mention.

I knew, even as I forked out my O40, that The New Avengers wasn't going to be much cop, so why did I buy it? Well, to begin with there was Joanna Lumley who, along with Elizabeth Sladen (Sarah Jane Smith to Tom Baker's Doctor Who), caused peculiar, and possibly inappropriate, sensations to erupt in my pre-adolescent body. Mummy, the lady makes me feel funny . . .

Then again, it may be the same impulse that caused me to buy Dusty's Trail on DVD, a show that reunited the cast of the bewilderingly popular US TV hit Gilligan's Island to slightly less amusing effect, which is like saying that a fire in an orphanage is funnier than a child's open grave, and was a staple of RTE's afternoon schedule when I was a child. It might also explain why my shelves groan beneath DVDs of Doctor Who from the 1970s (even the ones without Elizabeth Sladen), Michael Bentine's Potty Time, Willo The Wisp, and the original three series of Star Trek. They betray my deep-seated desire to recapture something of my youth by viewing again the TV shows associated with that time in my life, as though, by immersing myself in them, I can somehow regain other elements of my lost childhood: innocence, optimism, and a sense of wonder that could not be shaken by dodgy set design and cardboard monsters.

As my fortieth birthday looms, I realise that I have become a prime target for the nostalgia market. I can no longer describe myself as 'young' without being guilty of massaging the truth to an unconscionable degree. When I visit my doctor for an annual check-up, he is obliged to rummage in orifices where, in the manner of Star Trek, no man had gone before, at least until quite recently. I wonder if my jeans are too tight for a chap of my age, and if it's a bit sad of me to wear Converse sneakers or shop in clothes stores where all of the assistants are two decades younger than I am. I listen to the music of the 1980s, and try - and fail - to justify having Howard Jones alongside . . . And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead on my iPod.

As the world moves relentlessly forward, I find myself retreating further into the past. I still buy new music, and read new books. I watch new TV shows, and I go to see new films, but my heart, like that of a man who always hankers after his first girlfriend, is lost to earlier loves, even if I have given them a stature that they do not fully deserve. The New Avengers is less important, then, for what it is than for what it represents, and even in all its naffness I find myself willing to forgive it a great deal. The past may be another country, but I can still visit occasionally.

And, for the record, Joanna Lumley still makes me feel funny.

This week John read
The Price of Blood/ The Dying Breed by Declan Hughes

and listened to

Here Is What Is by Daniel Lanois
Narrow Stairs by Death Cab For Cutie