About those damn nostalgic yearnings
Nostalgia is a great thing. We all look back at our childhood days and remember, for the most part, a time that was happier and more innocent. Of course, very often, we are guilty of looking back in time through rose-coloured spectacles. But as we get older, that yearning for nostalgia can sometimes kick us in the teeth.
The dilapidated little red brick cottage in the picture is where I spent the first three years of my life. It is a lodge at the south gate of a small estate called Ashcraig, roughly halfway between Largs and Skelmorlie on Scotland’s Clyde Coast. From the garden, you can look directly across the water to Rothesay Bay, watch the paddle steamer Waverley sailing past, and take in all the amazing scenery and the maritime activity.
When we moved to a house in Largs, my grandparents moved there from the north lodge a quarter of a mile away. My grandfather, an Irishman called James Lundy, was the estate’s head gardener so the front lawn and back garden were always perfectly manicured.
As a family we visited the cottage every week. Sometimes I spent the entire summer holidays there. My memories of the place are incredibly happy. When I stopped to take some photographs shortly before I moved to America last year, I was heartbroken to see the state of the house. It was just an unloved empty shell.
Another of my old houses, where I spent most of my teenage years, has been demolished. That’s the trouble with nostalgia. We expect to return to the scenes of our childhood and find them exactly as we remember them. Strangely, when we’re in our 20s, 30s and 40s and making our way in the world, it doesn’t seem to matter so much. Now it does.
Take a trip through the Highlands of Scotland and you’ll pass dozens of ramshackle old farm cottages that have lain empty for decades. Some of them have only two or three walls left standing. In America they call them ‘fixer-uppers’ and I always think, as with my old cottage at Ashcraig, that with a bit of money and imagination they could be made habitable again. Not everyone wants a ‘cookie-cutter’ house after all.
My wife was brought up in Pittsburgh, in western Pennsylvania. She often reminisces with great fondness about a small house (fondly referred to as ‘camp) that belonged to her grandparents in a place called Cook Forest. There was the house, a swimming pool, a tree-house, and extensive grounds. Now the house is unused, the pool has been filled in, and the area is in a state of disrepair.
Childhood memories are not limited to buildings and places. I grew up in late 50s and early 60s when not everyone had television. From the age of three or four I was lucky. My parents had a small TV set – Pam was the brand name – and I was transfixed by Watch With Mother. If you don’t remember, Picture Book was on a Monday, followed by Andy Pandy; Bill and Ben; Rag, Tag and Bobtail; and The Woodentops.
Our neighbours used to come to the house to watch shows such as Dr Kildare, Perry Mason and The Lucy Show. My father watched The Fugitive, Gunsmoke, and Wagon Train. I wasn’t exposed to 50s and early 60s rock music, my parents had an old Dansette record player and we were brought up on a diet of Scottish music by the likes of Robert Wilson, Calum Kennedy, Andy Stewart and the Joe Gordon Folk Four.
As for sport, all I can say is that in 1967 it cost me 6d in old money – that’s 2.5 pence sterling today – to watch Celtic, who were then European champions. Last season Liverpool were charging fans £77 for a meaningless English league fixture against Sunderland.
Maybe we should all put the past out of our minds, and just move forward as though it doesn’t matter. That would save any disappointments. But it’s impossible. Everything is wrapped up in nostalgic memories, from Hillman Imps, 5 Boys chocolate bars, and Television Top of the Form to Mr Pastry, penny dainties, and Capstan cigarettes. In the States they get misty-eyed over the children’s game KerPlunk, the Andy Griffith Show, and the Howard Johnson’s (or HoJo’s) motorway restaurant chain.
When I saw my old house practically falling to bits I wished I had the wherewithal to buy it and make it into a home again. All I can do is hope that it somehow won’t be allowed to become another part of my childhood that disappears off the face of the earth.