Thursday, 17 October 2013

Le bon vieux temps

I use the French expression to emphasise the universality of a  yearning for an idealised past, regardless of culture, language or even age, (also because it is the only other language where I know how to say it). I daresay that Inuit has a whiter version and Polynesians express it with Cowrie shells, but the sentiment, in every sense, remains constant.

Last year I went to Basel, Switzerland, where I spent quite a few months in the late seventies. It was slightly strange returning after all those years, with fond memories of playing music and girls and obviously, being Switzerland, making loadsa money for once.

Walking through the centre of the city, there were one or two landmarks which seemed vaguely familiar, but the general impression was of a place I'd never been to before, a feeling which was confirmed when I arrived at a rather grand hotel where, every day, I would order coffee on a silver tray, read the 'Herald Tribune' and pretend I was Ernest Hemingway. It was here that I read that Margaret Thatcher had been elected Prime Minister. The place was hardly recognisable and more downmarket than I remembered, with that horrible, non tax-paying American coffee chain occupying what was once a magnificent cafe terrace.

The whole thing lingered disquietingly in my head for some time after the visit, as I ruminated on ageing and memory. I was rudely reminded of it a couple of weeks ago, when I decided to visit a place I hadn't been to since I was about ten years old: Hullbridge,. Hullbridge is on the River Crouch, which rises in Essex and flows out to the North Sea. My grandparents lived there for a few years when I was a kid and I spent many school holidays there, swimming in the river, messing about on other peoples' boats and breaking my collarbone.
I started out, passing through some surprisingly pleasant countryside dotted with impressive historic buildings. Battlesbridge was the same as I remembered; still a rather dreary place, with a few ancient looking commercial vessels lying around in the mud of low tide. So far so good.

Ten minutes later, I arrived at my destination. When I was a kid, Hullbridge was a small, rather run-down village, with one main street which petered out when you arrived at the river. There was an old fashioned square with, I remembered, an ancient and abandoned wreck of a car, on which I used to sometimes play. It would probably be worth a fortune now. You arrived there after a few hundred metres of housing.

This time, to reach my destination, I got lost in the modern sprawl of bungalows and those modern arse of the bag, (excuse my French), 'closes' so beloved by the Brits. I eventually got to the river, which hadn't changed a bit. It was everything else that was completely different. Gone was the funny old square, having been replaced by a sizable bus garage. The only thing still there was the pub, 'The Anchor Inn,' now 'The Anchor.'

Back in the day, my grandfather would sometimes go there for a pint at lunchtime. The clientele at the time wouldn't have been out of place in 'Treasure Island.' They didn't have peg-legs and eye- patches, although I wouldn't have ruled out scurvy. Had I been old enough to drink, I would have been on the lookout for a shilling dropped into my tankard.

It was therefore both a surprise and relief to see that the Anchor was still there, but the difference was staggering. Stopping in the private car park, I approached the entrance,  which displayed a Michelin Pub Guide sticker and went into the rather chichi lobby. I was greeted by a lady who showed me to a table, where I ordered a very good lunch from a menu which featured items normally found on superior food-porn programmes. The last vestiges of my youth seemed to evaporate as I found myself telling the young waitress that I was visiting for the first time in nearly fifty years. She didn't exactly start talking to me in a louder voice, but I felt a subtle change in manner. The implication was clear: silly old bugger. No more getting lost down memory lane. The past, for me, is literally another country.

11 comments:

  1. It's a terrible thing, isn't it, the way the past just disappears? I drove through Stevenage on the way to my mother's funeral in Norfolk, and found that they had demolished Chauncy House and built over it. I was shockd, but it seemed very appropriate. In my mind, of course, it still exists, like an amputated limb.

    Talking of childhood holidays, I had various holidays on the Norfolk coast at clifftop places like Hemsby and California, all of which have now literally crumbled into the sea.

    Mike

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  2. Who are you? My dad's called Mike. Are you my dad? Can't remember.

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  3. No, it's Thursday, you daft old git!

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  4. Interestingly (well, to me) RS Stevenson used to holiday around Suffolk and based Long John Silver on a local peg-legged chap evidently. Perhaps he stopped off down Hullbridge way too.

    Anyway, I still have a yearning for the past especially on days like today. I turned my Tascam pocket studio on - actually I tried to turn it on. Bloody thing wouldn't switch on for ages. It took nearly an hour to get the damned thing going. My old Tascam Portastudio always turned on straight away. Damned digital life.

    And another thing: if the past is another country, why isn't it on a map?

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  5. Story of my life at present. Camera being delivered tomorrow after packing up while on holiday. Had to pay Sony £117 just to check it and I suspect turn one screw to put it right. The whole thing was blackmail, would recommend NIkon.Meanwhile, Millie called to say that my guitar got broken while I was away in a freak accident. The person who broke it is going to get it repaired and keep it and will replace it for me. Problem is, they're not so easy to find and cost a lot more than I paid in 2007.
    I'm beginning to feel like the guy in the Python sketch who gets his hands amputated by the piano lid. I'm becoming more agoraphobic by the minute (but then again, never did like farmers, particularly young ones). Hope nothing happens at Albert Lee concert tonight.

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  6. "A freak accident"?? What, Pete Townsend popped round for a chat...??

    Mike

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  7. As ever, the latest Wondermark is spookily relevant:

    http://wondermark.com/974/

    Mike

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  8. It gets worse. Got my camera back from the cowboys at Sony only to find that the autofocus has stopped working. You would think that they would have tested it. Have you ever tried Nikons. I used to find that they worked rather well unlike some brands I could mention.

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  9. Sony are generally reckoned pretty reliable, and are edging onto the top table with their latest bold ventures in innovative camera design. I mainly use a Panasonic myself (same brand as our vacuum cleaner) and like it a lot. Reputations are usually based on top-of-the-line models aimed at professional use, so a Nikon point-and-shoot "consumer" digicam is probably no more reliable than your Sony turned out to be. Even Leica's "cheap" models are actually re-badged Panasonics with the price doubled! You gets what you pays for, unfortunately, and anything under £1000 is essentially "disposable" these days... It's one reason more and more people rely on their phone as a camera. The iPhone camera is actually pretty good.

    Mike

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  10. Got in touch with Sony today, who assured me that there was a three month guarantee for my money. The camera wasn't focusing properly on infinity. Or so I thought. At the request of Sony, I took a few shots and then enlarged them, just to show how crap their after-sales was. In fact it was my eyes, all four of them nowadays, that were the problem. They have fixed it after all.
    Millie then called to say that the local luthier, a jovial sixty-something Jerry Garcia lookalike, took a look at my guitar. He laughed when he saw it and said that the repair would be invisible, and no way compromise the sound quality. He's an agreed, (probably Franglais), Martin agent, so I'm feeling a lot better.
    Panasonic huh? I was very tempted myself by the Lumix range, but agree that if I were to get serious, ie £1,000 plus, I'd probably revert to Nikon.

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  11. I use a Panasonic G3 -- several models old, but still available, at around £300 new, with the kit zoom. Totally recommend it. Interchangeable lenses, electronic viewfinder, etc. Micro 4/3 is worth buying into as a system, imho.

    Mike

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