Nostalgia. Everything about it conjures up the ole feel good, the remember when’s, the drifting memories of memories that have been erased down to soft, pinky toned stubs. Ah. I’m all for it. Nothing like looking back at one’s first disastrous forays into binge drinking, kissing in parking lots and squeezing through the bars at the Balalaika when your fake ID got you bounced. It sounds like more fun than it was, daring even, a little bit of heroics, a lot of drama and the hazy phase of young adulthood when mortgage was something that your parents stressed about. Do I want to go back there? Well, I thought I did. That was until I noticed a disturbing trend amongst middle-aged, white Jo’burg suburbia.
It started with the introduction of MixFm, ‘all of the hits all of the time’, followed by Hot91.9. Had I known, many years ago, when the cassette player chewed up my Greatest Hits of AHA tape, that I would be able to hear them (and that tape I suspect), nearly every day on the radio, well, I would have scoffed. Everyone knows that radio is where new bands get the airtime. But I hadn't counted on listeners’ appetite for audio nostalgia. Tony Blewitt! On the breakfast show! Kevin Savage! The Music Power Half-Hour, with the original deejay! I still have my rickety original choice lying in a diary somewhere. I just needed to wait twenty years to hear it played. Part of me is waiting for the announcement that Alex Jay will be hosting the drive show, or Barney Simon, his bedtime story. Oh yes, that’s right, too late.
Switching back over to 5fm on my way to a drinks’ meeting, I was struck by the popularity of these stations. How many times can you hear ‘Come on Eileen’ in one lifetime, without wanting to commit serial murder? How many ‘500 miles’, or ‘Sunday Bloody Sundays?’ As for ‘Cruel Summer’, how cruel indeed to be subjected repeatedly to Stock, Aitken and Waterman, when time should have buried them alive. But no, it didn’t. Rick Astley, forever frozen at nineteen, sings about ‘never gonna give you up’. A song, which by the way, is more creepy in its lyrical content, than endearing, but hey what do I know? I kid you not, I heard a Sabrina song played the other day. Sabrina. Who’s she you ask? Some one hit wonder, who, via the power of lost youth, has earned a slot on the turn-back-time table.
Someone out there is loving the 15 millionth repeat of ‘Would I lie to you?’ by Charles and Eddie, and decided that we all needed to get together to revive, sorry relive, our youth. Flashback Fridays. What’s worse than watching teenagers getting shit-faced, and trying to hump anything passable in a skirt? Middle-aged men getting shit-faced and trying to dryhump anything passable in a skirt. The hits started. Summer of 69. Hated it back then. Hate it now. Hate it even more when I get to marvel the spectacle of the ‘stripper poles’ being pressed into service for the drooling ogle of the paunchy, balding guys vulturing from the galleries. I felt locked into a time warp (one of the requisite hits, naturally), but what’s wrong with letting your hair down once a month or so right? Where else do people of a certain age get to hang out, of their clothes, and mingle like the studs and babes they once were?
I arrived at said drinks’ meeting at Katy’s Palace Bar. Having never been there before, I was not prepared. I have never seen so many midlife crises under one roof. The speakers blared that cutting-edge band du jour Bananarama, as the marriage/divorce merry-go-round among the Northern ‘elite’ played out. Here, silicone, 911s, backcombed highlighted hair and investment wanker boyfriends were still the hot ticket. Nearly all white - with a smattering of coloured faces here and there, most notably as the service staff - former private school Northernites, with holiday homes in Hermanus and Plett. Oh yes, and it was five-thirty on a Wednesday afternoon. Clearly, the maid/au pair/nanny (or all three) was looking after the kids. Give or take a couple of wrinkles, and some more money in the bank, I found myself in exactly the same space I’d been in a couple of decades before. The only difference was that my parents hadn't dropped me off. People still dating from the same incestuous circles, living in the same five kilometre radius and all living by the same style bible that emphasises blonde above blonde (for women), and old boys’ schtick (for the men). And yet why? How? Is it a case of the more things change? Or is it a case of the more you don't want things to change, the more they stay the same?
For me, I whacked back my water and fled. Been there, done that. Aren't we supposed to be living in one of the most vibrant, cosmopolitan, edgy cities in the world? With music from 2015. And people who drive cars that don't have suspensions kissing the tar? Or who went to schools no-one wants to admit to being an old boy of? Didn't we learn that while we were whooping it up, listening to ‘American Music’ at Champers, we were in a bubble of privilege? Why would we still want to be in that bubble? It wasn't real then, and it isn't real now. Yet, this ‘nostalgic' trend shows no sign of abating. What with police brutality, riots on the streets, and spiralling inflation, we could be right back in the late eighties. Do we want to be? When is it time to move on, and leave it in the past? Isn’t that where it belongs?
Each day we had reading time. We’d done with trivial pastimes like kindergarten the year before. Now we were in Mrs Rowly’s class. Class one, St. Bride’s Primary, Bridgend. Suicide capital of the UK. Not that I knew that then. No, I was one of a bunch of five year olds squirming about at custom-built desks. And reading, reading, reading. Some writing, some basic maths, but reading, ah yes, reading was what I looked forward to.
Propped up, against the back of the class, there stood a book rack. Row after row of the adventures of a mouse. At least, I think it was a mouse. It could have been a kitten. Nope, a mouse. It had saucers for ears. Definitely a mouse. Pocket-size books. Big enough to feel the gravity of the story, but small enough to fit into palms that could be dwarfed by a fifty pence piece. Each book held an adventure. A techni-colour escapade of this cheeky mouse with the saucer ears. In one, he’d be driving a racing car round a track. In another, he’d be feasting with the Queen. Brave, fearless, fabulous little mouse with his loud yellow-orange coloured fur and smart button-up vest.
Each day I waited for reading time. Yes, there were rows and rows of these books. But what if I never got to read all of them? Never got to experience this mouse’s marvellous life, just one more time? One day, my younger sister came to visit, taking the grand tour of Class 1. Within seconds I’d led her to the book rack. I still remember displaying it as though it were the greatest show on earth. “Roll up, roll up, you don’t want to miss this, voyages of the exotic, journeys to the moon and back, fancy a turn as a famous rock star?, it’s all here, just step inside.”
It wasn’t long after that I found out I was leaving. On my own adventure. To this place called Africa. I never did finish reading all of those books. But I did start reading others, and they took me somewhere else, with characters who showed me the world through their eyes, their actions, the obstacles they faced. Some of these characters were fictional others men and women who’d changed attitudes, fought battles, won wars, sometimes even lost them. That mouse with his saucer ears and smart button-up vest taught me how to seek out stories. And what’s writing without story?