Within reach of nostalgia

I’ve been in London this weekend, and my trip reminded me of the closeness of many of the things that connect me to the past. Things that will be a world away once we make our move to Canberra next month.

I was in the UK to attend a music festival with an old friend — the Indie Daze festival which featured luminaries from the early 1990s UK indie pop scene including Jesus Jones, The Darling Buds, Ned’s Atomic Dustbin, The Popguns and others.

The Popguns, performing in London

I’ve loved The Popguns for 25 years and it was my great privilege to see them perform one last time before moving down under.

I don’t expect you to know who they are. Their fan base was pretty small even when these bands had their heyday, but 20-odd years later, they are an obscure indulgence for even fewer of us — grown men and women in slightly faded tour shirts, giving each other a knowing nod of recognition when we spot a kindred spirit who has squeezed him or herself into a familiar, but perhaps inadvisedly tight-fitting piece of original band merchandise.

The ability to gather with such kindred spirits is a luxury I have come to take for granted. Although I live in Denmark, the advent of no-frills airlines such as EasyJet, Air Berlin and Norwegian, has made it cheap and commonplace to hop abroad for this concert, that football match, or some family gathering or other.

Europe is small, easy to get around, and in a hop, skip and a jump you can transform your climate, culture, surroundings and cuisine. Proximity makes all of this easy.

The flight departures board at London's Gatwick Airport.

So much is within easy reach when you live in Europe.

So, despite having lived abroad for nearly ten years now, I also take great comfort from being so close to the familiar.

At Indie Daze, as I jumped around, shouted, smiled and clapped to familiar tunes from long-loved bands, I recalled a story from a friend of mine who emigrated to Australia nearly 20 years ago.

She told me how, after a few years of being there, she felt pretty settled, that this was now home, and that she had become integrated into her new community. Then, one weekend, she went to a party with a group of friends. Mid-way through the evening, the DJ put a tune on and everyone around her flocked to the dance-floor, whooping, hollering and singing along, but my friend stood back. She’d never heard the song before.

“You must know it. It’s a classic,” her Aussie friends told her. And maybe it was, but only in Australia. The song had never been a hit in Europe. In short, these were their memories but not hers — hers came from a long way away, and that’s where they would be staying.

The day after the Indie Daze concert, as my friend gave me a lift to the airport, we drove past my old senior school — another flash of the familiar, within easy reach. As we drove on, a CD from one of the previous night’s bands playing in the car, a friend of 30 years to discuss the highlights of the evening with, the simple pleasure of proximity brushed against me and made me smile.

The entrance to Sutton Grammar School, in south London.

I don’t have a lot of nostalgia for my old school, but it was still odd to think this might be the last time I stood in front of it.

Canberra will be fantastic, and holidays in Noosa, Bali and Fiji sound implausibly exotic right now. But they’ll be fantastic too. However, it’s unlikely that I’ll be rushing to the dance-floor as part of a happy mob again any time soon, revelling in the nostalgia of obscure familiarity, knowing that we are all members of the same secret club, and that once upon a long ago, we all had the same collective magical experience to the same magical songs.

The distance of time will be compounded by physical distance and, like the tour shirts, the past will be put away, to be dusted off and tried on for size at ever greater intervals.

And that’s okay. But the realisation still catches me off guard sometimes.

10 thoughts on “Within reach of nostalgia

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