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West Ham Farewell Party Confirms the Love For Elland Road   –   by Rob Atkinson

Elland Road

Elland Road, THE place of worship for thousands

Just nine days short of 480 years since another Boleyn met her end, on a Tower Green scaffold one sad Tudor morning, the curtain finally fell on West Ham United’s Boleyn Ground last night. It was the climax of 112 years of East End football history, fittingly topped off with a thrilling late victory and then the obligatory lasers and fireworks – spectacular high jinks, warming the cockles before the cold reality of the bulldozers moving in to do their grim work. 

Poor little Queen Anne was snuffed out by a French swordsman imported specially for the occasion by her kindly husband King Henry VIII. One swing of that fine blade left la Boleyn shorter by a head – and it was deadly twin thrusts from another Frenchman that could have cut short the farewell celebrations at the Boleyn Ground. West Ham had taken an early lead, but two goals from French prodigy Martial threatened rudely to poop the Hammers’ party. Fortunately, not least for this hardly unbiased viewer, the Irons roared back with two late goals to secure victory and put the Champions League hopes of Manchester’s finest back in their own hands. What a game, what a night. But then, chillingly, comes the bleak reality of the following day.

Watching such a thrilling match and then such an emotional farewell event had me wondering how those Hammers fans were feeling as the night and the occasion went by. There must surely have been a slightly unreal air about the place. Is this really the last time? Is this familiar old place really going to be torn down pitilessly, along with all the memories of good times and bad? Those questions must inevitably have gone through thousands of baffled, barely believing cockney minds. 

I have my own recollections of the Boleyn Ground – or Upton Park, as it was also known. Only a few, but marked each time by a Leeds United win, which obviously makes for good memories. And enough of those memories to make the place quite familiar to me. So even I can hardly credit the fact that, so soon, it will all be gone. But if I had to guess, based on my own forty-odd years of football fandom, just how those West Ham fans were feeling last night, I’d wager there was a lot of sadness and a sea of tears after the jubilation of victory, as the loss of a beloved place of worship started to sink in. And, I ask you, how on earth must they be feeling this morning?

It’s a bit hard to put myself in their shoes. The nearest comparison I can make is that last occasion, before the suits brought in the seats, standing on the Kop terraces against the Wendies. That was emotional enough. I literally can hardly imagine how I would feel if Elland Road itself – my second and spiritual home since 1975 – was condemned to be rased to the ground. Words would not be able to express the awful emptiness I would feel, the nightmare sensation of being cast out of my comfort zone, never to return. It came close enough – too close for comfort – to actually happening, with a firm proposal to relocate put to the vote in the 90s. For me, it didn’t really hit home or seem real at that time. I truly know that now.

I know it, because of what I saw in the coverage of the Boleyn’s last game. Because it’s a stadium I’m familiar with, I was suddenly forced to contemplate the same grisly fate befalling Elland Road. It’s a simply horrible thought. It certainly gave me nightmares and, this morning, I really feel for those displaced, dispossessed Hammers fans. 

Some will point to the grandeur of their new surroundings at the Olympic Stadium. Well, whatever floats your boat. And there’s the small matter of 52,000 season tickets sold already ahead of the next campaign. The Hammers are moving up to a different level, it’s a whole new ball game now. So it may well be. But is it worth it? Well, you could rebuild the Bernebeu or the Camp Nou in Roundhay Park and, for me, the answer would still be no.

It’s a bit different for us. We’ve been the best, on more than one occasion, and we’ve sustained that excellence at a fortress called Elland Road. So much of what Leeds United have achieved is part of the concrete, the steel, even the hallowed turf of that venerable old stadium. Maybe it would have been harder for us than it’s turning out to be for those Hammers who said “goodbye” last night. But honestly, I doubt it. I think it’s going to be very hard indeed on those fans, once the dust has settled. 

All I can say for myself is that last night reinforced for me the emotional pull of Elland Road, the fundamental attachment I so strongly feel for the place. I’m quite certain that the same is true for thousands of other Leeds fans. Perhaps it takes being a spectator at an event like last night to really bring home what being at home is actually all about. And what losing that home would heart-breakingly mean.

Hammers fans still have their memories; they’ll still be able to replay the mind’s eye video of countless great matches and famous victories. But the place where all those things happened will soon be dust, and there’s an awful finality to that. When the place is gone, the memories will be harder to put into their proper setting. Even ghosts need a place to float around in.

Every time I see Elland Road, a thousand precious memories become real again for me – some pretty bad ones too, make no mistake. But they’re all part of that fund of recollection any football fan builds up, and they’re inextricably linked with that loveable ramshackle old stadium, with its incongruously shiny newer bits. Even they’ve been with us over a quarter of the club’s lifetime. I love every inch of the place, down to the last rivet and the smallest blade of grass. Part of my life would be gone, if I had to go through what the Hammers fans went through last night. What they’re only starting to get used to this morning. 

Congratulations to West Ham, on a fine victory and a fitting way to mark the end of an era. I’m really pleased for you – and yet I’m sorry for you too. God knows I’d love the experience again, of beating that lot and reducing them to misery. I’ve always loved that. But – at the cost of a large chunk of my soul? I think not. I really think not. 

Leeds Fanatic? Get Involved With the Life in the Leeds United Universe – by Rob Atkinson


This blog has been going over a year now, but only since last September has it benefited from the wider exposure that the NewsNow aggregator affords. This has seen reading figures go through the roof, and the blog has also gained an inspiring following of committed Leeds fans who are ready, willing and able to contribute their own views on the full range of topics inspired by our club, as well as various other aspects of the game.  It’s a thriving blog, I’m glad to say – and I hope it will continue to grow.  What is needed is continuing and increased involvement from the people who read it.  From you – and for a very good reason.

There are a variety of ways in which a variety of people can get involved and help this site.  The reason I’m putting this out there now is that I need more time to devote to a book I’m writing about the seventeen years between my first match as a Leeds fan in April 1975, and the last old-style Football League game I saw at Elland Road in 1992, just prior to the inception of the Premier League and the start of Murdoch’s domination of English football.  So Leeds were reigning champions in that first game I saw, as they were again when Norwich visited Elland Road to bring down the curtain on the Football League Championship competition as we’d always known it in the last game of 1991-92.  In between were years of decline, stagnation and, eventually, recovery – to take us back to the top.

This period encompassed the second division years of 1982 – 1990, a largely neglected period that I wish to chronicle – because I believe there are thousands of fans out there who fondly remember that time, and some of the characters who passed before our eyes as we travelled the country from Plymouth to Carlisle by way of Shrewsbury, Millwall (Old Den) and sundry other delightful spots.  I think it’s a book that will evoke great memories of the time between two Champion teams and I’m enjoying working on it – when I can.

What I really need are contributions of various sorts – so if there’s any of the following ways that you can help, then please do so if it’s not too much trouble.  Basically, I need memories, commissions and cash.  That cash thing is obviously a sticking point when times are hard and friends are few; but if a good many people donate very little – even a quid – then it all goes towards affording me the time to work on this and other projects.  So if you’ve ever enjoyed reading an article on this blog, perhaps you would be kind enough to click the PayPal button and contribute – just a little will help.  Those who can afford to be a bit more generous – a fiver or more – will be remembered when complimentary copies of the book are distributed, whether they are e-books or the genuine paper type that grows on trees.  As those of you who have already donated know, I always email to say thank-you – and those who have given five pounds or more in the past are already – for what it’s worth – firmly on that complimentary copy list.

Any financial contribution will help me devote more time to the book, but commissions of various sorts would also help me work from home for a greater proportion of my time, and therefore enable me to spend more time on researching and writing my Leeds United project.  So, if you’re involved with any concern which needs a freelance writer who can write to a specification – then please consider me, perhaps drop me a line via the Contact page of this blog.  If you’ve read my stuff, you know what I can and can’t do – I’m happy to be judged on that basis.

Equally, for the executives and company owners out there – if you would consider advertising on this blog, I’d be very happy to hear from you.  I average in excess of 100,000 views per month and it’s growing all the time. Any way in which I can attract some investment in the blog will spare me more time  to continue with the groundwork and writing of this book. Incidentally, you may have noticed that I consistently fail to refer to the book by a title – for the very good reason that it hasn’t got one yet.  Any suggestions??  The idea I have is of a long fallow period between two peaks of success, so anything on those lines could be considered, or if you want to be more imaginative – go ahead.  Again, the person who comes up with the best suggestion will be remembered and will benefit – if they consider a free copy beneficial.

For those who read this and feel that I’m selling my soul for personal gain – it’s really not like that at all.  I have this project gnawing away at me and it’s got to come out.  Don’t forget, any help is to be given entirely of your own free will – anyone who is offended by the very idea of an appeal for help should simply turn away from it.  On the other hand, anybody of massive wealth who is inclined to be extremely generous should feel absolutely entitled to do just that.  I’m not going to be an inverted snob about this, and if there’s a benefactor out there, he or she is enormously welcome!

Fans’ own input is also going to be invaluable.  There must be so many fantastic memories out there that just pass to and fro across the bar-room table – it would be wonderful to have some of those to supplement the material I already have to hand.  My own time supporting Leeds is something I can draw on, but I’d be immensely grateful for the memories of those who wish to contribute their own anecdotes.  Anything between the start of the 1974-75 season and the end of 1991-92 (including the following season’s Charity Shield match) would be great.  I’m especially interested in the thinly-documented years of the second division eighties – the Eddie Gray/Billy Bremner era.  But equally, the brief near-glory of the Armfield/Adamson years, with that Jock Stein 44 days in between, are times I would love to cover in more detail, with illustrative anecdotes – there was even that short spell in the UEFA Cup that hardly anyone remembers these days.  So please – cudgel your grey cells, and get those reminiscences sent in.  Credit will be given as appropriate.

Please help, if you can – whether it’s a monetary contribution, an offer of work, an advertising or sponsorship proposal or – last but not least – your recollections of following Leeds between 1974 and 1992.  I know there are a lot of fanatics out there, real Leeds United nutters, people who love our club every bit as much as I do, and more.  We’ve all known the pain and joy of being Leeds fans, we’re all part of a common experience.  I want to reflect that in every word I write as part of what will, I trust, be a work that makes it clear what it is to be a fan of the greatest club in the world.  I know there are thousands out there who share that belief, that knowledge. Many will be going through hard times, and all I will ask of you is your good wishes, and perhaps a story or two.  And equally I know that some of you have a fair bit of clout in one direction or another – so if you’re minded to, and able – please consider helping with this undertaking in any way that you possibly can.  After all – we’re all Leeds, aren’t we?

Thank you – and MOT.

When Winifred Died

(Inspired by my Mum’s poem of the same name, which is reproduced with her kind permission below this article)

june11Sometimes, a seemingly normal day can turn suddenly significant, and mark a change in your life.

On June the 11th 1986, I went along to the poky offices of the Citizens Advice Bureau in Moorthorpe, between South Elmsall and South Kirkby in West Yorkshire, for my regular stint as a volunteer adviser. At the age of 24, I had two abortive stabs at Higher Education behind me, I’d gained a rather sketchy qualification in computer programming, and I’d worked as a hospital gardener and as an assistant school caretaker. The bright young lad from Ponte was off to an indifferent start to what has turned out an indifferent career. But I was still optimistic back then, and I assumed I’d serve a breezy apprenticeship in advice work, and then a CAB of my own would just drop into my lap, and I’d be set. CAB Manager somewhere, they’d promised; inspirational motivator and trainer of volunteers, solver of multifarious problems and crusading campaigner on burning social policy issues, that’d be me. Rob Atkinson: success.

That it didn’t quite work out that way is incidental to this tale, but such was the backdrop to this particular sunny morning. It was a watershed in my life for quite another reason though; for on that unsuspecting June day, my Nana Cawthorne died. She was not the first grandparent I’d lost – I’d already run out of Grandads. Nan’s husband, Walter Michael, had died relatively young in the early 70’s when I was a skinny rabbit of 10 or 11. He’d been an object of terrified fascination for me, prone to loud bellows, snapping his leather belt suddenly and shatteringly, rattling his false teeth at me with no warning, and holding forth stridently about his health problems, the ones that eventually got him (they stuck a tube up my arse, the buggers, and drained about two pints of blood out, two bloody pints!) When he died, my Mum was deeply upset, as you might expect, and we kids dashed upstairs in tears when we heard. For myself back then, I wasn’t quite sure how I felt, but it seemed polite to join in the weeping. I think I was too young to appreciate what a character Grandad Cawthorne was – he’d been a Regimental Sergeant-Major in the Army, and was a bit of a lad all round – so my main impression of him was his larger than life scariness. Years later, I wished I’d have known him when I was older and could have better appreciated him as a bloke, but at the time I felt more sympathy for my Mum than any real sense of loss myself.

My other Grandad – my Dad’s dad – had been a vaguely gentle sort of man, a pillar of his local Working Men’s Club and much given to pulling a wooden trolley behind him as he wandered around his neighbourhood. He’d bring it home laden with various bits and pieces which he’d then stash in his shed, hoping they’d be useful at some unspecified future date. He also used to draw busy farmyard scenes in blue biro, and I remember watching these take shape and being impressed in a one-step-removed sort of way – I was really more of a reader, myself. Harold Atkinson died in my mid-teens, his passing eased and attended by my Mum, dutiful daughter-in-law, through the wee small hours of a summer night. We boys were left at home, and my brother Gray and I got up really early, still unaware of Grandad A’s demise. We went for a walk down to the Rookeries to watch the sun rise – because we could – and nicked a pint of milk from someone’s doorstep on the way back, to make Angel Delight for breakfast. When I heard I was now Grandad-less, I once again felt a weird and slightly guilty sense of detachment – a feeling that this didn’t really involve me. They told me my Nana Atkinson’s reaction had been to say “Oh dear, who’s going to run my errands now?” which did evoke a regretful feeling that this wasn’t much of an epitaph.

So, two grandparents down, and I was starting to wonder if I had any finer feelings to hurt. I’d been more upset so far at the passing of various small pet rodents, than these actual bereavements where I’d lost close relatives who’d embellished all my childhood occasions. It seemed strange, and a bit worrying. I think I pondered over whether I was some sort of emotional black hole.

But my Nana Cawthorne was different. She’d always been my special ally in family squabbles, and we used to swap books and share our opinions. She’d sit me down in front of her chair when she came to visit, and tell me stories of her days as a young girl “in service”, as they called it – when she worked as a lowly maid in some rich house. She was from the south, and her accent was music to my ears – she’d talk away gently, knitting all the while, and I was mesmerised by the flow of her narrative, punctuated with knitting-needle clicks and the odd chesty cough – she was a compulsive smoker until her last days. Many, many afternoons passed happily by like this, and yet I can’t now, for the life of me, recall any of the tales she told. I think perhaps it was the tone of her voice, calm and soothing, with a gentle southern burr that delighted me. I just know I was always happy when she was around, content to sit on the rug before her bony knees, looking up occasionally at the thin face behind the flickering knitting-needles, with its folds of skin and rheumy eyes, the wispy cloud of grey hair. Yes, I certainly loved my Nana Cawthorne.

In the normal run of life, though, I saw less of her as I got older, and of course I was away from home for a couple of years, discovering that I was not cut out for academic life. Then there were various brushes with the world of work, and I was seduced by the twin Sirens of beer and amateur theatre which, between them, pretty much accounted for my social life in my young adulthood. There was football, too, and I was either playing it for a lot of the early 80’s, or rampaging around the country following Leeds United in a more or less well-behaved way. All this time Nan grew older and steadily more crotchety, so I heard. It felt natural that I saw less of extended family now I was busy with friends in different spheres, and it became an infrequent treat for me to see my Nan and catch up. After I’d stopped gardening and computing and caretaking, I drifted into voluntary work of various types as a reaction against the rigidity of the Thatcher government, always doing something connected to helping people in dire situations. As with most types of volunteering, the money was non-existent, but the satisfaction was great, and there were evidently prospects. I landed up in the Citizens Advice Bureau in my Nan’s village, so I’d see more of her into the bargain. Good move.

Nan had recently accompanied Mum and Dad on a camping holiday – I think it was shortly after she’d had to have a spell in a Residential Care Home because my aunt and uncle, with whom she was living, had been away. She hated the Home – and made no bones about the fact. She’d also been prevailed upon to stop smoking, because of the state of her lungs, and her generally frail condition. I still think that these two unavoidable factors were the beginning of the end for my Nan.

The camping holiday itself was not an unqualified success, as Nan was in a wheelchair by now, and needed a great deal of looking after. I think she also harboured a lingering resentment over her time in the Home – “that place” – and was not disposed, on that account, to be all sweetness and light. Whatever the whys and wherefores, it seems that all was not harmony, and my Mum was weary and disillusioned when they got home. The last time I saw my Nan properly – in an able-to-chat, compos mentis sort of way – was when she came to our house just as I was ready to go out somewhere. As she was getting through the front door, I was heading down the hallway, and I gave her a quick kiss and asked if she’d enjoyed the camping break.
“Not really, Rob,” she said. “It was all a bit too much.” I distinctly remember thinking this was a little ungrateful after all my parents’ efforts, and I brushed it off as I departed, saying, oh well, never mind, see you soon. How I’ve regretted that, ever since.

The next time I saw her was on that pleasant June day which proved to be Nan’s last. After getting to the CAB to start my advice session, I got a phone call from Mum, who was at my aunt’s house in the village – she told me that Nan was very ill, and I’d better get up there to say goodbye. In a bit of a daze, yet with a sense of occasion, I asked the manager, Joan – a very dear friend – if she’d come with me. And off we went to say a last goodbye to my lovely Nan, and again I had that unsettling worry over just how I was feeling.

When we got to the house, we were ushered straight up to Nan’s room, and there she was, in bed and virtually breathing her last. I looked down at her, and immediately felt the sting of tears in my eyes as I realised a big part of my life was about to slip over the edge into eternity. She was quite far gone, just about beyond the power of speech, but as I bent over her she opened her eyes slowly, and almost smiled. “Hello, Nan”, I whispered. Her eyes had closed again, and when I looked at Mum, she just shook her head slowly and sadly. Thinking there was not a great deal I could do, and wary of getting in the way of Mum and my aunts who were also gathered around in the small room, I edged towards the door, whispering to Joan that we might as well get back to the Bureau. “See you later, Nan”, I called softly. Her eyes didn’t open this time, but again there was almost a smile, and now she breathed a barely audible “Goodbye, Rob.”

My thoughts were tinged with slight embarrassment as I made my way downstairs, because I’d nearly cried in front of everyone, and that doesn’t sit easily at twenty-four. Suddenly though, I was aware of the most delightful, wonderful fragrance, really heady and overpowering, but absolutely beautiful. I turned to my aunt and smiled, “Blimey, Mags, that air-freshener’s gorgeous!” She gave me a puzzled smile back, but said nothing. Joan and I drove back to the CAB in that silence that you can have quite comfortably between good friends, and I got on with my day as best I could.

Later, in the afternoon, I got another phone call, from my Auntie Mags this time, telling me that Nan had passed away. No doubts now over how I felt, but neither the urge nor the need for showy tears. I just cuddled the hollow sense of loss, and thought back to that last time I’d seen her coming through the front door at our house. As I have many times since, I wished I could go back to that day and have a final good old chat with her, the way we’d done so many times before. It was my first real taste of the dry ashes of bereavement. I headed back to Mags’ house, alone this time I think. The time for goodbyes had been and gone, but I could hug my Mum and talk to everyone who’d been there as Nan faded out of this life. And I could see my Nan at peace. She looked, to me, almost unrecognisable. Her face had smoothed out completely, all the wrinkles and folds that a long hard life had written over her features had been relaxed away by death. She looked even smaller than she actually was, and very, very still. It was the first time I’d seen someone dead, and I was duly impressed by the sheer, awesome finality of it.

The following morning, I was back at the CAB, and Joan gave me a hug and asked if I was alright. I was fine, I said, and I was happy to be back at work, happy that my Nan was out of a life that had become onerous to her and happy that my Mum was preoccupied with sweet memories, rather than their occasional tiffs and fallings-out. Joan smiled, and then she asked me if I remembered the previous day, and going down the stairs after Nan had said goodbye. “You could smell flowers, or something just as nice, couldn’t you?” she said. I nodded my head; it was a vivid memory – I’d never known a scent like it. Joan smiled again, a little sadly. “Your aunt couldn’t smell anything you know, Rob, and neither could I. The hairs on the back of my neck stood right up when you said you could smell it. It’s supposed to be a sign that someone close to you is near to dying, but that they’re going on somewhere wonderful.”

It’s 27 years now, since my Nana Cawthorne died. From that day to this, it’s as close as I’ve ever been to a supernatural experience, and I’m still not quite sure I believe it – though it’s an experience that you can see has been shared by others, as a Google search will readily confirm. I can’t deny that I definitely did smell that overpoweringly beautiful scent, and that it took me aback – enough for me to remark upon it. I’ve known nothing like it, before or since. And I’m assured that it was an experience confined to me alone, undetected by anyone else. Was it my Nana saying goodbye, as she had in so many words just a minute before? Did she know that she was leaving us, and was she certain that she was heading off in glory to somewhere better? I just don’t know, but I like to think so.

What I am certain of is that my lovely Nan was at peace that day, and that she would have smiled that old familiar smile at me if she’d been able to – she tried, twice, but it was beyond her. That she somehow gathered the strength to say “Goodbye, Rob” is something amazing that I’ll always be grateful for. And I’d love to think that she’s somewhere beautiful right now, and that maybe I’ll see her again one day. These are things I just can’t make up my mind over – but being with Winifred the day she died has taken away from me any horror or fear of death itself. A gentler passing you could not have witnessed; I know this, even though I wasn’t there at the moment she left us.

Nan had it sorted, in the end. She always was of an independent spirit, and she seemed contented enough, that last day. She was ready, she’d had enough, and she went. Whatever the ins and outs of supernatural signs, and wherever she ended up, if anywhere, I honestly don’t think anyone could ask for more or better than Nan’s final moments, when their tide finally runs out.

Winifred’s still with me, too. Whenever I smell flowers on a warm summer’s day, I smile – and think of my Nan.


Winifred Margaret Laura Cawthorne

“When Winifred Died”

by Lesley Atkinson

On June the Eleventh, Winifred died

We sisters two, sat by her side

This is our mother, she’s dying we sighed

Our brother was waiting, our children were too

The cotton-wool clouds in the sky so blue

Were taking on shapes which blocked our view

Of eternity

Sometimes she was wicked, sometimes she was wise

Thinly-veined eyelids hid summer-blue eyes

She’s going, we said

She’s gone! we cried

The mother who tricked us so often, so sweetly

Had gone within seconds, and gone so completely!

We opened the window, her spirit rose free

Into the waiting sycamore tree

The sisters, the brother, the children all cried

The world lost a witch, when Winifred died


Thanks again, Mum xxx

Nostalgia – Not What It Used To Be

Show me a person who’s never felt that aching, yearning desire for the ‘Good Old Days’, and I’ll show you a twenty-something, or – tops – a thirtyish glass-half-full type.  It’s part of the human condition, and believe me, you youngster nostalgia-heads, the longing for times past only gets worse and more compelling with age.

The thing is, though – it’s all a sham.  Nostalgia has spawned virtually an entire industry, making zillions out of the ever-increasing urge to regress to what we think of as happier times, flogging us kitsch memorabilia and useless antiques at premium prices.  All this, for a concept as hollow and insubstantial as a bubble.  I’ll try to explain what I’m getting at.

The main thing you need to know about The Good Old Days, is that – they don’t exist.  Or, more accurately, from the only perspective that matters – here and now – the memory of The Good Old Days is like a Siren’s song, calling seductively to you, whilst keeping the singer’s essential character hidden.  And the essential character of The Good Old Days may be summed up as follows:  more hardship, less enlightened attitudes, worse public health and life expectancy and just generally a lack of the things in life today we’d find it hard to live without.  I won’t drone on here about smart phones, the internet, flat-screen TV’s and spiffy microwave-grills.  You get the picture.

The late, lamented legend that was Tony Capstick summed up the flip-side of nostalgia very neatly indeed.  In his hilarious pastiche of a famous bread advert, filmed on a steep and cobbled street to the accompaniment of Dvořák’s New World Symphony, Capstick intoned “We had lots of things in them days, they haven’t got today.  Rickets.  Diptheria.  Hitler….. They dun’t know they’re born today”.  As with all the best comedy, there’s a kernel of truth there.

So why this fierce desire to re-live days gone by, through old photographs, maybe, or a TV series set in whichever decade speaks to us of our particular formative years?  Perhaps it’s a desire to meet up again with lost loved ones, which is readily understandable.  But the nostalgic ache affects the vast majority of people, including those lucky enough never to have experienced bereavement.  Maybe it really is just a longing for simpler times, but I truly don’t think so.

My pet theory – and I’ve thought about this a lot, as you tend to on your journey through middle-age – is that it’s not the mythical Good Old Days we’re all missing.  Rather, it’s the Good Young Us.  Everything that seems better in the eye of memory was originally seen through younger, sharper eyes, at a time when we inhabited a younger, more flexible and healthier body, when we mercifully lacked the cares of having to forge a living and look after dependents, when we could take life as it came to us, unafraid of the future and ready for anything.  This, sadly, is not a set of circumstances fully valued or appreciated at the time – only in retrospect, when physical and mental powers are waning and the gaze we cast on the world is more jaundiced, do we really understand what we had, and what we’ve lost.  Small wonder, then, that there’s a hankering to go back and regain our younger selves.

There’s a tendency, as well, for memory to reach further and further back into the distant past as we age.  This means that a lot of older people spend much more of their time delving through their long-term recall, and find happiness in contemplating the days of their youth, a refuge of sorts from a modern world that seems more and more bewildering to them.  It’s the kinder face of nostalgia – a therapy to help people cope with the iniquities of old age.  But again, I would argue that it’s their own younger selves that Gran and Grandad are contentedly revisiting, and that the period setting of those memories is purely incidental.

We associate our golden days of youth with a definite time frame, that’s all, and it’s that association our brains seize on to hook us into yearning for whatever past time.  For some, it’s World War Two, for others it might be the Fab Fifties, or even the Electronic Eighties.  I hark back to the Sensational Seventies myself, but I’ve no real desire to ride a Raleigh Chopper again, or even to come home and watch “Love Thy Neighbour” on a tiny TV.  But I would give a lot for the flat tummy, the sporting prowess, the soundness of wind and limb and the 20-20 vision I enjoyed, but never fully appreciated back then.

That’s what nostalgia is really all about, and we’d do well to face up to it – there’s more chance, after all, of science eventually mitigating the tyranny of old age, with its attendant infirmities, than there is of it building us a Time Machine.  So perhaps we’d all better settle for what we’ve at least some chance of getting, rather than pandering to this hopeless desire for a past to which distance has lent a false enchantment.  But that’s easier said than done – when the nostalgia bug bites, it bites hard.

Now – where did I put that Rubik’s Cube….?