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


TomH said...

I have to admit that I was kinda sorta hooked on Diana Rigg. That said, the only Emma Peal for me is still Diana Rigg.

Sad to say, I even liked her when she was playing the character of Tracy Di Vicenzo, dressed in sable and mink and on the arm of the soon to be ex-James Bond,(and you know we’re talking hard core, when I even hint at that movie).

Then there was the sexy sometimes orange and sometimes blue and oftentimes black, body suits that she wore... yummy... and the kitschy but sultry attitude.

I liked all of that.

But truth be told, the thing that attracted most was that she was a dead ringer for my girlfriend (the love of my life and my future wife).

And thats the truth about that!

Lee Goldberg said...

It's a relief to know I am not the only one who living with the shame of buying the DUSTY'S TRAIL DVDs. God, they are awful. Then again, I couldn't help myself...any more than I could stop myself from buying the DVDs of HAWAII FIVE-O, WILD WILD WEST, UFO, DEPARTMENT S, THE SWEENEY, GUNSMOKE, CRIME STORY, STINGRAY (not the Supermarionation show)BERGERAC, and more shows than I care to admit.

TomH said...

On a more serious note, and because the passage of time is mentioned, I bow to the words of a dying Nuala O'Faolain:

"I don’t want more time. As soon as I heard I was going to die, the goodness went from life."

Before she turned ill she said:

“Let me be Jane Eyre, prim and tough, and in the end, adored by father and child, and not the lunatic woman, cackling madly up in the attic. Of all things I would ask of life now, the thing I want most is to learn ordinary, daily love. If I could love more steadily than I ever thought I could -- more than I ever saw done -- I know I would be saved.”

And isn’t that so.

Lacking the poetic phrasing of a Nuala O'Faolain, I would utter softly that from the majesty of our opening scream and to the misery of our final whimper, we are all dying of something. But most of us are not given a timetable, and that is all for the better. After all is done, it would seem that the past exists but only as elusive memory and the future as the underside of a dream.

Eamon said...

Nostalgia led me to shuffle like a zombie through the blaring music in HMV Galway and straight to the bargain dvd section where I bought the box set of 'Planet of the Apes'. On this occasion nostalgia kept her end of the bargain, and the movies proved to me more enjoyable than I had hoped. I can not say the same for the haze that addled my brain and allowed me to buy 'Buck Rogers in the 25th Century' boxset. I was seven back in 1979 and must use that as an excuse.
But how is this for my latest bout of nostalgia: hankering for an alternative childhood (had I been born in the US in the sixties), I recently felt compelled to buy 'The Outer Limits' boxsets. And today to cap it all off I've just bought two tickets to see BLONDIE in concert during the Galway Arts Festival.
The past is not the past at all.
Eamon Acton.

Yossarian said...

I too am currently wallowing in DVD nostalgia. Firstly, I purchased the complete set of The Trap Door, the plastercine animation following the 5 minute adventures of the hapless blobby, blue Burke, butler for The Thing Upstairs. Sadly, I find it even more amusing 25 years later. Truly great entertainment and Willie Rushton's voice work is genius.

Secondly, I'm wading through the BBC adaptation of The Day Of The Triffids from 1982 which, as an 8 year old child, absolutely scared the living shit out of me! Even the theme music gave me nightmares.
Amazingly, against all expectations, it's stood the test of time remarkably well and was clearly an influence on that shameless idea stealer Alex Garland as it's depiction of a deserted London is highly reminiscenmt of 28 Days Later (great film, but not an original bone in it's body).
The writing, direction and acting are all, pretty much, excellent. It's a compelling piece of work and, I can't help but feel, a modern remake would pale in comparison.
I haven't had any nightmares yet, but I'm only up to episode four...

Eamon said...

Hi John,
I meant to say to you, as bad as buying 'The New Avengers' was, you know you're in trouble when your Joanna Lumley fixation leads you to buy 'Sapphire and Steel' dvd!!


Tirant al cap said...
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Joan said...

Dear John,
Here you can see the cover of your first book translated into the Catalan language: Els turmentats (The Unquiet).

SunshineDreams said...

Howard Jones.

You'll never be able to live that down, you know that? ;)

And suddenly, having Simply Red, Alphaville, Asia, Crowded House, Sheriff et al on my "Songs to get when at last I get an iPod" list doesn't seem so bad.

From someone who's about to turn 40 as well; it's not that bad either.

There is still much light, love (in all its forms-hmm hmm), and laughter to be found.

Though I must admit, Joanna Lumley did nothing for me. Dirk Benedict of Battlestar Galactica or Tom Wopat from Dukes of Hazard, now they are a different story.

My my...

Lynn said...

thanks for the nostalgia blog
and now you are not too old to wear converse shoes. I'm 46 and i own two pairs. I listen to dead people too, robert palmer, and the nearly dead as well as current voices. I'm going to read your novel , "book of lost things", as I'm part of a vancouver lunch you will be attending in June, see you then and hope your weather for your visit is decent.

Richard B. said...

There is something comforting in the old shows that we watched as kids; THE WILD WILD WEST, THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E., LOST IN SPACE and THE AVENGERS are like hot chicken soup on a cold winter afternoon. Although I have to say that I prefer the black and white seasons more than the color ones.

I also have to jump on the Diana Rigg appreciation band wagon... THE AVENGERS EMMA PEEL COLLECTION DVD set sits nicely on my shelf.

normski-beat said...
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David said...

Nostalgic or not - these programs are often a lot better than the curent output - certainly for UK tv

I would be very happy to replace the "reality" shows with re-runs of New Avengers or my "current" favourite Randell & Hopkirk (deceased)

Fred de Vries said...

I've just bought the complete set of DVDs of the original Thunderbirds. We all seem to feel a bit nostalgic I fear.

An Englishman in New York said...


I've only got one thing to say to you....

"And out of the egg came....

Monkey Magic. Dear God.

Barbara Martin said...

I recall the Avengers and Diana Rigg well; and Doctor Who.

I also admit to acquiring the first season of Kojak, wondering at the time if it really was necessary to go back to what entertained me then. It was, bringing a sense of comfort and remembrance of our simpler lives.