Tag Archives: nostalgia

Crossing Places

A few days ago, while playing among our books, The Toddler pulled out a slim volume which caught my eye. It was a book – or, more truly, a notebook – which I hadn’t seen in a very long time.

A very long time.


Photo credit: SJ O’Hart.

This notebook was a gift from my schoolfriends to me on my 17th birthday. In it, they had each written a little note wishing me a happy birthday and how much they were looking forward to celebrating with me; some wished me a bright future, and others shared funny stories (some of the details of which, sadly, have blurred with time). Many put their first names and their surnames, just in case I lost the notebook and didn’t find it again for so long that I’d have forgotten who they were. One spent four pages insulting me in the most colourfully hilarious language imaginable and didn’t bother signing his name because he knew (rightly) that we’d be friends forever and I’d never get around to forgetting him – and his message still made me laugh out loud.

I read it with a huge grin and, if I’m being honest, a few tears too – and not just because my 17th birthday is so long ago now that you’d need a telescope to see it.

This notebook’s reappearance in my life made me think a lot about intersections and choices, the random algorithms that bring people into your life and take them out of it again. I’m delighted that most of the people who wrote in my book are still my friends; a few I haven’t seen in a couple of years, and one I haven’t seen, sadly, since we left school. But I remembered them all, even without the surnames. Each of them was important to me, and many still are – and there’s not one among them I wouldn’t be glad to see again, right now. They’re all (as far as I know) still alive and well, and though most of them still live in Ireland there are a couple who left – one for America, one for the UK – and very few of them still live at home, where we all grew up. We all entered one another’s lives through the simple coincidence of being born at around the same time and either growing up in, or moving to, the same place in time to attend secondary school together. Besides that, we are as disparate a group of people as you could find.

And yet, we are bound to one another forever.

I was thinking, recently, about the ‘quantum’ versions of myself – by which I mean, fancifully, the versions of me which exist in every other imaginable universe. Would I be doing the same things I’m doing here, in this space? Would I be the same person? Would I live in the same place, with the same people? Who’s to know. Every life has its ‘crossing places’, points at which the choices you make determine the path you take. My life has had several of those, some of which I would dearly love to relive. If it were possible, would I take different paths? Would I make different choices? I have some regrets; people I have lost whom I miss, people I loved who never knew it, things I wish I’d had the bravery to do when I had the chance.

And yet, the choices I made have led me here, to this room, in which I’m typing. My child is a few feet away, playing. John Grant is on my stereo. The proof of my first book is sitting on the table beside me. Things are not perfect: the world is far from good. I, like many, have found the last few days very hard, for many reasons. But as lives go, I can’t complain about mine. It has been circuitous and challenging, and I look back on so much of it with a nostalgia bordering on pain, but – in one manner or another – everything I have ever wanted or worked for has come to pass.

But as my child grows, these are the lessons I will impart:

  1. If you love a person, tell them. Even if they don’t love you, and you know it; even if you fear rejection. Tell them, without expectation, because regret is a far heavier burden than embarrassment, and it grows heavier with time.
  2. If you have an opportunity to travel, take it.
  3. Ditto with studying.
  4. In fact, if you have an opportunity to travel and study, take it. With both hands. And don’t worry about how you’ll work things out – you will.
  5. If offered a job you don’t think you can do, try it anyway.
  6. If you want to go on an adventure, do it.
  7. Always treasure your friends.
  8. And never stop working for what you want, fighting for what you believe in, and doing everything you can to help others, as far as you can.

Every life has its crossing places, but hopefully my child’s will have fewer than mine – and, with any luck, friends and friendship will be a big part of it, as they have been for me.

Thank you to my friends, all of them, past and present and future. I’m lucky to have, and to have had, such love.


Book Review Saturday – ‘Ready Player One’

Ernest Cline’s 2011 début novel, ‘Ready Player One’ is, at its heart, a love letter to an affectionately remembered past, and a thinly-veiled declaration that no era since the one in which he spent his childhood has ever been quite so good. Perhaps he’s right.

Image: amazon.com

Image: amazon.com

In some ways, I find it amusing that the 80s – for that is the decade in question – are making a big comeback, in terms of music and fashion in particular, but in another way it’s not surprising at all. People my age (and up to about five years older) would have been young during the 1980s, and so as we’ve begun to reach the age of ‘maturity’ – settling down, getting a bit of cash behind us, that sort of thing – we’ve started to want to relive the cartoons and movies and music that we grew up with.

But what about the 1980s was so amazing?

Well, there's this. Image: brisayhowto.blogspot.com

Well, there’s this.
Image: brisayhowto.blogspot.com

It’s no wonder that so many survivors of the 80s grew up to be nerds – it was the era when computers, outside of government facilities and academic institutions, really began to take off. Space travel cropped up in kids’ movies – Explorers and Flight of the Navigator, anyone? – and movies like D.A.R.Y.L., about a cyborg child, were memorable for their treatment of technology as something which had limitless possibility, but which might also exact a massive price. Video games were everywhere. I remember, from my own tastes in movies and cartoons, that the idea of exploration and potential was ubiquitous, computers – if you knew how to master them – could do anything, and space was only a step away.

This feeling – based more in nostalgia than reality, I suspect – suffuses ‘Ready Player One.’ The book is set in the year 2044, when the energy crisis and collapsing economies have forced much of the world to live in poverty and darkness. One thing they do have, though, is OASIS, a giant online MMPORPG (Massively MultiPlayer Online Role-Playing Game), which acts as a sort of drug. It keeps people sane, and takes them out of the minutiae of their own hardscrabble existence. Everything is done in OASIS – people, like our protagonist Wade, even attend school there in a sort of Second Life scenario, where you can be who you want – and absolutely everyone is connected to the network. James Halliday, the man who invented OASIS, died about five years before the book begins, and it’s rumoured that, somewhere in the workings of OASIS, there is hidden a huge prize – his fortune, and control of his company.

The only problem is that there are loads of clues to follow if you want to find the prize, and – so far – nobody’s been able to get beyond even the first of them.

Halliday was obsessed with the era of his youth – the 1980s – and because of this, millions of people have taken on a level of familiarity with that decade that most of those who lived through it couldn’t have matched. This is because the clues to Halliday’s ‘easter egg’, or the prize within his game, all relate to 1980s movies, books, video games, pop culture references, and so on (and, if you have any familiarity with the 1980s, these little gems and in-jokes pepper the book in such a glee-making way that I can’t even find a word for it.) Despite the fact that, over the years, most people have given up on the search for clues, one day our hero Wade unlocks the first one – and his name springs to the top of a global leaderboard, just like it would in an arcade game.

And that brings out all the people who’ve been quietly beavering away in the years since Halliday’s death, trying to work out the clues. And then, the race begins.

Image: onemetal.com

Image: onemetal.com

It’s a very visual book, and as I read I was imagining it like a movie or a video game. You can’t really help it – everything about the story and the 80s references naturally draws your mind back to the movies and games of that era, and the book lends itself to being seen, rather than being read. It doesn’t surprise me that a movie is in production.

There’s so much to like about this book. It’s huge fun, for a start. It also deals with ideas like internet freedom and free speech, as well as the possibility of reforging your identity in a world where everyone and everything is online, 24/7. It’s a scary, but shockingly plausible, vision of the future. It tackles questions of humanity, and how we’ll keep a hold on it as we drift further and further away from a flesh-and-blood existence. It deals with the nature of greed and whether idealism and equality wouldn’t be a better way of doing things. I loved it.

Having said that, it might not appeal to people who are either too young or not quite young enough to remember the 1980s, or who weren’t into the pop culture of that era. I was, just a little, but a little is enough. There’s loads in this book which I didn’t understand – but I didn’t need to. You get swept away by the action and even if you don’t get the in-jokes when Wade and his friends are doing digital battle, you care enough about them to make the battle important. It does escalate up into a rather ridiculous-seeming conclusion, but even then I found myself cheering the heroes on, while just enjoying the story.

In short, I’d say this one is worth a try. If you’re anything like me, you’ll love it. Hopefully.


Good morning, world. I’m here in my kitchen baking (again), and the radio is playing as I work. The DJs are asking listeners about movies and memories from their childhoods, and it’s got me thinking about my first memory. Well, at least, what I think is my first memory.

When I was born, my parents had just bought our house. It was right beside my dad’s mother’s house, and it was (probably) about a hundred years old. It was in a terrible state of disrepair and neglect, and (spookily) the last owner was an old lady who had died in the house. So, my parents (who were so young… so much younger than I am now!) decided to knock the house and rebuild it. Meanwhile, our little family lived in a mobile home in what is now my parents’ garden. I’m convinced that not only do I remember the back wall of our house as it was being built, but also the kitchen area of our mobile home, and I consider this one of my earliest memories.

My parents tell me there’s no way this can be the truth. I was barely sentient, they say. I was a mere blob of flesh with an appetite and very little hair. How could I possibly remember these things?

I’m also sure I remember our street the way it looked when the house had been demolished – it was like a row of teeth with the middle one missing. To remember this, I must have managed to haul myself up to a sitting position and peer out of my pram, goggling in that particularly unfocused way that only babies and the very drunk have ever mastered. Even I have doubts that I managed to do this; yet, the memory remains.

I also remember (I tell myself) sitting on the floor of our kitchen playing with the pots and pans. My mother has told me I did do this, but I feel the picture I have of it in my mind is more influenced by a photograph than it is by actual experience. I see this memory as though I was outside my own body, so I was either an experienced astral projector at a young age or I saw a picture of this at some stage and have convinced myself it’s a memory. It looked a bit like this:

Most of my childhood memories are sort of like that, though – almost like photographs. I have a memory of walking back to my aunt’s house with no shoes on one very hot summer’s day when I was about six, but I see it like a snapshot of myself taken by someone else. No such photo exists though, because I was definitely on my own at the time. I remember the first time I saw a girl who would later turn out to be one of my best friends – it was on the day of our First Holy Communion, so we were about seven. It was like my mind took a photograph of her as she left her pew, resplendent in her beautiful white gown, to approach the altar; I wouldn’t actually meet her till the next school year, when we were placed sitting beside one another, but this memory of my first sight of her is very clear. I still don’t know why my mind decided she was important, and worth taking note of, before we’d actually met – perhaps, as well as being an astral projector, I’m also a bit psychic. Or something.

The first film I remember seeing in the cinema was Bambi. This doesn’t mean I was, in fact, born in 1942 – it must have been an anniversary showing, perhaps. I am old enough, however, to remember when smoking was still permitted in cinemas here in Ireland; my memories of watching Bambi take place through a haze of cigarette smoke. I also remember (patchily) watching E.T. the same way. I went to both these movies with my dad, and he still likes to tell people how I babbled about stars and aliens and little men in the sky the whole way home after we’d been to see E.T. I think it’s one of his favourite memories of me.

Whether or not my memories are actually memories, or just mis-remembered photographs, I still treasure them. My parents were great photography enthusiasts when my brother and I were young, and we have a wonderful store of images to look back on – and they’re not just pixels on a screen, either. They’re actual photographs, in a collection of biscuit tins, yellowed with age, varying in size as the cameras changed and modernised through the years, and I love them all.

Anyway, time to come back up memory lane now! My cake is cooling on the rack, and it’s time to move on to my next task of the day. I hope you’ll share some memories with me in the comments below, and that you all have wonderful days today.

P.S. I won’t be blogging tomorrow as ‘real life’ is interposing again – I’ll tell you all about it next week. Hold tight till then.

Memory Lane

Yesterday, a friend asked me something which got me thinking about our youth.  She wanted me to think of some words and phrases which summed up our time as teens, back in the deepest, darkest 1990s, and this train of thought has put me on a bee-line for memory lane ever since.

It made me think of checked shirts, and Doc Marten boots; it made me think of tie-dye (of which I used to be a head-to-toe fan); it made me think of ‘Jump Around’ by the band House of Pain, which was practically our class anthem.  I remembered the huge round glasses I used to wear, and the full year of mourning for Kurt Cobain.  I remembered all the ‘battles of the bands’ – you either had to be a Nirvana fan or a Pearl Jam fan; you couldn’t be both (unless, like me, you did it in secret) – the same went for Blur and Oasis.  It made me smile to remember how my friends and I used to be on constant lookout for the boys we liked, following them around and trying to look cool; somehow, we managed to put aside our natural shyness when we were in groups, though history does not record what the poor boys thought of us.  I thought, affectionately, of a time when nobody had a mobile phone, and there was no such thing as Facebook.  If you wanted to know what someone was thinking, you didn’t check their Twitter feed – you just had to ask them.  It’s the kind of world that teenagers today can’t even imagine.

Along with the sunny memories of carefree fun came the darker thoughts, ones that plagued me as a younger person.  I remembered, with painful clarity, the awkwardness and embarrassment of being a teenager, particularly one who was a bit ungainly, and more likely to have been thought of as the class swot instead of a social butterfly.  The pain of rejection came back to me like a needle in my soul, and the terror of losing face among my peers reared up in me again, and I began to realise it was no wonder I found adolescence such a difficult thing to go through.  Every day brought a new challenge, and the rules always seemed to be changing.  I was not among the chosen few who always seemed ahead of the game, and I wondered how there were some people who seemed to know what they were doing at all times.  It’s only now, with the benefit of adulthood, that I realise those people were going through the same testing as I was – they were just better at hiding it.  The pressures you feel in those few precious years will never seem so heavy again, and no pain will ever strike as hard as a pain suffered during your teens.  For me, it was a time of extremes – my happy times were extraordinary, but I also crawled through the darkest pits of despair that I think I’ve ever known.

I wouldn’t change a second of it, though.

I know now that those years made me who I am today, and the lessons I learned throughout my teens still inform my daily life.  Lessons like: never judge a person because you don’t know what they’re dealing with; never bully or belittle another person because everyone has something worthwhile within them; never assume a person is your friend because they give you what you want.  I learned that sometimes going through pain can bring you great benefits, but that it’s important to know how to protect yourself.  I learned the extent of what I could cope with, and how strong I could be when I had to.  You can’t replace life experiences like that.

I’m very glad that I grew up – and I don’t think I’d like to do it all again – but I’m glad I had my adolescence, and the family and friends I had.  I realise, too, that it’s no mystery why I love writing for young adults.  No other time in your life holds so much promise and potential, where every day is a new and thrilling experience.  On second thought, maybe I should relive my youth more often!