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They say nostalgia is useless, but I’m not so sure. Okay, it’s a subjective emotion, a sentimental fondness for past days – days you’re probably guilty of viewing through rose-tinted glasses. If we’re wise then, we’ll try to analyse our memories for any falseness, cut though the sentimentality and remind ourselves of the pain we might also have felt in those long gone glory days. If we can do this we realise that, if nothing else, there was at least a keeness to our feelings in decades past. I think it’s this memory of the strength of these former emotions that draws us back, and is the source of nostalgia’s formidable power.

As we grow older our emotions seem only to become ever more dull. A year is no longer an age, more the blinking of an eye. When we are young we fancy we see poetry, love, desolation and loneliness in everything. As we age, we fancy we see those things in fewer places. Indeed experience seems to grant us the dubious wisdom to conquer all the things we were once so painfully sensitive to. Consequently, our present becomes a safe, emotionless desert. It is not the olden days we hanker for then in our nostalgia, but an acuteness of feeling!

Earlier this year, I was feeling nostalgic for my time as a day-release student at Wigan Technical College. The result was a story called The Summer of ’83. I studied Mechanical and Production Engineering at Wigan, on the ONC, HNC and finally the HND courses between 1977 and 1984, what I suppose nowadays would be called NVQ’s. There was nothing particularly enjoyable about my time there – nothing easy about an engineering course. They were long days too, beginning at 9:00 am and ending at 7:00pm – admittedly just one day a week, but then we’d have a further evening to attend from 7:00pm until 9:00, and this was on top of a regular 9-5 job at the factory.

I don’t remember there being anything romantic about Differential Calculus, nor the theories of Tresca and Von-Mises, and I’m sorry guys but I’ve needed neither of you since my final exams. In the quieter moments of my studies, in the contemplative times, between classes, romance always seemed to find a way of seeping in. There would always be a girl on whom I’d betted my life’s worth of sentimental attachment – a fellow student, or sometimes little more than a lovely face on the bus-ride into town. And in the mysterious casino of my youth, it seems the house was always going to be the winner.

In the spring and summer months, when the weather permitted, I’d leave the campus at lunch times and seek solace in the greenery of Mesnes park, which was, in the 1980’s a beautiful place to visit, well planted, lush,… a place to sit yourself on a bench, eat your sandwiches and lose yourself in warm sunshine and a Thomas Hardy novel – a writer who seemed to have understood love exactly  the way I felt it.

Parks breathe life into the soul, and Mesnes park, such a short distance from the Parson’s Walk campus, became a  familiar friend and I remember it now with much fondness. Between Mesnes Park and Thomas Hardy, I survived the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, then met someone by chance and here I am twenty years later, comfortably married and thinking back upon those times with a possibly misplaced warmth. They were seven years, with nothing much to show  for them but a hard-won qualification in a discipline that’s now all but obsolete in a country that’s been de-industrialising with embarrassing haste since the day I got that HND. Seven years of romantic desolation,… but not totally wasted because then, unexpectedly, twenty years later out pops a short story called The Summer of ’83?

It’s had a decent reception on Feedbooks so far. I’m not sure if it’s a good story and perhaps the writer’s hardly the best person to say. That’s it with nostalgia, you see? You’ve really got to have been there. But I managed to relive a little of those olden times in the writing of it, and I hope I also managed to learn a little along the way about the uselessness of at least certain aspects of nostalgia, and why we should never be too hasty in dismissing the present for the mythical promise of a different version of the past.

Graeme out!

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