Nostalgia – the double-edged sword…

The nostalgia industry has become something of a lucrative business. There are now entire TV channels dedicated to repeats of old shows where (if you have time on your hands) you can spend all day watching the likes of Columbo, Murder She Wrote, Kojak, Starsky & Hutch or The Sweeney. There are radio stations which only play golden oldies. Ageing rock bands re-form (sometimes with less than half their original line-up) and go on tour thereby cashing in on the older fans as well as the younger generation who have discovered their music retrospectively. Despite the advent of streaming services and digital downloads vinyl records have still managed to make a comeback. Confectionery manufacturers seem to regularly bring back new products.

The so-called grumpy old men and women of this world complain that things were better back in their day. But in most cases they weren’t better, but simply different. In many aspects, things were a lot worse, as I will touch on below.

It’s been often said that the older generation of Brexit voters was motivated by a sense of nostalgia for the past – an apparent golden age that never really existed.

But there’s clearly something about reliving our youth and recreating the past that makes us feel a warm glow inside. Some people even spend a great deal of time and effort in doing so – like the young Enniskillen man who rebuilt the now-defunct BBC teletext service Ceefax on his computer- a six year labour of love.

But there’s a catch to all this.

As recounted in my semi-autobiographical book In Complete Circles which draws heavily on nostalgic reminiscences, I have fond memories of my school days in the 1980s and early 90s – of doing wheelies on my BMX bike, watching Grange Hill and The A-Team, reading the diaries of Adrian Mole, foraging for horse chestnuts in the local park, recording the latest rock hits off Gerry Ryan’s RTÉ radio show with a blank cassette tape – my finger poised on the stop button ready to press it once the DJ would start to talk over the ending of the song, getting high at Friday night youth club discos on a lethal combination of Lucozade and coke, etc, ad nauseam.

These were relatively happy carefree days.

Or so it seemed within my own cosy adolescent bubble…

But to quote Charles Dickens “It was the best of times it was the worst of times…it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair”.

To put things into perspective, almost every evening over the family dinner a solemn-faced Sean Rafferty/Rose Neil/Wendy Austin/Paul Clarke/Donna Traynor on the local news would relay details of the latest killing, bombing, punishment beating or the funeral of some poor unfortunate who’d been murdered the previous week.

Clearly these were very dark days which no-one, except perhaps a handful of dissidents would ever want to return to. So nostalgia can cut both ways in a positive way – ie in the sense of “if you think we have it tough these days, look how much worse it was back then”.

We want to keep the good memories and filter out the bad ones. But for some the bad memories can never go away,

Those of a certain age familiar with the output of BBC NI will know that the aforementioned Sean Rafferty was a familiar media voice on weekday evenings back then. And in a bizarre twist of continuity, he still is today – albeit in a slightly different context.

I often find myself listening to his classical music show on BBC Radio 3 when driving home from work.

Maybe that in itself signifies some kind of subconscious need to acknowledge a continuing connection with the past.

Or maybe it’s purely coincidental.

But either way, at least we can all be thankful that Mr Rafferty is now joyfully sharing his musical passions with the masses rather than solemnly reporting on the latest atrocities.

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