Geeks Vs Loneliness – Past Present

In which nostalgia raises its affectionate head

I’m a bit of a nostalgia hound. This weekend I tasked my long-suffering husband with carting my ancient record player from dining room oblivion to the centre of my study. At first the speakers – connected with scraggy ends of copper wire to a hole in the back of my ancient stereo – crackled and faded. Then, after a bit of a wiggle, they burst into bright sound. Dust blown off, vinyl everywhere, I sat in the middle of the floor with a stupid grin on my face enjoying the music, scratches and all.

Those scratches mean something. My bookshelf dropped on my brother’s Duran Duran’s Arena, during my GCSE revision. Must have been the tension in the atmosphere. I had to compensate him for the damage with my Dire Straits’ Brothers In Arms, which he recently returned to me when he gifted me his vinyl collection when he moved house.

The vinyl in these boxes exemplifies my coming of age. Past Present is the title of a Clannad album I had on constant repeat when doing A Level homework. I found the band through my first great TV love (and major man crush Michael Praed), Robin Of Sherwood.  

It’s impossible to feel blue when John Parr’s St Elmo’s Fire is blasting out and you’re fist pumping away to Huey Lewis’ Power Of Love, while hankering for a bit of Simple Minds’ Don’t You Forget About Me. Yes, my teen music choices carbon date me as a child of the 80s raised on the snark and sweetness of John Hughes movies with their iconic soundtracks. I admit I own the theme from The Karate Kid 2, the three minute syrup that is Peter Cetera’s Glory Of Love. Ralph Macchio’s dark eyes, lopsided smile – that man could most certainly fight for my flustered teenage honour.

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There is a present in my nostalgia.  I’m not the only one loving the Queen biopic, Bohemian Rhapsody. A tale of how four misfits came together and created A Kind of Magic that – decades on – still touches the heart (and the kitchen dancing hips). The first record on the turntable this weekend was Meatloaf’s Bat Out Of Hell (also big bro’s), containing the song that always kicked off our teenage party nights – Paradise By The Dashboard Lights. Now joyously reborn in its own musical theatre adaptation.

At present there is the phenomenon of ‘the new 80s’. You can riff on TV nostalgia with the likes of Stranger Things and the glorious GLOW on Netflix. Bask in the warmth of an 80s childhood remembered in The Goldbergs. Gorge on revitalised franchises paying homage to the era like Bumblebee. Nostalgia is big geek business. And I for one am happy to give myself over to its pleasure.

I sometimes wonder why I carry so much of my past into my present in bulky boxes. Why I couldn’t let the vinyl go. Or the cassettes – the ones taped by school friends with hand written notes to records I couldn’t afford to buy.

Those boxes of vinyl and cassettes hold my past. Each is a blueprint to a place and time, a gift or something I saved for weeks to buy. My first job in a shop paid £1.40 per hour and once involved cleaning up vomit from my counter when a delightful child barfed all over it.

With that cash I bought the first series of Robin Of Sherwood on VHS and The Cure’s Kiss Me! Kiss Me! Kiss Me! on cassette. We didn’t even own a VHS player at the time – I called on the kindness of friends to watch them. They remain the first tangible fruits of my labour and a key part of my identity. Then there’s The Cure’s Japanese Whispers – an apology from a penitent boyfriend. You can’t do that with Spotify!

Streaming and downloading are great. Easy, accessible, reasonably cheap. You can satisfy a whim with the press of a button. I often stream music while I work for ease of access. It’s sometimes a bit nebulous though. Elevator music. Putting a record on (and then turning it over for side 2) is a conscious act. It reminds me to appreciate where I came from and what I have today.

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Because I don’t want to live in the past. There’s so much invention, so much creativity to explore in the present. Teenage Jane would be gobsmacked at streaming, at Netflix, at there being easy access to more than four TV channels.

I remember the wonder of 1991 when I acquired a boyfriend with Sky Television. WWF! MTV! These brilliant, multicoloured worlds hitherto unknown. The giddy pleasures of a new era in the 1990s brought a new wave of geek into my world that included Xena Warrior Princess, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, grunge music, a CD Walkman later superceded by a mini-disc (you may laugh, but I felt so privileged), the Internet and all that heralded.

Each era brings new technology, new geek. The world has shifted and became more open to viewing and to comment. This is a positive thing, even with the associated negativity that can run alongside such as trolling and online abuse. It’s easy to forget when caught in the nostalgia bubble that back in my teens we also faced big issues.

The Berlin Wall still stood, Section 28 prevented open discussion or education of LGBTQ issues, racism was casual and blatant. Women worked 9 to 5 without equal pay. The nuclear Cold War cast a long shadow over culture (The Day After and When The Wind Blows being two cheery examples) and the AIDS Crisis was heralded with looming tombstones on prime time television. To bring the decade to an untidy finish we had the infamous 1989 Brit Awards of Sam Fox and Mick Fleetwood. The path was as lumpy then as it is today.

So I embrace the new with the old. Being a geek has never been so accessible – take your smart phone out and your own pocket geekdom is there at your fingertips.

No more pooling vinyl or sharing a VHS player. No more rewinding mulched cassette tapes with a biro. No hovering over the charts on the radio on a Sunday afternoon ready to tape the latest greatest release from your untouchable idol. Who you might – if you are lucky – get a pretty new picture of from next week’s Smash Hits magazine.

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A mixed blessing? Perhaps. Instant gratification versus slow appreciation? Both have their place in my world. I’m happy here with my boxes of vinyl. I equally happy with my Echo Dot and Bluetooth speakers scattered around the house.

“Alexa, play 1980’s goth music.”

And she does. Past and present in perfect harmony.