I miss the Britain of compassion and public ownership. Can we have it back please?
Nostalgia is making me more leftwing – and grumpier – as I get older
One of the great things about getting old is that you’re allowed to be a reactionary. Society expects it of you. It’s a civic duty. Without old people like me moaning on and on about the modern world, droning on and on about how great things used to be, how would young people get their bearings?
You need us, the bumbling blimps in your peripheral vision, to validate your own marvellous navigational skills. You’re in the driving seat now, we’re all off to the future, please fasten your seat belts, no smoking. I needn’t worry because you’ve downloaded a fantastic app to whatever that thing is that looks like an after dinner mint and costs 500 quid. Yeah, you just tap in the postcode for Next Year and follow the directions, dickhead. I’ll be in the back seat with my Thermos and sandwiches, wanting the toilet.
I’m pushing 60, and what the doctors call “time-limited”. It’s brilliant. As a reactionary I can think what I like, nobody gives a toss. No need any more to pretend to like working-class shouty music with its foul themes of wealth and violence and misogyny. Or that awful, anorexic middle-class bollocks with the acoustic guitars and whispery singing. Yes mate, I can hear the heartbreak. What fresh tragedy has coaxed this song from your world of shattered dreams, you partially-baked doughnut? Are you sad because it’s winter and all the birds have flown away? Have you lost a contact lens? Is your laptop telling you there is little or no connectivity? Bah. BAH!
I no longer feel obliged to stand with furrowed brow in front of a pile of clothes trying to guess what the artist had in mind, or what they’re wearing today instead. I suppose I could just go next door and watch a video of the artist telling me crossly and at length what “Identity Theft” is all about, but maybe I’ll just go to the nearest pub instead.
Wow, a talking phone: no thanks, I say, primly holding up the one I got for £9.50 from Woolworths. It works perfectly, though nobody over the age of two can understand why the screen doesn’t respond to their touch. Ooh, what’s this – a new wave horror film about people being sewn together? I’ll pass. Innovative architecture pushing the boundaries of epic space? Shove it. The Shard, in my grumbling opinion, is an offensive, overscaled drip of cack, built by money-grabbing bastards to house money-grabbing bastards.
Yes, I’m happy to feel adrift and irrelevant. That’s what reactionaries are for. We don’t see the point in novelty. We seek solace in the past. Nostalgia is our “meow meow”. Our Google+. Our Dubney Twostep or whatever you’re all twisting to at the discotheque these days.
Everyone knows they’ll turn into a reactionary when they get older. It’s just what happens, along with varicose veins and a corrugated front. Thing is, though, I fully expected to turn into a conservative reactionary. I thought that’s the way the script ran. Act One: our protagonist helps usher in a liberal, progressive society by talking drivel on acid and wearing red-satin loon pants. Act Two: he struggles to make sense of a world in which his children have left for university and half the Beatles are dead. Act Three: he pays off his mortgage, goes on the meds, votes Tory and dies.
Why then am I getting more leftwing as I get older? Nostalgia. It’s an emotional filter. Nostalgia allows old gits like me to be quietly thrilled that the laws of this country no longer tolerate racism or homophobia or corporal punishment. It also allows us to mourn certain things that defined us as Britons in the days before Rupert Murdoch, salad, credit cards, aromatherapy, those bloody flickering adverts all over the London Underground, baseball caps, everyone saying shit such as “issues around” instead of “problems with”, medicinal yoghurt and the internet.
There are many things old people miss about the old days including God, coal fires and horsedrawn milkcarts. But what I miss most is “US” . I miss Project Us, expressed through nationalised railways and publicly-owned utilities. I miss the glory days of the unions and their “terrifying” power to protect bullied workers. I miss the sense of who we were: not some random, atomised collection of individuals defined by self-worth, but a nation of shared values.
I remember when I experienced my first shiver of patriotism, 50 years ago, in school. History. We were learning about religious persecution. I can’t tell you how selfishly thrilling it was to hear how Jews and Catholics and Huguenots and so on fled here, because it was a place of tolerance and free speech.
Of course it was partial. Of course there was persecution here too, and slavery and oppression. But still, Britain as a place to flee to! And history wouldn’t stop, would it? We’d just get better and better. If you’d told me that in 50 years time we’d be banging up asylum seekers and their children and hiring foreign contractors to means-test the disabled, I wouldn’t have believed you.
So yeah, I’m a reactionary socialist. I want national pride in our compassion back. I want public ownership back. This country’s been swindled by neo-liberalism – Thatcher and her property boom, the lying shit Blair and his “whatever works”. I demand a refund.
And the return of Spangles.