Nostalgia is an odd thing. Often prompted by the tiniest of triggers, a smell for example. (There is a man on a stag do sitting next to me on the train, while his fellow partygoers shout to one another at a level usually reserved for people working in a noise factory, but for these men is the perfect level to chat to the person next to you – while deafening and annoying the rest of the overcrowded, overheating train to Edinburgh. So far four people have stood up to ask them to be quiet, it’s had no effect except to make them argue amongst themselves at increasing decibels. There will be fisticuffs. The man sitting next to me is not shouting, or doing many of the shots being passed around but he is interested in what I’m writing. He’s told me that he’s often nostalgic and that he likes it a lot, and that it’s mostly smells that set off his nostalgia, particularly round his Dad’s house now that his mum’s died. He’ll often smell something there that reminds him of her. He’s quite sweet for a man who is intent on getting through an entire bottle of red to himself at 11am. He’s becoming less sweet due to the decibel levels of his friends and his reluctance to tell them to shut up. I have told them to shut up and simply encountered a wall of noise in response. Thank god I’m getting off at Darlington…) Nostalgia can be triggered by a sound, a snatch of song, or someone sending you a link to a picture of the 16 year old you, once hidden in a box only to be brought out by over-zealous parents who remember it as a golden time and to embarrass you in front of potential mates, but now shared with the entire world via the internet. Yes, a picture of me at 16 is now on the internet so anyone who fancies (and probably quite a few people who don’t but have just stumbled upon it) can check out my bowl haircut and uncomfortable smile.
Millions of people can see a haircut I wish had been sent to oblivion – I certainly don’t have any photos of myself at that age, with that terrible bowl-growing-out-a-misjudged-shaven-headed-moment-of-rebellion do. I threw out hundreds of photographs in a spring clean a couple of years ago. I had albums and albums of photos and boxes of images which I have whittled down to one small box. Many of my friends were horrified that I had thrown away any photographs, but loads of them were duplicates, loads of them were out of focus and lots of them weren’t very good, or were simply embarrassing. So I threw them out. Ripped them up and recycled them (I don’t know if you can recycle photographs but they all went in the recycling bin – for all I know I could have caused a whole load of recycling to be ruined – oh the middle class guilt) And I didn’t feel bad about it at all. I wasn’t getting rid of memories, I was getting rid of evidence. And making space for the lovely man to move all his stuff in. He’s better than photos because he can make me tea.
But someone kept some evidence and I was confronted with the past. And through my embarrassment and squeals of “ergh haaaaaaairrrrr” something else emerged. Doug who had sent it to me said “check out the other ones, including me in a turquoise ski suit and a haircut to rival yours”. I hope he’ll forgive me for saying his hair was much like Sideshow Bob. And Kate, who was also in the shot, said something along the lines of “wow, we’ve improved”. But it made me realise that I have kept in touch with these people for over 20 years. That we made friendships despite the hair and bad fashion choices; friendships which have lasted longer than we had been alive at the time those photos were taken. That I love those people. Really love them. Doug said what he sees when he looks at those shots is not awful hair and awful clothes. Well he does see those, but beyond that, he says: “When I look at those pics (and there are others, if you haven’t looked around that site), I remember that sense of quiet confidence, that we were the chosen among our generation and greatness would somehow fall in to our laps. And of course, we would bear it dutifully, as we must. That this may or may not have transpired isn’t the point…the point is, I miss that optimism. Love you both”
And all that from a hideous train journey with bellowing men, a terrible haircut and a 90s fashion disaster.