Saturday, November 04, 2006

Looking Back

“That was a good joke of yours, about not knowing how to play an iPod,” she said. I was talking to my number two daughter on the phone and she was referring to my mention the other day of not knowing what one of these things was.

“But it wasn’t a joke,” I protested, “I have no idea what it is, except that it’s a bit of gadgetry that Amazon seem desperate to sell me.”

She explained the machine to me. I don’t think I grasped the concept fully, but the salient points seemed to be that you stuck it in your ear, it cost about two hundred quid and that it was responsible for much of the street crime so prevalent nowadays. On balance, it didn’t look to me to be much of bargain.

From which you can gather, if you had not already done so, that I tend to live in the past. And I make no excuses for it. Just consider the alternatives.

There’s the future, I suppose, and in earlier times there was a good deal of reliance placed upon soothsayers to give you a “heads up” in the future department. William of Normandy took one along with him on his trip to Hastings in 1066, but, regrettably, the one ship that was lost on the crossing contained the soothsayer, leading William to remark that wouldn’t have been much good if he couldn’t have seen that coming. And now I don’t think Star Trek is running any more and NASA has scuppered what was our one hope for the future, those little green men on Mars and their flying saucers. Very disappointing but, as a consolation prize, they’ve got some people up there in a space station whizzing around in orbit. What on earth (I suppose you can’t say that!) they’re doing there, I have no idea. It must be pretty boring looking down at the earth all day and I hope they’ve got some good books to read. But if that’s the future, it’s not for me, thank you very much.

Then take the present, although I’d rather not if I had the choice. However, we are physically stuck with it, but viewing the world today is hardly a cheering prospect. You’d think that, after having had a go at civilisation for a few thousand years, we’d have got it right, but it’s as big a shambles as it ever was. As Laurel or Hardy used to say (I can never remember which one), “Another fine mess you’ve got me into.” And there seems to be no way out.

So that only leaves us with the past. And here, for once, Mother Nature has got it right and blessed us with that most desirable of attributes, selective memory. Of course, in her wisdom she endowed some of us with more of this talent than most, and these are now the politicians who run the country. But for the rest of us, it provides a wonderful lurch into nostalgia and an escape from the reality of everyday life. As the Queen, and here I refer to the Monarch and not to any of the other queens you may have thought I meant, once said, “When I was a child, the sun was always shining.”

And, if you cast your mind back, you find that she was right. In childhood memories there are scarcely any rainy days.

Which is why I enjoy going back through time by way of my own personal time machine, my books. In these the sun is not always shining, admittedly, but tragedy and disaster are anaesthetized by time and can be viewed dispassionately. The same daughter who informed me about iPods, gave me a book some years ago, “Times Gone By,” containing a selection of photographs from the Victorian era onwards.

It runs from the 1850’s up until the 1950’s and is a wonderfully graphic record of the life and times of the period. What a pity that photography had not been invented earlier instead of gunpowder. The course of civilisation might well have been changed for the better.

Trawling back through time is not living in the past but should be an integral part of education. There is much truth in the old and hackneyed saying concerning those who ignore the lessons of history. Which does, of course, bring me back to the politicians and their highly developed selective memories. Realistically, it would not be possible to be a politician without having this sense in overdrive, since it allows them to do just that, ignore all the lessons of history, without it harming their collective conscience.

And about this iPod thingy. £200 seems a high price to pay for being mugged on the street. I’d rather spend the money on books, so, as far as I’m concerned, you can stick it in your ear. I’ll go back to living in the past.


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