Looking back

A friend recently visited, and very much enjoyed, the Beatles Story in Liverpool. It took her right back to growing up in the sixties, she told me. But the person she was with hadn’t derived anything like so much pleasure from the experience, saying that she didn’t like looking back to the past and that we should only look forward.  Well, of course we should look forward, but I don’t think we should do this to the exclusion of enjoying the past.

I’m excited by the prospect of said friend’s forthcoming birthday celebration in a tepee complete with hippy headbands and sixties music (definitely blasting ourselves into our past-  more of this in a later post). I’m looking forward to watching my mature student son graduate in September, and to several planned social occasions and I’m enjoying watching my grandchildren grow in to the wonderful little people they are.  All these things are joys but the longer term future, particularly in terms of health, is the unknown so I really don’t want to consider that. Of course the past isn’t a place where we should dwell, but isn’t re-living the happy moments in our lives surely one of life’s greatest pleasures? I like to think that life is about making memories that can be enjoyed when I am too old to make new ones.  It is past experience, along with the books we read, the music we listen to, the clothes we wear that shape our identity and make us who we are. I believe that my past is an important part of me.

Our conversation got me thinking about my own growing up years and wondering how much of the ‘then’ me is evident in the ‘now’ version.  I was fifteen years old when I climbed out of a caravan window, followed by the friend who had accompanied us on holiday. It was a little before six in the morning and we couldn’t use the door because we’d have had to pass through the dining area where my parents were asleep on the fold-down bed. For the sixth or seventh consecutive summer my family were in Tenby, holidaying in the pastel pink and blue caravan loaned to us for the last two weeks in August by one of my father’s colleagues. Tenby was the place to be seen that summer; anyone who was anyone was there. In truth, ‘anyone’ comprised  mainly the previous year’s sixth form boys now located at various universities around the country, hanging  around the beach by day, working in the bars and restaurants at night and by fortuitous coincidence (and to the chagrin of our school friends) we were there too.

In our ankle length, embroidered dresses purchased in the Birmingham Bull Ring’s Indian Bazaar, our long hair, plaited when wet to produce masses of pre-Raphaelite waves, we glided (often bare-foot) around the narrow streets, in and out of shops heavily fragranced with incense, ducking below coruscating glass mobiles hanging like stalactites from every ceiling and making friends with the left-over sixties hippies who worked there, and Anne, owner of one of these exciting places, who told fascinating stories  of pop festivals and the icons she had met.  We promised ourselves that as soon as we could leave home, this was where we would be, and Anne was the epitome of who we would be.

Had we even heard of the Isle of Wight festival before then? Probably not, but heedless of the fact that we would need tickets and rather more cash that we had, and anxious to turn in to reality the sounds hitherto experienced only on twelve inch vinyl – Jimi Hendrix, Emerson, Lake & Palmer and others whose names, so important in 1972, now escape me, we descended from that caravan window and made our way out of Tenby with a vague notion of hitch-hiking our way to Southampton. Our intentions were solid, no question – at that moment we’d meant to go.  Maybe no-one stopped for us or perhaps we just lost our nerve. I expect we were each as apprehensive as the other but neither one of us would have wanted to lose face and admit the fact. It’s a long time ago; some memories are crystal, others hazy, faded with the passing of years but this morning, sitting here remembering, I wonder how much of that girl is still evident in who I am today. It’s hard to define oneself, but I think there’s still a little bit of the hippy left in me, a little bit of the person who pushes the boundaries. But I’m also the mother who would be horrified if any of my children admitted to hitchhiking (please, if you are reading this, don’t tell me) and who would voice concern at the potential horrors of walking barefoot where ‘you could pick up anything’.

Yesterday evening a friend and I were reminiscing about people we had both known during the 1970s (even though we had not known each other at that point). His wife commented that we both  had a good memory of the time, saying that her own recall of those years was unclear. I was interested to hear her say that she doesn’t really look back,  which is where I began this post. I’m not sure that there is a right or wrong here. What do you think?

“We are the sum total of our experiences. Those experiences – be they positive or negative – make us the person we are, at any given point in our lives. And, like a flowing river, those same experiences, and those yet to come, continue to influence and reshape the person we are, and the person we become. None of us are the same as we were yesterday, nor will be tomorrow.” (BJ Neblett)

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